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Chris Larkin 'Reacter' Guitar

Winning an 'honourable mention' in our review of last Autumn's Guitar Weekend show, Irish guitar maker Chris Larkin now has his remarkable guitars and basses in stock at several leading British stores. Can they challenge the established custom makers' products? Gary Cooper reports.

Surrounded as I was by dozens of the very finest handmade guitars, there was something about those shown by Irish maker Chris Larkin that left an indelible impression on my mind after last year's Guitar Weekend Show. I couldn't put the reasons why they appealed to me so much down to any one factor - shape, quality, finish, materials, sound (indeed, it was all but impossible to actually hear them against the background din in the exhibition room!) but, whatever the reason, I liked them so much that I was determined to get my hands on one for review.

The opportunity to borrow one for some serious playing came several weeks ago, when Chris travelled from his idyllic-sounding Co. Kerry coastal retreat (where there's nothing but Atlantic sea water between him and the USA, I gather!) to 'tie the knot' with the handful of top retailers who had agreed to stock his instruments. Meeting up with Chris in my local (where we were both astonished to discover that Guinness is cheaper in London that it is in Eire!) I relieved him of a Reacter — perhaps the more restrained of the two guitar designs he's currently offering. Just for the record, incidentally, Chris's alternative guitar shape is called the 'Razer' and is equally luscious to behold.


What a beautiful guitar this Reactor is! Taken from its case it produces automatic intakes of breath from anyone who sees it, simply on account of the superbly lustrous finishing and the figuring details in the wood. That finish isn't the work of a quick application of spit and elbow grease with a J-Cloth, either. It takes Chris around five hours of painstaking work to achieve this glow. He must be a patient man, but the result of his labours cannot be over-valued — personally speaking I couldn't decide whether to play the Reacter or eat it!

Constructionally, the Larkin Reacter combines the very best of traditional techniques with the most exotic of materials, the body being basically formed from two pieces of Brazilian Mahogany onto which was overlaid (on my sample) a piece of the very finest quilted Maple. Possibly controversially, Chris deliberately leaves undisguised any natural 'flaws' he finds in the wood's shading. He does this, apparently, so that what you have is a guitar made of real 'tree wood', bearing all the marks and stigmata which were part of the tree's growing process. It's a bonus from my viewpoint, because it reminds you that the instrument is a natural, living thing and further endows each individual instrument he makes with little character marks of its own. I hope I don't need to stress that these so-called flaws do not imply any mechanical or tone producing deficiencies in any way at all — they just endow a Larkin with uncopyable personality.

Extra adornment on the Reacter gives the Mahogany base section a black contour binding on the veneering, which is even carried over onto the guitar's top where the caryed and contoured body is sliced back to make it more accommodating for the player's forearm, allowing a small section of the Mahogany to peer out where the Maple overlay has been removed. The stripes are precisely inlaid strips of Wenge, Ash and Wenge, in that order.

The Reacter's neck is another beautiful example of obviously carefully chosen Mahogany, glued (a la Gibson) to the body and fitted with a properly spliced headstock, again faced with quilted Maple. The head is angled back to provide perfect string tension and is likely to be extremely impact-resistant on account of the care which has obviously been taken with the splicing. Chris's soon-to-be-familiar logo (naturally enough a shamrock) finishes off the instrument's impressive cosmetics. The wood this design is fashioned from, by the way, is the delightfully titled 'bog oak'. No jokes about reclaimed toilet doors, please — bog oak is petrified oak, thousands of years old, dug out of the peat bogs. It's deeply black and and unbelievably tough; another touch of Chris's obvious love of things natural.

The Larkin's barely cambered fingerboard is solid Ebony (supreme luxury again!) inset with 22 ultra-fat frets, each of which had been stoned down to the minimum possible height on my sample, endowing the guitar with a superbly fast and comfortable playing action. Neck width at the (brass) nut measured 1 9/16", widening to a bare 1/32" of an inch under 2" at the twelfth.


Chris's choices for the Reacter's hardware are simple but correct — he's just gone for the best he can find and has thus selected Schaller M6 machines, a (black) Schaller 3D6 bridge and twin Kent Armstrong Rainbow pickups. Before getting onto the pickups and the ingenious way in which they've been wired, a little extra detail about this Schaller bridge may be called for, for anyone wading through my verbiage who's not already familiar with it. The baseplate unit on the Schaller is fashioned from sturdy metal, bolted through to the body with three huge crosshead screws. Each saddle is in effect a roller which runs on a horizontal thread, allowing you to set the string spacing exactly as you want it. Each saddle is, naturally, adjustable for height (via two of the smallest Allen screws I've ever seen) as well as for string length (intonation).

