Pros: Two high quality entry-level guitars
Cons: See review
Well, I'm going to do it again. I'm going to put a review in the wrong category. Sort of. The guitar I'm all excited about is the Larrivee D03, an entry-level mahogany guitar that can be had for only $599 at Guitar Center. But since Larrivee isn't represented on Epinions, I'm going to sneak my review into the Guild D-4 section.
I'll compare the two, since I have some experience with both guitars, and both were on hand for my latest trip to Guitar Center.
Both the Guild D-4 and the Larrivee D03 are entry-level mahogany dreadnought guitars from good manufacturers, and both can be had for about $599 (each retails for about $899). But there are substantial differences in their look, playability, and sound, making for an interesting comparison.
The Guild D-4
The Guild D-4 is a solid mahogany guitar with a spruce top. It was added to Guild's line of guitars in 1991, and is based on the venerable D-25. A bluegrass buddy of mine plays an old D-25, and it is a pretty good sounding guitar: punchy and midrangy. His 25 has also held up well to years of abuse.
The fingerboard of the Guild D-4 is made of "morado" wood, according to Guild's website. I've never heard of morado, but since it looks like rosewood and plays like rosewood, I'll assume it's rosewood.
(Note: A quick search on Google.com revealed morado to be a kind of rosewood from near the Bolivian Andes.)
The basic Guild D-4 (actually called the D-4HR, the "HR" meaning "hand-rubbed") has a matte finish, simple black binding, and no stripe down its back. It has the familiar Guild pick guard. The quality of wood seems to be high, and the mahogany has an attractive reddish hue.
The adjustable truss rod is accessed through the headstock, as with Gibson guitars.
The Larrivee D03
The Larrivee D03 is also a solid mahogany guitar with a spruce top. However, its fingerboard is made of ebony, which plays faster and wears better than rosewood.
Like the Guild D-4, the Larrivee has a matte finish. Unlike the Guild, the Larrivee's binding is light in color, and the pick guard is clear, an unusual touch. Like the Guild D-4, the Larrivee D03 has no stripe down its back. The quality of wood is comparable to the Guild, and the mahogany is finished in a more subtle hue (not quite as red).
The adjustable truss rod is accessed through the sound hole, as with Martin guitars.
So which is the more satisfying guitar?
Both of these guitars are straightforward and utilitarian in their appearance, which I like, not being a fan of fancy ornamentation. The matte finishes render them a bit humble in a room full of shiny Martins and Taylors, but that doesn't bother me. The Guild has an unusual all-wood headstock, while the Larrivee's is black, with wood on the sides. Both look nice.
I prefer the appearance of the Larrivee, because the Guild's pickguard style has never appealed to me, and the Larrivee's clear pickguard makes the guitar look unusually clean.
But which you prefer will be a matter of personal taste.
Neither of these guitars have necks as streamline as a Taylor, but the Guild has a rosewood (or close to rosewood) fingerboard, while the Larrivee's is made of ebony. Here, the edge goes to the Larrivee. The Larrivee also comes outfitted with Elixer strings, which make it even easier to play, but that's something you can change. Many players actually prefer Martin Marquis or other strings to the Elixers, but I find them to sound good on Taylor and Larrivee guitars. The action on the samples of both guitars I played was comparable and quite good: low, but not so low as to impart unwanted buzzes.
Overall, I'd give the edge to the Larrivee. An ebony fingerboard on a guitar that can be bought for $600 is something to crow about.
Both of these guitars had sound that could be described as "mahogany sound," which is to say punchy and direct. But there was one way in which these guitars were opposites. The Guild was distinctly midrangy, with only OK bass, subdued trebles, and moderate sustain. the Larrivee was fuller in the bass, a bit reserved in the midrange, and quite bright in the treble, with remarkable sustain. Notes on the Larrivee seemed to keep going on forever.
The Larrivee also sounded "wetter," for lack of a better word.
Overall, I found the sound of the Larrivee to be substantially more subtle and seductive. Its "smile factor" was much higher than that of the Guild.
The Guild D-4 is a competent, straightforward, mahogany acoustic guitar. I'd have no trouble recommending it to a beginning guitarist. Further, if it is durable as the old D-25, it should be able to withstand substantial abuse. But there was nothing to distinguish its playability or sound from the many other guitars out there In the under-$1000 price range. As such, it gets a three star rating from me.
The Larrivee D03 is something a bit more special. Its playability is really good, in spite of its thick neck, because of its ebony fingerboard. I'm not used to seeing ebony on a guitar this inexpensive. And its sound is also something special: delicate and slightly bright, with the punchy mahogany midrange shifted toward the treble, yet quite satisfying in the bass. Its sustain was comparable to other Larrivees I've played, which is to say among the best out there. I give the Larrivee an overall four star rating.
If you are looking for a dreadnought guitar in the $600 price range, I also recommend you play the Martin D-15, an all mahogany (including its top) guitar with a nice, woody sound. If you have a few extra hundred dollars to spend, check out the Taylor 310, Martin D-16, and Larrivee D-04, three outstanding guitars in the $900 (discounted) price range.
As always, I recommend you play the PARTICULAR instrument you're interested in before buying. Although the quality control at Guild and Larrivee is good, I've noticed considerable differences in the sound of the Guild D-4s and Larrivee D03s I've played (my review notes refer to my favorite samples, set up well, with newer strings).
Note: My numerical ratings are for the Guild D-4, the guitar listed here. My ratings for the Larrivee D03 would be one notch higher for appearance, playability, sound quality, and overall rating. As far as construction quality, both were moderate in weight and appeared to be of high quality. The $599 price applies to both, discounted at Guitar Center. The Guild may actually be on sale for under $500 right now, at which price it would be a pretty good buy. But I still prefer the Larrivee overall.