Combine being in the right place at the right time with 50 plus years of hard work and dedication to quality and the result is Larrivee Guitars. Jean Larrivee, with the help of his family of friends over the past 50 plus years, has created a top shelf instrument. Let's take a look at its journey.
Much of Jean Larrivee’s family are cabinet makers. Jean’s Father had nine brothers, most of which were cabinet makers. Larrivee had a curiosity at an early age after learning to play, to build a guitar on his own. He was introduced to Edgar Munich, a fine guitar maker in the area, just by chance while visiting a family friend. He mentioned to Munich his interest in making a guitar himself and Edgar, for one reason or another, took a liking to Jean Larrivee and invited him to return the next day to learn the ropes.
From the beginning of his classic guitar building history to current day, Jean Larrivee makes sure he’s part of each guitar’s production process as he is the sole person responsible for matching the woods of each of his guitars. Just a couple years were spent in his home following his internship with Edgar before moving his work into a commercial space in nearby Toronto. With the move came exposure and Jean was quick to see the need to produce a steel string guitar. Instead of sticking to tradition, in 1971 Larrivee began experimenting with new and different sizes and shapes of guitars. Much of what Jean knew from his studying and experience with classical guitars he tried to incorporate into his steel guitar design. To his delight, the result was a sturdy and well-balanced sounding instrument. What started off as a solo endeavor in his own home turned into somewhat of a partnership as he gave room to like-minded interns. From one to two, from two to four -- soon Jean found companionship with having a workforce and left working alone in the past. Jean wasn’t looking for workers, however, he was looking for talent.
“The skills involved in becoming a guitar maker is of course very hard, and it’s something that takes a long time to learn,” Jean says. “One couldn’t learn it in six months or a year. To be very good at it would probably take seven, eight, maybe ten years depending on the person. Some people are very quick learners and you could teach someone of that caliber maybe in three years to be very good, but there are so many aspects to a job.
“For someone to be able to take a square piece of wood and make it fit the hand of a person and be very consistent at it, not using a tool, but simply using a file or plane simple device like that, to be able to be very consistent at it takes a long time and these people are very hard to come by. Very rare.”
In 1972 Larrivee Guitars may have made its largest acquisition with the introduction of the talented Wendy Jones. Wendy added her artistic touch to Jean’s guitars with her hand-made, detailed inlays that Larrivee to this day is still well known for. Wendy and Jean married in 1971.
Through 1977 the company grew and grew and Jean found it hard to call any place home as he continued to relocate his expanding company. It was Vancouver, British Columbia that finally slowed Jean down. The coastal city had a mild climate, space for future growth and arguably most important was its vicinity to some of the world’s best cedar and spruce. “Because the guitars are shipped in every different country and different location you could possibly imagine, from Yukon down to Florida, to Toronto, Tokyo and so forth, the problem rises that the guitar has to be made under environmental conditions,” Jean Larrivee explains. “You can’t make the guitars in a wet environment. You can’t make the guitars in a dry environment. You have to compromise somewhere, so we follow a pattern which is the best one we could find and come up with, and that seems to be a 42% relative humidity to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Years and several moves later, the company introduced the still notorious D-03 model guitar. Jean produced this guitar intending to only make a limited quantity as a special edition, but the solid wood guitar hit the market and demand exploded. The D-03 was quickly added to the permanent catalog. The following year, Larrivee moved to a 33,000 square foot warehouse along with a staff of over 100 and began producing an average of nearly 70 guitars daily. The success pushed them to open an additional factory, this time in Southern California on September 1st of 2001. One of the worst days in US history happened less than two weeks later on September 11th. Like the rest of the nation, Larrivee pushed to stay afloat during the tough time, reduced production and did all they could to continue to produce instruments.
Over a decade later Jean Larrivee and his company are running strong both in their Southern California and Canadian plants. Brendan of Heartbreaker Guitars in the beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada had the opportunity to speak with the great Jean Larrivee at this year's Winter NAMM 2019.
Before we go our separate ways, I need to show you a couple models currently in stock at Heartbreaker Guitars. They are a proud Larrivee dealer and will happily answer any questions you have about Larrivee Guitars. The first model that catches my eye is the Larrivee L-03R 2018 Model. This guitar is built for sound and is built incredibly. The flawless construction starts the solid wood all through out the guitar. The Sitka Spruce top sits over a beautiful Indian Rosewood back and sides giving this guitar a loud, fantastic tone. Maple binding, herringbone rosette and satin finish are all elements you'll find standard in each of Larrivee's 03 models made right here in the US.
For a slight step up in features you can test out the Larrivee OM 40R with Stage Pro Element Pick Up. This guitar is built around the orchestra body shape, featuring the same high grade Sitka Spruce over Indian Rosewood. The scalloped bracing secures the on-board electronics which you can hear sampled by Brendan and Mike on the L 03E model here below!
Daniel Odle DannyOdle@gmail.com Heartbreaker Guitars Contributor
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