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Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom review

Two acoustics from the celebrated Larrivée stable with contrasting spec and very individual personalities. Something for everyone? Let’s find out…

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom
(Image: © Future / Olly Curtis)

Our Verdict

The 000 is a special edition with superb build quality and a punchy, fingerstyle-friendly sound while the D-03R is good all-round dreadnought with everything you’d expect from this body size.

For

  • Attractive designs and top build quality.
  • Sure to age well.
  • The dreadnought is dynamic, balancing sweetness with power.
  • The 000 is beautifully refined.

Against

  • The koa might deter those looking for a more traditional 000.

Jean Larrivée’s guitar company has a very clear remit when it comes to making its instruments. All high-quality solid timber with no laminates or artificial woods used in the process and with top-class workmanship throughout. 

As the company’s manifesto says: “We use FSC wood and engage in as much selective logging as possible. This means we like to be there, in the forest, personally taking part. Imagine, when we begin to create your instrument, we begin on the forest floor…”

This literally down-to-earth philosophy has been confirmed in every Larrivée that has passed through our hands in recent years. There’s always something special about them and we admit to a smidge of excitement every time we open a case to view a new model. 

Here, we have two instruments from very different areas of the company’s catalogue. One, a standard Recording Series dreadnought, the other a special UK-only limited run that sees a Legacy Series 000 souped-up with a few luxury refinements and an alternative set of back and sides timber. We’ll consider each in turn, beginning with the D-03R. So let’s get cracking…

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

There’s something immensely satisfying about a dreadnought. Somehow it feels like an acoustic guitar ought to be in terms of both dimension and sound. This is probably due to the fact that the Martin D-28 seemed to be standard fare among the singer-songwriter crowd during that golden era around the late 1960s and early 70s. 

In those days, dreadnoughts were ubiquitous, offering the lowly solo performers all the drive and power they needed to render an accompaniment to their vocals – and dreads seemed to be totally at home in a band context as well. 

It’s only recently that we’ve seen the emergence of smaller-bodied acoustics take over as amplification, pickups and particularly PA and onstage monitoring technology have come on in leaps and bounds. But there’s something delightfully nostalgic about the power and the glory of a good ol’ dreadnought in your hands. Well, for players of a certain vintage, anyway…

Larrivée 000-40 Custom

Larrivée 000-40 Custom (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Larrivée’s D-03R doesn’t have any real surprises in store in terms of its construction. It has a Sitka spruce top with Indian rosewood for the back and sides with a mahogany neck and ebony for the headstock faceplate, fingerboard and bridge. 

It’s a tried-and-tested combination and a recipe that has served generations of acoustic players well. The Sitka spruce top hails from Canada and features an even grain pattern with a satin finish that feels great to the touch – there’s almost a ‘worn in’ vibe going on. 

That finish extends to other areas, too, the dark-chocolate hue of the Indian rosewood offset by maple binding, and the African mahogany’s wild grain pattern enhancing the general good looks of the instrument. 

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

Larrivée D-03R  (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The ebony fingerboard is maple bound and features 20 perfectly seated frets and dot-style position markers where you’d expect to find them. Both the nut and string saddle are bone and other onboard furnishings include Larrivée’s own closed-back tuners, a herringbone rosette and a mock tortoiseshell pickguard.

Workmanship throughout is excellent, with everything neat and tidy inside and out. All in all we’re eager to hear what the D-03R has to say for itself. But firstly we’ll take a whizz around the spec of its companion, the 000-40 Custom. 

Having waxed poetic about the charms of the dreadnought, we must say we’re almost as enchanted by the 000-size acoustic as well. Whereas a dread might have the sonic firepower and strength of delivery, OMs or 000s are packed with a kind of refined charm all their own. 

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

As we’ve said, this is a custom variation on Larrivée’s standard model and so we’ll begin by offering a quick tour of what’s on offer in terms of upgrades. 

Sound-wise, the D-03R IS everything you’d expect… and possibly more. There’s that compressed midrange punch to campfire chords, but it’s overlaid with a generous dollop of sweetness

The standard model has mahogany for its back and sides, but here we find koa, a body wood that’s renowned for having the midrange of mahogany but something of the top-end of maple as well.

It’s also a wood that tends to mature with age, starting its tonal journey with a lot of brightness – something you find with maple – but maturing over the years to produce a rich, sweet midrange and exceedingly resonant overall tone.

It’s an attractive timber, too, maybe not as off the wall as some members of the rosewood or ebony families, but its mid-brown hue is embellished by a streaky sapele-like grain and here it has just a hint of a flame to it, too.

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The 000-40’s top has received an upgrade as well. The standard model’s Sitka spruce is replaced by the slightly more ethereal-sounding moonwood spruce, which gets its name from the fact that it’s harvested during the final quarter of the last moon before winter in its native Switzerland. 

Moonwood spruce also has the reputation for a close grain, a reflection of it being grown at altitude, and is reputedly more sustainable than its counterparts.

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The headstock fascia on this Custom model has a vine inlay and Larrivée has used real mother-of-pearl here and for the fretboard’s position markers. 

