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Larrivée OM-03E 'Vintage' review

World class Canadian-built acoustic

  • £1899
  • $2600
The 'Vintage' spec is a custom-like build with an all-over Sunburst finish

Our Verdict

An exceptionally beautiful guitar that hits all the right notes in looks, sound, feel and playability.

Pros

  • Superb build. World class tones. Highly playable.

Cons

  • Very little.
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The 'Vintage' spec is a custom-like build with an all-over Sunburst finish

The 'Vintage' spec is a custom-like build with an all-over Sunburst finish

Larrivée OM-03E 'Vintage'

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Jean Larrivée is a firm believer that 12-fret-to-the-body guitars sound better

Jean Larrivée is a firm believer that 12-fret-to-the-body guitars sound better

Heel

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The electric-like vintage-style tuners are likely to divide opinion

The electric-like vintage-style tuners are likely to divide opinion

Headstock

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Rear

We last caught up with the Larrivée's all-solid spruce/sapele OM-02E, with its full retail of £999 . Here we move up to the 03 Series with the more stately and very fashionable all-mahogany OM-03E 'Vintage'. If you like vintage-inspired 'classic' acoustics, you're in for a treat.

Build

"The basic specification on Larrivée's 03 series is spruce top with mahogany back and sides; here there's a switch to a mahogany top"

The basic specification on Larrivée's 03 series is spruce top with mahogany back and sides; here the switch to a mahogany top is the first of many changes that create the £650 'Vintage' upgrade package. Of these, the superbly evocative black-edged 'burst hits the spot.

It's contrasted by figured maple binding and five-ply black/white/ black/white/black purflings that in other contexts might look garish. Here, it fits the 1940s/1950s 'catalogue' style perfectly, as do the larger dot fingerboard inlays. A step too far might be those more electric guitar-like vintage Kluson-style tuners, but let's face it - if they offend they're an easy change.

Our sample has 12 frets to the body (14-fret versions will be available), but while always catering for his customer, Jean Larrivée is emphatic that 12-fret guitars sound better.

"There are no ifs and buts about it," he states. "I know because I've made enough of both 12- and 14-fret guitars to have an opinion. When you put the bridge in the middle of the diaphragm [the top] you're getting the whole thing moving. It's not me saying things: it's the truth. That why classical guitars are 12 fret."

Both the Tusq nut and bridge have generous spacing, making it ideal for the picker. The neck itself is one-piece mahogany with a full, slightly flat-backed D profile. The clean ebony 'board has micro-dot face inlays and larger black dots on the side, embedded into the grained ivoroid binding. We also have a 648mm (25.5-inch) scale length.

The tuners are perfectly functional, the nut is well cut, and the saddle is compensated and intonation spot on. The natural super-smooth satin finish is pristine, and it looks a whole lot classier to our eyes than a gloss. No doubt after a few hours playing the neck and forearm area will begin to subtly sheen.

Inside, there's a transverse back brace to support the larger area, but things are super tidy.

Sounds

The OM-03E certainly has a Larrivée family resemblance tonally, but with its acoustic voice is bigger in the deeper and fuller low end, a relaxation of the midrange and a beautifully clear, sweet high-end. It seems to want to sustain for days.

The neck and string spacing mean the OM feels airy - ideal for fingerpicking, although it still falls within 'all rounder' territory. For strummed rhythm beds it's surprisingly good in front of a mic but, for this writer, it excels as a fingerstyle guitar.

We might expect an all-mahogany guitar to sound a little boxier than, say, a spruce top with its expected crisper, breathier edge. The surprise here is that this mahogany-topped OM has plenty of crisp, detailed highs but they don't sound over- cooked, just a little reined in - because of that there's an aged sweetness to its voice.

"If Larrivée isn't on your radar, then you need a new radar"

We can only guess how this guitar will age tonally but an instrument this well made from solid woods can only get better - a pretty scary thought, as even in its 'infant' stages it's quite something.

Plugged in the OM's tone control, typically, is little more than a high-end roll off, but backed off a little we achieve a fair representation of the guitar's acoustic voice. Still, while it's a perfectly functional and discreet system it doesn't really replicate all the nuances of the guitar's acoustic voice, especially after listening to a mic'd recording of it. To our ears, this is one guitar that shouts out for a magnetic soundhole pickup.

The 'Vintage'-spec OM, of course, is more expensive than the standard model. Larrivée remarks that it's virtually a custom build and that the all-over Sunburst is extremely time-consuming to achieve. If you think it's over-priced, it's time for a reality check. The OM-03E sounds truly world class - a superb all- rounder and one of the finest 12-fret fingerstyle guitars we've encountered. It looks vintage and sounds it, too.

We'll say it again: if Larrivée isn't on your radar, then you need a new radar.