Since Edward Christopher Sheeran MBE first sauntered across the stage with a weenie Martin in his hand the demand in these fair isles for small-bodied guitars has gone through the roof.
We can almost hear the telephone call from Larrivée UK distributor, Sound Technology to the factory in California: “Yeah we need something small and cheap. Well OK, not cheap, but you know, not expensive. Well OK, but it’s gotta be small.” Hence the reintroduction over here of the P-02 range.
Larrivée, while not enjoying the same notoriety as say, Martin and Taylor, lives in that promised land of luthiers who have grown into larger concerns while maintaining their bespoke feel. What stands the company apart is that its production is all still in North America and that it only uses solid woods; standards from which many of their rivals have fallen, particularly at the value end of their ranges.
Originally made in Jean Larrivée’s native Canada, production now takes place in Oxnard, California, just off route 101, half way between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. It does have the rather unique bragging rights of having one of its parlour guitars on the International Space Station. In fact, fellow Canadian, astronaut Chris Hadfield, can be seen playing it in a rendition of Space Oddity online, which has got to be pretty cool.
So, what have we got here? The Parlour and small bodied guitar market is a hotly contested one and so you need to make sure that, when making your purchase decision, you are comparing apples with apples.
This is an all-solid wood guitar handcrafted in North America, in this case a Canadian sitka spruce top with African sapele back and sides. Many of its rivals in the sector will use laminates to varying degrees and will not have benefitted from the same handcrafting that Larrivée has built its name upon. Coming in an attractive, solid, hard case bearing their logo, into which the guitar really does fit like a glove, first impressions are that this is a strikingly beautiful guitar.
Larrivée’s strapline is “affordable luxury” and everything about this little guitar drips quality. Also, we were struck by just how tiny it is. Leaning in its case against our other guitars it was a good six inches shorter.
So let’s start at the top. The head is understated being capped with ebony and bearing the inlaid Larrivée legend. Tuners are 18:1 ratio carrying the Larrivée logo and just what you’d expect them to be, smooth and precise. The hand-fitted Dovetail one-piece neck is mahogany and, as with the rest of the guitar, is satin finished. Some satin finishes can just look flat but this is not the case here, giving the guitar a lovely organic feel in your hands. It joins the body at the 12th fret and is a very comfortable neck to play, but more of that later.
The fretboard and bridge are both ebony, with microdot fret markers, and we have a TUSQ nut and saddle. Manufactured by Graphtech, the claim is that its product brings a consistency of density not possible with organic matter such as bone. Well, we can’t speak for that but given the extremely well-balanced tone of this little beastie and the fact that Larrivée choose to use it one can only believe it to be so.
Coming to the body, the Canadian Sitka spruce top is pale with a consistent grain. One of the brighter tonewoods, Jean Larrivée himself assures us on its website that ‘With its pro-sound solid sitka spruce top, the resonance and balanced sonic qualities of the P-02E will only improve with age’.
The African sapele, sometimes referred to as African mahogany, is the perfect companion to the brightness of Sitka spruce bringing a degree of warmth and resonance to the tone. With the body binding and multi-lined rosette, both in Canadian Maple, and a tasteful teardrop tortoiseshell pickguard, the overall impression is of understated excellence.
Inside, keeping the top in its rightful place while allowing it to ring out, is solid Austrian spruce scalloped parabolic X Bracing. Shining our torch inside, there is clearly no drop in the quality of the workmanship with lovely clean seams on display. Electronics-wise we have a Shadow Nanoflex system with a strap button jack socket and the battery being contained in a velcroed pocket accessed via the sound hole. Controls are mounted just on the inside of the hole and are volume and blend.
Strum a chord and you are immediately struck by the quality of the tonal balance, each note ringing out and identifiable. The sustain is great, in fact if you lift it away from your body it will ring on forever. Playing fingerstyle is a delight to behold too; the definition is all there to be heard and the tones are sweet.
Of course, a parlour guitar isn’t going to outblast a dreadnought, but the P-02E certainly projects and has ample volume to sing along with comfortably. The neck is extremely comfortable; the satin finish making it an easy slide up and down and it fits in your palm like an old friend. The action is just right, low, without being too low.
In fact, overall it has that indefinable quality which we guess every manufacturer strives for - you just can’t put it down. Every time we walked past it on the stand we had to pick it up and have a widdle.
Then of course, you plug it in…WHAT?! This little lady sounds huge through an amp. We’re not overly familiar with Shadow pickups but we can only say that those guys at Larrivée must have done their homework because to get an amplified tone this sweet is outstanding. It would definitely hold its own in a band situation.
As we stated at the beginning, there is a huge amount of competition in this area of the market. Sure, there are many guitars a lot cheaper but, if you are a serious player looking for a quality parlour guitar that’s as comfortable on stage as it is in your front room then you’ve got to try this little gem.
We can see this being the one you leave lying around in the sitting room, the one that causes your partner to give you that look as they try to watch telly. But seriously, at this price point, given the outstanding build quality and tone, we think it is fantastic value for money. And, as your man says, it’s only going to get better with age. Perhaps if we get a sandbag, put it in the case and send it back no one will notice…?