We take a look at the bargain Larrivée P-03W - an all-solid wood acoustic that's been made in the USA and has a street price of well under a £1,000.
Once upon a time, all quality acoustics were made with solid wood tops, backs and sides. Why? Because spruce, rosewood and mahogany were plentiful and relatively cheap.
However, events such as the Depression and WWII changed all that, and in the past 50 years, premium woods have become scarcer. Some, such as Brazilian rosewood, are out of trade, along with many types of South American mahogany.
The solution was to produce guitars from cheaper, less-used woods along with laminates, where thin veneers are glued together under pressure to produce tops, backs and sides that look the part, although few connoisseurs would say they sounded better. They were, however, and still are, much cheaper to produce.
"This is no hastily constructed box with strings: it's made in a classic style, with a hand-fitted dovetail neck joint"
Outside of the USA, of course, cheaper labour rates mean that we can still buy solid-wood acoustics for way under a grand. But for many, the USA and its premium brands - Martin, Taylor, Gibson, Guild - remain highly desirable.
Larrivée started building steel-string guitars in 1971, and in recent years, especially for the UK and Europe, it's produced highly affordable instruments that cost a lot less than, say, Martin or Taylor's start-up solid-wood instruments. Here, we have the most cost-effective so far: the P-03W is an all- solid-wood parlour and includes a rugged hard shell case, all for under a grand.
However, this is no hastily constructed box with strings: it's made in a classic style, with a hand-fitted dovetail neck joint, no bolts or screws, proper spruce X-bracing and struts, kerfed linings, flamed maple edge binding and a cleanly bound ebony fingerboard and bridge. Fit and finish, not to mention playability, is absolutely superb, and the satin finish gives a slightly lived-in appearance to what is a drop-dead gorgeous vintage-style guitar.
The nut width (44.4mm/ 1.75-inch) and bridge spacing (55mm/2.17-inch) give plenty of space for classic fingerpicking, while the short scale gives a slightly lower string tension.
The P-03W has an intimate voice. There's a tight low-end, but still with enough room and depth to suit bassline parts, and it proves especially good for lower tunings. The high-end is breathy and clean - the sound is almost pre-aged.
It gives the guitar a foundation that makes bluesier, jazzier styles sound authentic; it loves bottleneck styles, too, and excels in front of a microphone.
The P-03W is the perfect house, songwriting and recording guitar. Its solid-wood construction will open out and mature with playing, too. But you'd better hurry: these Peruvian walnut guitars are limited... possibly because someone at Larrivée has made a mistake with that price!