Ovation Guitars

The Ovation Guitar Company, a holding of Kaman Music Corporation, is a guitar manufacturing company based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, USA. Ovation primarily manufactures acoustic guitars.

Ovation guitars are differentiated by their composite synthetic bowl, rather than the traditional wooden back and sides of the modern acoustic guitar as produced by luthiers starting in the late 18th century.

With development starting in 1966 and introducing the 'Balladeer' in February, 1967, Ovation has sought to bring modern materials and construction techniques to guitar building. Charles Kaman gained extensive knowledge of composite plastics as an engineer designing rotor blades for helicopters, working with Igor Sikorsky. He reasoned that the negative effects of vibration in wooden rotors were in fact a positive in acoustic instruments that required controlled resonance to produce pleasing musical tone. As a guitarist as well as an aerospace engineer, he developed the round-backed composite-bodied Ovation guitar as a way to produce uniquely modern instruments. The extensive number of models, many of which are collectible by virtue of their obscurity, are still mainly distinguished by one or two characteristics: the aforementioned synthetic bowl and early use (1971) of preamps, onboard equalization and piezo pickups. Such features made Ovations particularly attractive to live acoustic musicians who constantly battled feedback problems from the high volumes needed in live venues.

A lower-priced version of the bowl-back Ovation design, known as the Applause Guitar, has also been produced. In fact Ovation were not overlooking the lower end of the price scale in their efforts to provide twenty-first century techniques to the field of guitar manufacture. In keeping with other makers, Ovation were investigating the possibilities of using metal in the construction of guitar necks, and the Matrix appeared in this same year as the product of this research. The Matrix was constructed in the proven bowl back styling of the other Ovation acoustics with a new compression moulded lyramold body, married to the same Sitka spruce top. The neck however, was constructed from cast aluminium. The truss rod, peg head, fretboard and frets were die cast in a single unit, producing a neck immune to warpage by the effects of string tension or climatic change. High density polyurethane was built around this neck structure to give the feel and look of a traditional mahogany neck, and the resulting design provided excellent sustain, playability and good looks at a very low price. Whilst we are all lovers of fine old and rare hand-crafted instruments, recognition is due especially to this company for their pioneering spirit in bringing the guitar to terms, not only with the next century, but with man's insatiable desire to exhaust his planet of the rare and beautiful timbers that are necessary to sustain another century of the luthier's art.

The Ovation Company took Matrix one stage further, and produced the Applause. Built with the same lyramold bowl, the Applause was also fitted with an aluminium neck and a laminated spruce top. The price at less than $150 was a remarkable break-through in the proof that modern materials could offer a good sounding instrument at an affordable price.

In keeping with National celebrations, Ovation did not pass on from1976, without making their limited edition run of Patriot models. Just 1776 guitars were made to celebrate the American bicentennial, and were numbered accordingly. Similar in specification to the premium Legend model, the Patriot was finished in an antique nutmeg colour, and featured a hand stencilled motif on the lower bottom bout. Depicting an antique military drum and the Stars and Stripes with 1776* 1976, the stencils were destroyed after the limited edition was completed. So this instrument will become a collector's item in due course.

Ovation has also produced solid body electric guitars. In 1972, Ovation introduced one of the first production solid body electric guitars with active electronics, the Breadwinner (the 1963 Burns TR2 had active circuitry, but did not receive widespread attention or sales). The odd but ergonomic shape of this guitar and its deluxe model, the Deacon along with the FET preamplifier made this a popular studio guitar with numerous artists including Steve Marriott of the Small Faces. The model failed to gain widespread popularity, however, and production of the Breadwinner/Deacon line ceased in 1980.

Ovation made several other solid body models up until the mid 80s. Many of these guitars have become collector's items since only a few thousand were made of each model. Guitars such as the UK II which featured stereo output and custom made pickups that featured 10,000 winds each and coil tap switches that would instantly change the humbucker into a single coil pickup. The Ovation Ultra GP, another solid body made famous by modern musicians, only saw 250 productions before Ovation switched their focus to making acoustic/electric guitars. Other Ovation innovations include composite tops and multiple offset sound holes on guitar tops, pioneered in the Adamas model in 1977.

Over the years Glen Campbell has been playing the guitar, he has been seen with virtually every major brand of guitar at one time or another. However, the brand most folks associate Glen with is, of course, Ovation. Ask any 40+ year old guitarist to recount his first recollection of the Ovation guitar and it will almost always be having seen Glen play one on the "Goodtime Hour". The procurement of Glen as an endorsee was a major coup for Ovation, fifty million viewers watching one of the world's hottest guitarists and most popular new stars play these untraditional looking guitars literally contributed to the sale of thousands of instruments over the years. Glen didn't just play them. He had ideas about how they should be built. His likes and desires resulted in not only his own signature series model that was produced for over twenty years but his suggestions were sometimes implemented into other models and occasionally through the entire Ovation line. His long-time association with the Ovation company, (which continues to this day) has resulted in quite a number of instruments being built specifically for Glen. Many of these guitars were prototypes or "custom built" to Glen's specifications or desires at the time.

Glen Campbell Classical Prototype "Glen Campbell and his TV show had the power to make a minor brand into a major brand almost overnight. And vice versa. No one was more aware of that than the people at Ovation...With Glen and his musician friends playing Ovations on national television every week, Ovation was sitting on top of the world. Then in 1970, that world cracked." - "The History of the Ovation Guitar" by Walter Carter.

In 1970, about two years after he had become Ovation's top endorser, Glen appeared on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" playing a Baldwin nylon string classical guitar. The Baldwin belonged to Jerry Reed, and Glen tried it simply because it had a pickup built into the bridge, which allowed a freedom of movement not possible while playing an acoustic guitar into a separate microphone while singing. To say that the top brass at Ovation were not very pleased about the possibility of Glen switching loyalties is a huge understatement.

The ensuing furor led to the development of Ovation's own version of an acoustic-electric guitar pickup, which was to become the first commercially successful pickup to be able to amplify an acoustic guitar while retaining a basically acoustic tone. Within ten years, ninety percent of the Ovations being sold were equipped with this system. Being able to play an acoustic on stage with lots of volume, real acoustic tone, and not having to play into a microphone, became one of the biggest chapters in Ovation history, and acoustic guitar history as a whole. Development of this new pickup took time, and rather than take the chance of losing Glen's endorsement, Ovation opted to make several interim instruments for him to use. Most of these were fitted with the Baldwin pickup like the one in Reed's instrument that Glen liked so much, but this instrument was an exception.

The classical guitar described here (Model # 1123-4 E, Serial # X010) was built with a prototype Barcus-Berry stereo pickup system. This is a passive system, featuring a top-mounted volume control and a four-pin XLR output jack. It has a solid cedar top, and an Artist depth (5 1/8") bowl. Another non-standard feature of this instrument is the nineteen-fret, 1 7/8" width fingerboard, and also features a signature truss rod cover. Glen apparently didn't like this guitar much at the time, preferring the Baldwin equipped instruments to this one. He noted that there were "hot spots" or louder notes in certain areas of the neck. Although it is a very live instrument when plugged in, it works well and is quite balanced when mated with a modern outboard pre-amp.

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