If you’re looking for a fingerpicker with a difference, you walnut be disappointed. Alun Lower takes a closer look at the Larrivée OM-03 WW…
Anyone in the least bit familiar with reviews of Larrivée guitars will know that they generally only go one way, and that’s straight to the five star club and assuring themselves a place right at the top of any magazine’s annual “best gear” awards. So consistent in quality are they, that every time I know I’m going to be looking at a new Larrivée I always feel like a certain part of the review is going to write itself. Curiously, that didn’t happen on this occasion as I’ve never played an all-walnut guitar before in my life. Back and sides, sure – but never the entire body. So while I’m more than familiar with Larrivée’s OM-03, I really had no idea what to expect, tonally, from such an instrument. That makes for quite the enticing prospect indeed, so without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff.
For all my admiration of Larrivée, I honestly found myself in the unfathomable situation of being a little underwhelmed upon first opening the case. Guitars featuring walnut that I’ve tested in the past have always featured some beautiful figuring, but the OM-03 actually looks fairly flat and uninteresting – and that’s coming from someone who generally likes to keep his guitars as simple as possible. The matte finish, while flawless in quality and perfectly applied, really doesn’t help matters – making what should be an exotic wood look more like a laminate. In truth the neck is the most visually appealing element on display, being the only piece of wood on the entire guitar that looks to have any depth and variance in the grain. Granted – this won’t be an important factor in the slightest for most people and certainly doesn’t impact how this guitar sounds – but every element in guitar design has a factor on the player’s enjoyment and for me the looks just don’t hit the mark on this occasion.
All of that said, every other conceivable facet of the OM-03’s construction is just ludicrously good. In all my days, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a guitar builder that can rival the consistency of quality that Larrivée offer. Every element is fine-tuned to perfection, from the quality and performance of the tuners to the pinpoint accuracy of the binding. Every fret is filed and polished immaculately, with superb intonation and playability. The action as always is set to the exact height I have come to expect (and thoroughly enjoy), while string tension and tuning stability are also excellent. These guitars are so immaculately built, you’d think a 3D printer had churned them out – yet this is a crafted, organic product designed to create art. Larrivée clearly has the keenest eye for balance and detail that you could hope for – and it pays off in spades.
Elsewhere on the guitar you have an immaculate ebony fingerboard, bridge and headstock fascia, each inlaid flawlessly with the dot marker and Larrivée logo details. The top is supported by Larrivée’s symmetrical parabolic X-bracing, and is accented nicely by the herringbone rosette and crisp maple binding.
Reservations about the looks aside, the one thing I was looking forward to more than anything with the OM-03 was to experience the tones of an all-walnut body crafted by one of the best in the business. The resulting tone is something that surprised and challenged me in many ways, and I’ll do my best to describe exactly why.
Without a doubt my favourite element of the tone is the bass response. We talk about clarity of the low end but this is something else – almost baritone-like in its response and definition, especially if you experiment with some alternate tunings. It’s a beautiful, expansive and dark tone that begs to be played and had me hooked from the first note. The OM-03 obviously looks very similar to an all-mahogany instrument at first glance and for that reason my brain told me to expect a bias towards the mid-range, but in truth the mids are relatively subdued and instead you get a bright, balanced high end taking over the tone. It’s a different sort of treble, though – not sparkly or zingy like a spruce top but somewhere between cedar and mahogany. There’s just a little bit of roll-off that stops the high end getting ahead of itself – and whether that suits you will depend very much on your preferences and style of playing.
To put it simply, strumming with a pick is not the way to get the most out of this guitar. The unique high and low and response is far more suited to fingerpicking, offering a clear and defined playing experience that leans slightly more towards the lower end of the tonal spectrum. The high end is not nearly as dominant as you may expect and this makes playing with a pick sound a little imbalanced to my ear. Strumming by flicking your fingers out and using the back of your nails yielded a much more responsive and characterful tone, while thumbing the lower strings kept that baritone feel very much at the forefront. The overall character is very “woody” and natural, with bags of volume and projection but a little more subtle than I had originally anticipated. While there were elements I loved, this isn’t a tone that suits all styles and will definitely have to be heard in person before a purchase decision is made.
All things considered, I found my time with the OM-03 WW to be a mixed bag in the truest sense – intriguing, challenging and exciting all at the same time. As always with Larrivée value for money is quite remarkable – for just over the £1,000 mark you will really struggle to find a guitar maker that offers so much across its range of instruments.
I’ll be honest – if I was personally looking for a new guitar tomorrow, this wouldn’t be the one. However, I actually see this as a huge positive – I can’t remember the last time I tried a “special edition” guitar that was actually individualistic enough to split opinion like this. That’s really deserving of praise in my book and I have no doubt that there will be plenty of you out there that will fall head over heels for the OM-03’s unique voice. Fingerpickers, in particular, do need to try out this guitar if looking to spend somewhere in this price range. So would those who employ a variety of tunings – the intriguing balance of the high end and almost baritone-like lows make this a guitar that rewards experimentation.
So while this guitar doesn’t rocket itself straight to a five star review from me, don’t let that make you think that this Larrivée compares poorly to any of its peers. The best piece of advice I can give is to get out there and try one – I’m sure you’ll be surprised and, who knows, it might just be the one.
Need To Know
Retail Price: £1,249
Body Size: OM
Made In: USA
Top: Solid Peruvian walnut
Back and Sides: Solid Peruvian walnut
Fingerboard: African ebony
Tuners: Ping, 18:1
Nut Width: 1 ¾”
Scale Length: 25.5”
Left Handers: No
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hardshell case
Acoustic test results
Pros: Great value for money – flawlessly built guitar from a great name
Cons: Lack of figuring on the walnut may leave some feeling a little short-changed
Overall: Unique voice and tonal contrast for fingerstylists – if that’s you, check this out
Sound Technology Ltd.