Title: Fight Club: Larrivée RS4 vs.Taylor Solidbody Classic byline: ART THOMPSON sum : IT’S ALWAYS NEWSWORTHYWHEN A MAJOR producer of acoustic guitars launches a solidbody model, so we felt an embarrassment of riches when two new solids from Larrivée and Taylor arrived here. They come from different sectors of the solidbody universe—the Larrivée RS4 features humbuckers, a carved maple top, and lots of upscale appointments—while the Taylor Solidbody Classic sports three single-coils, a swamp ash body, and a bolt-on maple neck. But both are impressive offerings from companies who have built their reputations on steel-string flat-tops, so let’s see how they fare in a two horse race. content:
It’s clear that Canada’s Larrivée wanted to build an instrument with a lot of collector appeal when it designed the RS4. This lovely guitar features high-end accoutrements at every turn, as evidenced by its beautiful carved maple top, perfectly executed bindings (triple layer around the top, single ply on the neck), crisp pearl/abalone fretboard inlays, and a decorative line of genuine silver on the rosewood peghead facing. Other elements, such as the polished frets and carefully set nut, the shallow divots surrounding each knob, and the smooth contouring on the cutaway and back of the body further reflect the attention to detail that goes into the RS4. Even the control cavity is a marvel with its tidy braidedshield wiring, huge “bumblebee” electrolytic caps, and specially designed RS Guitarworks 500K½ Superpots.
The RS4 arrived with a spot-on setup (nice low action, minimal fret buzz) and it sounds remarkably in tune all over the neck. The playing feel is very good— although the flat fretboard (which transitions from 16" radius at the nut to a 20" radius at the highest frets) may not appeal to every player’s tastes—and the deep, beveled cutaway gives your hand plenty of room to reach the high notes. The balance is also perfectly neutral when you hang the RS4 on with a strap. The best part of this guitar, however, is its sound. The Jason Lollar humbuckers are a great match, and while they have a little less output than those of our resident Custom Shop Historic Les Paul Standard, they offer a smoother overall response with plenty of top-end sweetness (not as biting as the Gibson’s Burstbuckers) a clear, deep bottom, and exceptionally complex and alluring mids. Thorugh a clean sounding Dr. Z EZG 50-watt amp the RS4 delivered a range of rich, prismatic tones that could leave you wondering why you’d even want any distortion— especially in the dual-pickup mode where even slight volume differences between the pickups can yield enticing tonal colors. Plugged into a much gainier Vox Classic Plus Series AC50CP2 combo, the RS4 provided crisp, fat overdrive tones with the kind of dynamic response that allows you to get crystal clear sounds when you turn down the guitar’s Volume knobs. The Tone controls are voiced to let you dial in progressively browner—and very musical—textures, making it very easy to nail exactly the sound you want whether you’re playing in clean or highly overdriven modes.
TAYLOR SOLIDBODY CLASSIC
When it comes to innovation in guitar design, Taylor is a tough act to follow. Known for its unyielding commitment to production consistency, Taylor has also pushed the frontiers in such areas as neck joints and pickup design, and has introduced such radical new offerings as the T5 thinline electric— an instrument whose runaway success proved that guitarists would absolutely go for a different kind of axe if it was done right. Certainly one of the toughest challenges that Taylor has taken on recently is the creation of a line of solidbody instruments—the Classic, Standard, and Custom models—which feature a unique aluminum bridge, three styles of humbucking pickups, and a unique T-Lock neck joint (first deployed on the T5), which provides a rock-solid, tilt-adjustable coupling of the neck to the body, while eliminating a neck heel.
The SC on review here features Taylor’s new Style 3 noiseless single-coil pickups, which are routed though a single Volume control, a Tone control that features a wah-like voicing in the last third of its rotation (standard on all Solidbody models), and a 5-way selector (also standard) that provides the usual choices for a trio of single-coil pickups.
Compared to the Larrivèe RS4, the SC is a fairly plain looking guitar. There’s little inlay, zero binding, and the neck has a utilitarian satin sheen. The transparent white finish on the body is perfectly applied, and the pearloid pickguard and chrome knobs look sweet, but the bridge is what steals the show here. Crafted entirely from aluminum, this curvy little piece of performance art is fully adjustable for height (side to side tilt and front to back angle) and intonation. And once your intonation adjustments are made, each saddle can be locked into position with screws that are discreetly hidden under the bridge. Taylor designed its bridge to be completely ergonomic too, so you can lay your hand on it without feeling anything other than glass-smooth polished metal. Nice. Another innovative aspect of the Solidbody line is the five-milliamp fuse that’s installed in the circuit to prevent you from being shocked due to an improper ground in your system. The fuse blows, you don’t get zapped, and the guitar even keeps functioning until you can replace the fuse (albeit with a likely increase in hum due to the string ground being open). What a great idea!
With a fretboard scale that’s in between Gibson and Fender, the SC has its own feel, and it’s a good one—more elastic than a Stratocaster’s for sure. The lightly polished frets are a pleasure to bend on, the intonation sounds sweet and tuneful in all regions of the neck, and the heel-less joint makes for unhindered access to the high frets. The setup was excessively buzzy above the 12th fret, however, so I raised the bridge on both sides slightly to mitigate this. It’s easy to do by following the clear and detailed instructions, but one of the four small wood screws that hold the rear cover plate in place (which has to be removed to make height adjustments and/or lock down the saddles) stripped way too easily.
If you’re looking for enhanced clarity in a single-coil guitar you’ve come to the right place. Besides being dead quiet (even when used individually), the Type 3 single-coils sound wonderfully crisp and detailed. Though making a Mexican-made Fender Strat sound somewhat murky in comparison wasn’t a big challenge for the Solidbody Classic, what impressed us all was the spectrum of sounds it so effortlessly delivered when played through our super clean Dr. ZEZG head/4x10 rig or our very grindy Vox Custom Classic combo. You could do just about anything with this flexible guitar. The clucky dual-pickup settings nail the “Sultans of Swing” sound, the neck pickup has the ballsy response you want for SRV-style blues, the middle pickup is warm, open (great for channeling Robin Trower when paired with a new Fulltone MDV-2 Deja Vibe), and the powerful bridge unit unleashes a killer overdrive tone. Dial in the Tone knob to elicit some notched-wah color, and you can even feel like you’re playing a squawky P-90 axe.
Both of these guitars have great things to offer, so it fundamentally comes down to matter of personal preference as to which is best. The Larrivée RS4 scores well for appearance, playability, and sound, and would be a nice instrument for anyone who has a penchant for fine woods, quality craftsmanship, and delectable humbucker tones. It’s an attractively priced guitar for what it offers, but one does have to consider whether spending nearly $2,400 on a solidbody model from a company that’s known mainly for acoustic guitars makes sense—especially in light of what its trade-in value would be compared to, say, a comparable guitar from an established maker of humbucker-equipped solids, such as Gibson, Hamer, or PRS—it’s worth noting that Larrivée has made some 13,000 electrics over the past 25 years, and clearly knows what it’s doing in this field.
The Taylor Solidbody Classic has a minimum of appointments and instead puts its emphasis on things that really make sense for players who favor single-coil guitars. Its excellent pickups yield an abundance of great sounds, the bridge is a technical masterpiece, and the single-bolt neck joint design allows the user to quickly and easily reset the tilt angle for optimum playability—something that any traveling musician can appreciate. The SC isn’t a replacement for a Strat—especially if you’re a vibrato user—but it is certainly an impressive guitar that has much more to offer than most clones of Fender’s three-pickup workhorse.