Where It All Begins
The California shop was officially opened on September 1st, 2001 - Ten days before the events of 9/11. It was not a good time to expand a business. Larrivee had always been a Canadian Company, but our largest market had always been in America. Having the Canadian/US Border between us and our largest market was very difficult, and thus we made the decision to move south. Though originally we looked at Ventura California, we settled on Oxnard for several reasons: The climate (absolutely perfect for guitar building year round), accessibility to shipping ports, access to airports, and of course lifestyle - This is a great place to live.
What is most interesting about this new shop is what it has allowed us to accomplish; the Canadian shop has been running for many years, and has been producing wonderful guitars - but the California shop was completely empty when we started and we had to tool-up from scratch. It allowed us to re-invent many of the methods and procedures that we use to build guitars. Don't get us wrong - that doesn't mean "building guitars by machine" but in fact the opposite, reinventing the methods of hand building to make a truly world class hand-made acoustic guitar. We re-invented our body building departments, our kerfing area, our neck fit areas, how we buff guitars, even how we paint guitars. It allowed Jean Larrivee to build the guitars he wanted, from a clean slate.
The shop we are currently in is about 16000 Square feet. It contains about 1200 Square feet of offices. We've built two Climate Controlled rooms within the shop, as well as a large spray booth and two mezzanines.
The "1070 Yarnell Place" Guitar Shop.
Because we are a relatively young factory, some of our parts still come from the Canadian facility. As of 2006 we manufactured the entire instrument with the exception of the raw neck, sanded tops/backs/sides, and bracing.
The very first stage of production at this shop is the raw wood processing. Though our Canadian shop has been supplying our parts, we are at the stage of cutting some of our own wood and processing it. Below you can see Jean Larrivee and Matthew Larrivee sawing Quilted Mahogany for a special run of guitars. Often times people are amazed to find out that the Larrivee Family actually work on every instrument. Jean, Matthew, John Jr, and Wendy are all actively working on guitars every day.
Jean Larrivee and son Matthew resawing quilted mahogany.
We start by matching the backs & sides together. It is all but impossible to have a back and sides come from the same piece of wood (obviously due to the difference in size), so we take thousands and backs, and thousands of sides and match them together based on various factors including Grain pattern, Color, and density. Once matched, we look for a perfect soundboard to compliment the sides.
Master Grade Parlor Soundboards Ready to match
The soundboards and backs are sent into the climate room and stacked in a special rack that allows air to circulate around both sides of the wood. We leave the wood for a week or so to acclimatize before strutting. This room is kept under the strict climate control of 42% humidity relative to 72 Degrees. We build our instruments at 42% humidity, which is about 2% higher than our competition - We feel 40% is too low. The acclimatization of the tops and backs is one of the most important stages in the construction of the guitar. If the wood is not properly climatized, it can have dramatic effects on playability, durability, and sound quality of the instrument.
In the background, Carlos loads backs into the acclimatizing rack.
With the tops and backs safely in the climate room, we can begin to bend the sides of the instruments. All of the sides are bent by hand using heat and steam. The waist of the instrument is hand bent over a hot pipe, and the remainder of the body is bend over a custom made stainless steel bending iron heated to roughly 275 degrees. These molds both heat up very fast, and cool very fast which is ideal for side bending. We bend not only the sides, but the solid wood binding as well. The idea is to have the water turn to steam which causes the fibers in the wood to loosen and become flexible. When the wood cools, it becomes rigid again.
Bending the waist on an OM-05
Bending the lower bout of an OM-05
Once the sides are bent and cooled, we remove them from the mold and trim them to the correct length. We then glue the side to a South American Mahogany head block, and Baltic Birch Laminate tail block. One interesting thing to note is that the tail block is the only laminate piece of wood on a Larrivee Guitar - and it is not used as a cost saving measure. The block is made from a cross-hatched Baltic Birch laminate which is actually more expensive than solid wood. We use it because many people install end-pins and pickup in their instruments. If someone were to lightly drop the guitar on it's endpin and the tail block was made from solid wood, the block would be at risk of cracking. This block doesn't take away from the tone, but does add durability and protection to a risk-area of the instrument.
Gil is gluing the sides together into a frame
Once the frame is glued together, we glue in a thin black fiber patch on the bass side of the instrument. This is for the sole purpose of protecting the instrument should someone want to install side mounted electronics in the guitar. Following this, we "Kerf" the frame. The "Kerfing" is a thin strip of African Mahogany (Khaya) with many saw-cuts on it to allow it to flex around the frame. We apply this kerfing around the top and back of the inside the guitar. The primary purpose for the kerfing is two fold: Provide a greater surface area for the top and back to be glued to, and to provide added rigidity for the sides. The kerfing is glued in with hundreds of little clamps.
Kerfing being glued into a OOO-60 with various clamps
Once kerfed, the frame is then meticulously sanded and checked for lumps, bumps, and gaps. Even though this is an area of the guitar that you will never see, it is painstakingly sanded with 3 different grits of sand paper. Any gaps between the frame and the kerfing are filled and sanded.
Paula sands the frame of an L-09 with 240 grit sand paper.
Now that the frame is kerfed, we now need to sand the surface the top and bottom of the fram (where the top and back will be glued). This is done on two large rotary sanders. The frame is loaded into a "mold", and then placed onto a large flat disc sander (soundboard side down). They mold is then flipped over and placed into a bowl shaped sander. This "bowl" shape provides a curvature to the surface upon which the back will be glued.
Loading an L-09 Frame into a mold.
Frame Sanders (Right hand side is flat, Left hand side is arched).