Published March 22, 2013
I had several questions for master guitar maker Jean Larriveé, founder (in 1967) and owner of Jean Larriveé Guitar Inc. (That’s the French man’s name Jean, not the woman’s name.) I’ve been studying guitars in great detail as I prepare to buy, and I had the good fortune to ask the man himself about scale length, bracing, tonal qualities, recording ideas and the proper guitar for Celtic melody playing.
I met Jean Larriveé and Ricky Thompson, the Larriveé director of sales and artist relations, when they visited Wildwood Music in Roscoe Village, across the river from Coshocton, last Saturday. Wildwood owners Marty Rodabaugh and Don McKay sponsored the visit, having stocked an abundance of Larriveé guitars and maintained a business relationship/friendship with Larriveé for many years.
The small store was quite crowded, so it took a while for me to get Jean’s ear, but I enjoyed perusing the store, and I had nowhere else to go. Jean and Ricky answered all my questions, and I learned later that Jean prefers the smaller guitars to the large dreadnoughts that dominate U.S. guitar preferences.
I was surprised to hear that people drove from Indiana (four and a half hours), Michigan and Virginia (six hours) to meet Jean, who was personable, informative and instantly likable. After the store closed, many of us adjourned to the Warehouse restaurant in Roscoe Village for dinner with Jean, Ricky, Marty and Don.
Jean held forth at Marty’s request on guitar talk but also told many personal stories, including describing his minimalist packing for business trips and washing clothes in hotel rooms by tromping on them during his shower.
Someone said, “You could write a book — ‘Traveling with Jean Larriveé,’” and Jean said wryly, “You don’t want to travel with me.”
Jean bragged about his wife Wendy’s artwork for pearl inlays and made us laugh when he told us about enjoying her drawings of nude women from the life drawing class she was taking.
Jean stressed proper instrument care, especially preventing cracks caused by changes in weather. Jean said he builds guitars to last 150 years, to be instruments a person passes on to his children and grandchildren, and they can last but must receive proper care. “My guitars are delicate,” he said. “That’s why they sound the way they do.”
And that sound is superb. I played a 12-string at the store and loved its balanced tone and its light touch, although it was hard to hear its true sound with the talking and guitar playing occurring throughout the building, and I played a diminutive parlor guitar, that size taking its dimensions from the size of guitars in the 1800s, and it possessed an excellent rich tone for such a relatively small instrument.
It was well worth my three hours of driving to meet Jean and Ricky and visit Marty and Don. Nothing makes a business real like meeting the people behind it, and my arsenal of guitar knowledge is richer thanks to these four people.
See Larriveé guitars at http://www.larrivee.com/ and Wildwood Music at http://www.wildwoodmusic.com/.