At just a heart nudge over the grand mark, can the all-solid, all-American Larrivée D-40 Legacy Series prove itself a king of value in the dreadnought arena? Alun Lower finds out…
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing especially new or different about the D-40. Familiar dreadnought outline? Check. All-solid construction? Check. Austere, but ever-so classy ornamentation? Check and check. It’s standard stuff really if you’re a fan of the classic dreadnought, looking for a quality guitar at around a grand, but if I’ve learned anything in my time as a guitar reviewer, it would have to be “don’t underestimate a Larrivée”. I’ve done so before and been completely bowled over by some of the nicest guitars I’ve ever played, and in truth it would be difficult to go into this review expecting any different. For me, Larrivée’s entry-level (well, for pros and serious enthusiasts) instruments are the very definition of the word “workhorse”, which is meant absolutely with the highest praise. Where the D-40 chooses to make its mark though is with a new bracing system that Larrivée is lauding as yielding not only the famous balance and clarity of the company’s modern-style acoustics, but also the bass response, depth and, well, X-factor of a vintage guitar. It’s a claim I’m sure many of you have seen elsewhere, but I dare say that if any company can manage it, Larrivée would be the one to pull it off.
The majority of the D-40’s construction is fairly standard stuff. A solid Sitka spruce top sits neatly on a beautifully coloured mahogany back and sides, immediately providing you with a classic tonal combination that should add a good hit of mid-range honk to the combination of power and clarity that dread users crave. In keeping with the vintage theme the decoration is minimal, sporting rope-style purfling sat on Canadian maple binding and a set of elegant diamond inlays dotted up and down the ebony fingerboard. This leads up to a rosewood veneer on the face of the headstock inlaid with a mother-of-pearl Larrivée logo and surrounded by a set of Grover 18:1 tuners, which work as smoothly and expertly as you would hope.
The nut, saddle and bridge pins are all CNC-cut bone, with the aforementioned bridge pins further enhanced by some mother-of-pearl dot inlays. A tortoiseshell pickguard completes the topside of the guitar, sitting in with the rest of the look very nicely indeed. The neck itself is made from a single piece of mahogany – an arguably superficial but nonetheless pleasing note. The whole guitar is then finished with a acrylic satin finish, feeling totally smooth to the touch and applied wafer-thin, managing to avoid any unsightly build-up around the tighter corners of the construction.
The bracing pattern on the other hand is where things get interesting, as Larrivée has opted for a pattern the company has dubbed “Scalloped Parabolic Hybrid Bracing.” Usually in guitar construction you would choose between scalloped and parabolic bracing, the difference between the two generally being that scalloped bracing yields a deeper, richer bass while parabolic offers a crisper response and great definition. Larrivée traditionally has used parabolic bracing in most of its guitars, leading to a well-earned reputation for exceptional string balance and clarity, particularly when it comes to the lower strings. Vintage aficionados may however look upon this stability and balance as somewhat rigid and clinical, preferring the richer character of scalloped bracing. The idea is with this hybrid that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. The question is – does it work?
Having reviewed quite a few fingerpicking-based guitars lately I was pretty excited to give my plectrum a work out with this. I’ll admit that in my own personal tastes I’d usually take a concert or grand auditorium body over a dreadnought, as I just generally prefer a different tonal spectrum to the one offered up by a dreadnought. To my great surprise, the D-40 actually offers a lot more than I expected, and I believe that the bracing pattern has a lot to do with that. Where some dreads lose a bit of low-end warmth for the sake of definition, the D-40 is practically bursting at the seams with the sheer dynamic range on offer. The low strings are powerful, balanced and absolutely, pristinely clear; a combination that can be really tough to get right, with many attempts ending up muddy and overpowering or a little sterile and restricted.
The high strings fight admirably against the thundering low and with equal volume and presence, which is of course a dream for strumming but does actually work very well for fingerpicking, too. In short, this is a supremely versatile guitar. The mahogany gives the mid-range a good boost and means you can still sound authentic if you indulge in a bit of slide, blues and rootsy Americana. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that you can opt for rosewood back and sides.
Playability is absolutely superb, as you would expect with the quality of finishing on the frets of the very highest standards and the comfy C-profile of the neck. All this adds up to a supremely impressive guitar with tone and personality to die for. Whether it completely nails the vintage vibe of a Gibson or Martin is tough to say at this point, but for a new guitar that hasn’t even begun to mature in its tonality, there’s little doubt that this guitar will continue to impress as time goes on and turn into a real treasure.
Larrivée is a company that very rarely puts a foot wrong, and the D-40 is a perfect example of just why that is. Meticulous, immaculate, smart and beautiful – it’s everything you could want in a mahogany-backed dread that offers all the clarity and reliability of a modern guitar with the full and dynamic character of a vintage-styled classic. The fact that it also comes in at an incredibly reasonable price is simply icing on the cake and makes it very difficult to level any real kind of complaints towards it. Any argument of tonewoods or complaints at the lack of electronics can be addressed elsewhere in the range. There will be very few guitarists out there that could claim to being even slightly disappointed by a guitar like this. If you’re in the market for a new guitar, put this very high on your “must-try” list. Alun Lower
Model: D-40 Legacy Series
Retail Price: £1,249
Body Size: Dreadnought
Made In: USA
Top: Solid Sitka spruce
Back and Sides: Mahogany
Tuners: Grover 18:1
Nut Width: 1 11/16”
Scale Length: 25.5”
Onboard Electronics: Optional
Strings Fitted: High quality USA
Left Handers: Yes
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hardcase
Pros: Great price, wood combos, and bracing that delivers what it set out to
Cons: There’s nothing to grumble about with the D-40
Overall: A supremely versatile guitar that is at home with both fingerpicking and strumming
Sound Technology Ltd.