The pickups are typical of Kent Armstrong's 'Rainbow' creations, neat and tidy, fully enclosed — and with a kick like a mule! These are connected in a form of 'cascade' wiring. I can't pretend to fully understand this, not having quizzed either Kent or Chris about it, but it certainly works well enough! Essentially twin coil pickups fitted into a fully screened compartment, they're wired through to a pair of Gibson style pots controlling their individual volumes. Both also have pull settings which serve to switch the pickups over to single coil functions. There's a master tone control (the rear of the three rotaries) which also features a pull setting, this time switching in the cascade wiring arrangement, effectively (I believe) doubling the pickup impedance so that when either the bridge or bridge and neck settings are chosen on the three way selector you get a fatter, warmer sound, yet still with a greater kick to it.


Schools of thought vary enormously about how you should finish off fret ends. Personally speaking I like my guitars set so that you can belt up and down the fingerboard without even being aware of the fret ends, but I know from discussing this with countless guitar makers that not every guitarist agrees. I have to say, then, that personally I didn't like the feeling of the fret ends' presence when I was playing the Reacter, but that not all of you will concur by any means. This can hardly count as a criticism — more a matter of taste, of course.

That aside, the Larkin Reacter has a fabulous neck profile; the sort of thing that any lover of the very finest guitars will immediately recognise as a player's neck — perfectly combining a shallow depth and comfortable width with the resistant hardness of Ebony and the fat frets, the combination of which either allows you to play at lunatic speed or (particularly if you set it up for a high-ish action and use heavier strings) gives you enough to 'fight' against in time-honoured Gibson-like tradition. Incidentally, Chris has joined the ranks of guitar makers now fitting Albion strings as standard, in this case a set of XLs (009-042) — and damned good they seem, too! To gauge the Reacter's sound I pitched it straight into a battle with my Gibson SG, running both of them through the all-valve Laney AOR combo which has become my firmly established favourite over the past couple of years. If the Reacter could get anything like the sound I can get from the Gibson/Laney combination, then it would automatically rank alongside the few such guitars that I've tried — and why not give such an otherwise professional guitar so exacting a test?

Sheer astonishment was my first reaction at hearing the Reacter through the Laney. Here was one of the tiny handful of instruments I've encountered that could deliver the sort of creamy, smooth overdrive which most of us associate with Les Pauls, SGs and perhaps just one or two custom types. Maybe, given the almost overwhelming current popularity of Super-Strats and their ilk, that might not be doing the Larkin too many favours but — honestly — how many guitars can you think of which can match the expressive emotional pull of a Gibson through a premium class valve amp? In my experience (particularly given today's near-obsession with HM Strat-based instruments), hardly any contemporary guitars are capable of that expressiveness which, to cite a current example, Mark Knopfler gets when he uses his Les Paul — but the Reacter is certainly one of them!

In a series of side by side comparisons with my SG, Chris's Reacter exhibited both more 'body' to its sound, and at the same time more top (due, no doubt to the Les Paul-like upper layer of Maple in the 'wood sandwich' construction). Possibly my SG had an immediacy of attack that the Reacter didn't, perhaps a more direct and raw sound too, with a shade less 'blurring' on two- or three-note bent chords in particular, but all that did (for me) was place the Reacter closer to a Les Paul in sound, not de-rate it in my estimation at all. To hear this difference you'd have to make a careful comparison but it's true, let me assure you. The result of this is a guitar which has a sound astoundingly close to that of a good Les Paul, yet with a greater versatility, largely due to its single coil settings and cascade wiring arrangement, the latter giving a hotter and fuller sound when you pull the tone pot.


Sustain, 'musicality', resistance to outside electrical interference, superlative build-quality, 'money no object' materials — and a sound which will kick 99% of Japanese guitars right out of the window, Chris Larkin's Reacter is possibly the perfect guitar for the player who likes a fundamentally Gibson-like guitar, yet who wants something unique, less costly and more versatile than either a Les Paul or an SG. Whereas our last issue's review of the JayDee Hooligan unearthed a guitar of supreme ability for the HM wham-bar loving fraternity, this month the Larkin Reacter steals the show for that other sort of guitar, the ideal instrument for the expressive (possibly blues-based) player who demands emotion and feeling in his or her sound as a priority. At the RRP of just £535 it's hard to imagine how the Chris Larkin Reacter can be bettered. I've seen guitars not half as good costing this much money — and none that I can recall providing so much for so little.

RRP £535 Inc. VAT

More details on Larkin guitars by ticking this issue's 'free info' box or from Chris Larkin direct at (Contact Details). London Representative: (Contact Details).

Previous Article in this issue

Kramer Focus 4000

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HiWatt L50R Lead Valve Head

In Tune - Copyright: Moving Music Ltd.


In Tune - May 1986

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Larkin > Reacter

Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Gary Cooper

Previous article in this issue:

> Kramer Focus 4000

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> HiWatt L50R Lead Valve Head

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