Review: Larrivée OM-40R

Review: Larrivée OM-40R

by Teja Gerken

With its understated satin finish and modest adornments, the Larrivée OM-40R doesn’t make a strong first impression. But strum an open E chord, and you’re immediately struck by its uncommonly good sound—so vivid and resonant, with impressive sustain and projection. Not only that, but the guitar is one smooth play, owing to a subtle V-shaped neck profile and perfect low action and setup. That the street price on this all-solid, US-made instrument is less than $1,500 makes the guitar seem even sweeter.

From Canada to California

In the late 1960s, Jean Larrivée, an auto mechanic by training, apprenticed as a luthier in Toronto, Canada, focusing on nylon-string guitars. He made his first steel-string in 1971, using the traditional dreadnought as a point of departure for his own experiments with structural details such as bracing patterns, which today form the basis of his company’s designs.

By 1976, Larrivée and seven employees were producing as many as 30 instruments per month, and the next several decades saw huge growth in the company, which moved to increasingly large factories in British Columbia. Larrivée’s output was robust enough to warrant opening a second plant, in Oxnard, California, in 2001, the site at which the company’s manufacturing is now consolidated (the company continues to base its wood milling operations in Canada).
Larrivée Guitars’ earliest instruments were steel-strings with marquetry rosettes, clear pickguards, and other European-influenced touches. The company’s current line reveals more of an American inspiration, with traditional details on acoustic guitars of all sizes, electric solid-body updates of 1950s and ’60s designs, as well as F- and A-style mandolins. Thanks to CNC digital technology, the already-celebrated Larrivée designs are built even better today.

Tradition & Innovation

The OM-40R has the external appearance of the classic 14-fret OM body style first seen in the 1920s. Its tonewoods include AAA-grade Sitka spruce top, rosewood back and sides, and mahogany neck. (The guitar is also available in a less expensive edition with mahogany back and sides.) The fingerboard is ebony, as is the bridge. Our review model came with choice woods: fine-grained Sitka with a lovely reddish tint; rosewood with beautiful striations, ranging from a deep purple to a warm brown matched by the mahogany; and ebony with a uniformly inky color.

Inside the OM-40R is where things get really interesting.

The soundboard is supported by Larrivée’s first new bracing pattern in four decades. It’s referred to in the Larrivée literature as a “Scalloped Parabolic Hybrid” system, which is another way of saying that it merges Larrivée’s original bracing with that found on vintage Martins. Instead of being shaped like blocks, the lateral braces are tapered and scalloped, kind of like the trestles on a suspension bridge. This design is said to provide both strength and lightness, translating to enhanced vibrations of the guitar’s top. I can’t say whether the new bracing sounds better than the old, because it’s not possible to compare them on the same instrument. But I can say that this particular guitar sounds damn good.

Design & Craftsmanship

The look of the OM-40R is fairly spartan, with traditional abalone diamonds on the fretboard and dots on the bridge pins, along with rope purfling that circles both the soundboard and soundhole. The guitar’s Canadian maple binding on the top and back offers a subtly luxurious touch, though it’s aesthetically at odds with the ivoroid neck binding and heel cap.

All of the details are rendered flawlessly on the review model, boasting a level of craftsmanship expected of more expensive guitars. The bone nut and saddle were cut with great precision, the frets smoothly crowned and polished. Pores on the woods have been evenly filled and the satin finish smoothly applied. All of the binding is flush and tidy, and there’s not a trace of excess glue outside or inside the guitar.

Versatile Voice

With its orchestra-sized body and 1.75-inch nut, the OM-40R demands to be fingerpicked, so I subjected the guitar to some basic Travis picking and found it well-balanced between the registers. The bass is thick, but not overpowering, the midrange has an appealing bark, and the treble sounds rich and clear on both open and fretted notes, all of which ring true and free of distortion.

It’s easy to do alternate tunings on the OM-40R, thanks to the guitar’s 18:1 Grover machine heads, which, with their open gears, have a vintage look, but modern performance. The guitar loses none of its lustrous sound when fingerpicked in open-G, DADGAD, or Sebastopol (open-D), and it is responsive to pick-hand nuances.

The guitar sounds as terrific played with a plectrum as it does when fingerpicked. With ample headroom, it stands up well to forceful 16th-note pendulum strumming, with a tone almost as cutting as that of a very good dreadnought. Single-note lines stand out on the OM-40R, too, with a fast response and plenty of blossom, which means the guitar will work for anything from bluegrass to swing.

A Serious Contender

There’s no shortage of all-solid, US-made orchestra models on the market these days. But few guitars in the OM-40R’s price range deliver this much. It might not dazzle with its looks, but this guitar’s excellent sound and playability make it a serious contender among much more expensive instruments, and any player in the market for a fine OM would be remiss not to give it a spin.

At A Glance

BODY Orchestra-size body. Solid Sitka spruce top. Solid rosewood back and sides. Acrylic satin finish.

NECK Mahogany neck. Ebony fingerboard and bridge. 25.5-inch scale. 1.75-inch nut width. 23/8-inch string spacing at saddle. Grover 18:1 open-gear tuners.

ELECTRONICS Multiple electronics options. Optional Shadow Nanoflex pickup.
EXTRAS D’Addario EXP17 medium-gauge phosphor-bronze strings (.013–.056); hard-shell case.

PRICE $1,899 list/$1,424 street.

Made in the United States. larrivee.com.

Contributing editor Adam Perlmutter transcribes, arranges, and engraves music for numerous publications.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar April 2014

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