Furthermore, the ebony bridge is of the ‘pyramid’ variety and the label inside the soundhole has been signed by Jean Larrivée himself. As you might imagine, this puts the guitar into a highly collectable area, above and beyond its tonal remodelling.

Feel & Sounds

Returning to the D-03R, we find a neck that feels satisfyingly wide and fairly chunky in the hand, that satin finish aiding and abetting the general good vibes in this region. 

Sound-wise, it’s everything you’d expect… and possibly more. There’s that compressed midrange punch to campfire chords, but it’s overlaid with a generous dollop of sweetness. 

The sustain is well up to muster with a good amount of snap to the trebles and a refined bass – no ungainly boominess here – making the playing experience a very good one indeed. Strummed gently there’s enough shimmer to satisfy any lovelorn minstrel and things can get pretty rowdy when you put your foot on the throttle, too. All being said, it’s a great-sounding instrument and it looks the part as well.

Turning our attention to the 000-40, we find ourselves thinking that, conceptually at least, a triple-0 or OM-sized body always seems a lot smaller than the mighty dreadnought, whereas there’s actually only around 25mm difference in body width and about 15mm in depth. 

Of course, you need to take into account that the triple-0 is a 12-fretter, which adds to the overall impression that we’re dealing with something far more petite in nature. Anyway, we digress…

The neck of the 000-40 feels slightly thinner in the hand and the nut width is a couple of millimetres wider, but, like its counterpart, the playing experience is a good one. The main difference in performance is down to focus in that here everything seems more defined, with notes having a more individual presence without the compression that a dreadnought brings to the table. 

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

Larrivée D-03R (Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

We’ve no way to accurately measure it, but we’d swear the 000 sounds louder, too. Perhaps this is the influence of the koa back and sides or that moon spruce top coming into the picture. It’s a fingerstylist’s dream, in many ways, with an elegant nature when we allow some open strings to ring within a suitably proggy chord arrangement. 

As we’ve said, koa has the reputation of opening up and maturing over time and when this is combined with the spruce top’s natural inclination to become warmer and more mellow over the years, the chances are that this guitar is going to be an absolute stunner a little further down the road.

Larrivée D-03R and 000-40 Custom

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

Verdict

We’re not about to pick a favourite here as it wouldn’t really be fair. The 000 is a custom instrument with a raft of refinements to its name and an extra £1k on its price tag, after all. 

But it’s safe to say that we’ve been seriously impressed by both instruments. They both perform well up to – and maybe beyond – expectations, build quality is exemplary, and we’d happily take either out to a gig. 

Price-wise, the D-03R comes in at a few hundred less than a Martin D-18 and hovers around the same price point as a few models in Taylor’s catalogue. 

The 000-40 Custom is in a far more refined area, challenging Martin’s Modern Deluxe 000-18, for instance. But if a 000 12-fretter or a dreadnought is the stuff of dreams for you, Larrivée should definitely be on your radar, along with the other big hitters.  

Specs

Larrivée D-03R

  • PRICE: £2,199 (inc hard case)
  • ORIGIN: USA
  • TYPE: Dreadnought
  • TOP: Sitka spruce
  • BACK/SIDES: Indian rosewood
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 127mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 406mm
  • NECK: Mahogany
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • TUNERS: Larrivée
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 20
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Ebony/56mm
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 2.21/4.88
  • OPTIONS: D-03 with mahogany back and sides is £1,899. Various pickup options are available – see website for details
  • RANGE OPTIONS: There are plenty of dreadnoughts in Larrivée’s catalogue: the D-03H/A featuring Bhilwara back and sides with a moonwood top (£2,499), the mahogany and spruce D-02 (£1,799), the D-40 with mahogany and spruce (£1,999) and D-40R with rosewood and spruce (£2,279)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Yes
  • FINISH: Satin

Specs

Larrivée 000-40 Custom

  • PRICE: £3,269 (inc hard case)
  • ORIGIN: USA
  • TYPE: 000 size acoustic
  • TOP: Alpine spruce
  • BACK/SIDES: Koa
  • MAX RIM DEPTH: 114mm
  • MAX BODY WIDTH: 391mm
  • NECK: Mahogany
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • TUNERS: Open back 18:1
  • NUT/WIDTH: Bone/44.45mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony
  • FRETS: 18
  • BRIDGE/SPACING: Ebony/57.15mm
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.58/3.5
  • OPTIONS: None
  • RANGE OPTIONS: The standard 000-44 with mahogany back and sides is £2,649, and the 000-44R with rosewood back and sides is £2,899. Various pickup options are available – see website for details
  • LEFT-HANDERS: Yes
  • FINISH: Satin
  • CONTACT: Larrivee (opens in new tab)

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With over 30 years’ experience writing for guitar magazines, including at one time occupying the role of editor for Guitarist and Guitar Techniques, David is also the best-selling author of a number of guitar books for Sanctuary Publishing, Music Sales, Mel Bay and Hal Leonard. As a player he has performed with blues sax legend Dick Heckstall-Smith, played rock ’n’ roll in Marty Wilde’s band, duetted with Martin Taylor and taken part in charity gigs backing Gary Moore, Bernie Marsden and Robbie McIntosh, among others. An avid composer of acoustic guitar instrumentals, he has released two acclaimed albums, Nocturnal and Arboretum.