It's been a busy year for Larrivée, but unlike so many high-end USA acoustic makers, the company seems to have been focusing on the lower end of the quality acoustic market, providing us with some of the best sounding and playing, value-for-money instruments we've had the pleasure to strum.
Now, Larrivée has come up with a new bracing system, released on this Legacy Series dreadnought, with rosewood back and sides - all-solid and with electro options.
"It's a completely different guitar," Jean Larrivée told us. "Bracing, the neck... Everything is different, it doesn't even look like our [existing] D-60 or D-50. We've changed the heel and neck profile - everything. If I get bored I get creative. I've been doing this for 47 years, so whenever I get a challenge, it's good.
"The foundation for this new bracing system is our tried and true shaped X brace," he continues. "Each of these X braces is hand-shaped and voiced for the individual instrument and provides maximum strength between the bridge and soundhole. The real secret to the system, however, is the new Non- Symmetrical Scalloped Lateral Cross Brace.
"These braces move away from traditional 'block' shaped braces into lightweight 'tapered' braces with a traditional scallop - think suspension bridge. They are engineered to provide maximum strength using the least possible material and with the smallest footprint possible, allowing free vibration of the soundboard.
"In a standard Larrivée, the lateral cross braces are perfectly symmetrical across the X brace connecting on the treble and bass side, but in the Scalloped Parabolic Hybrid system they connect only on the treble side and travel away at a carefully calculated angle. This change allows us to control the bass response of the instrument."
More Than Bracing
Aside from its bracing, however, the guitar exhibits the beautifully clean and crisp craft that we associate with Larrivée. It's finished in a thin and super-smooth natural satin acrylic finish that, as we've previously noted, leaves absolutely no room for error. Any slight sanding marks or sloppy joinery become highly visible, and you just don't find any of that on this guitar.
The dreadnought's spruce top is pale, but with plenty of character. The deep chocolate-hued rosewood back and sides have uniform stripes and provide a sombre contrast with the maple binding and, on the top, classic 'rope' purfling.
The same purfling is used in the centre of the soundhole decoration: just enough to provide interest, never overstated. There's also quite a thick 'non-shrink' tortoiseshell pickguard.
The top is contrasted by the ebony bridge, which matches the fingerboard and headstock facing. The nut saddle and bridge pins are all bone, while the square-topped headstock features a simple inlaid mother-of-pearl logo and a set of positive feeling Waverly-style Gotoh open- backed tuners.
The neck shapes is a deep C, with the dreadnought's shoulders feeling fairly full. There's a grained ivoroid binding on the fingerboard edges. This does give a slightly square edge, but it's very much a part of the feel of a Larrivée, such as the compound radius fingerboard and its perfectly installed frets. The construction just shouts thoroughbred.
Feel and sounds
The ubiquity of the modern dreadnought can be its downfall. And this was our first surprise: this D-40R is all about balance, something many dreadnoughts can get a little wrong. So there's roomy low end and balanced highs as you'd expect, but rather than sound a little flat, the mids sparkle more like you'd expect from a smaller-bodied guitar.
It certainly doesn't overtake the 'dreadnought-ness', but it does - for this writer at least - turn a pigeonholed strummer into a rather fine, wide-toned picker. A really big, bold projecting sound but with excellent string separation.
Recording gives another perspective. Now, the dreadnought sounds almost too big and you have to watch the lows, while the mids seem to back off a little, leaving generous, crisply detailed and textured highs. As you'd expect, the playability is great and the DR-40 feels very positive, in tune and really responsive.
This instrument again illustrates just how good a maker Larrivée is. Faultless build, setup and playability, with a sound that doesn't step too far from the classic American steel-string, but far enough to make you, the player, sit up and take notice.
Whatever is happening under the hood is exemplified primarily by this dreadnought, which to our hands and ears not only seems tremendously even and wide but has a response and resonance of an older, well played guitar. In drop tunings it's positively orchestral, picked or strummed.
We truly are in the golden age of the acoustic instrument and, yes, there is plenty of choice out there. The thing is that Larrivée, in terms of sounds, build and price, is becoming a very hard act to beat. This Legacy series guitar just makes that attraction even stronger.