Ovation Guitar Company

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Ovation Guitar Company
Type Private
Industry Musical Instrument Manufacturing
Genre Guitars
Founded 1965
Founders Charles Kaman
Headquarters New Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Products Acoustic guitars
Owners Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
Parent KMCMusicorp
Website Ovation Guitars
The body of Ovation's Adamas has twenty-two sound holes in the upper-chamber, eleven of which are visible in this picture.

The Ovation Guitar Company, a holding of Kaman Music Corporation, which itself is owned by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, is a guitar manufacturing company based in New Hartford, Connecticut. Ovation primarily manufactures steel-string acoustic guitars and nylon-string acoustic guitars, often with pickups for electric amplification.

Ovation guitar design reflects its founder's engineering training and development of Kaman helicopters. Ovation guitars replace the instrument's conventional back and sides with composite synthetic bowls. Kaman felt there were structural weaknesses in the orthogonal joining of the sides, and that a composite material could provide a smooth body. Ovation claims the parabolic bowls dramatically reduce feedback, allowing greater amplification. Improved synthetics techniques from helicopter engineering control vibrations in the bowl. Ovation developed a thin neck, striving for the feel of an electric-guitar's neck, but with additional strength from layers of mahogany and maple reinforced by a steel rod in an aluminum channel.[1] The composite materials and thin necks reduced weight.

For its tops (soundboards), Ovation uses sitka spruce, a wood that Kaman engineers used in helicopter blades. In the 1970s, Ovation developed thinner soundboards with carbon-based composites laminating a thin layer of birch in its Adamas model. The Adamas model dissipated the sound-hole of the traditional soundboard among 22 small sound-holes in the upper chamber of the guitar, which Ovation says yields greater volume and further reduces feedback during amplification.[1] The Adamas design strengthens the soundboard, reducing the traditional design's bracing and hence weight. In the 1980s, Ovation introduced shallow-bowl guitars to appeal to electric guitarists.

Later, on-board electronics let guitarists move about the stage rather than stay in front of a microphone. On-board electronic tuning, availability, uniformity, and frugal costs facilitated performances by guitar ensembles like Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft students. Ovation has also produced solid-body electric guitars and active basses.

Founder Charles Kaman, and his background in helicopter engineering[edit]

Charles Kaman (1919–2011) developed the first Ovation guitar in 1965–1966.[2][3][4] Kaman, an amateur guitarist from an early age, worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist at United. Eventually, he founded a helicopter design company, Kaman Aircraft, in 1945.[5]

A mid-1970s Kaman Ovation 1612-4 Acoustic Electric Guitar, next to a lute.

The Kaman Corporation soon diversified, branching into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flight, development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. In the early 1960s, however, financial problems from the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to expand into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, became interested in making guitars.[2][6]

Research and development of first models[edit]

Charles Kaman put a team of employees to work to invent a new guitar in 1964.[2][7] For the project, Kaman chose a small team of aerospace engineers and technicians, several of whom were woodworking hobbyists as well. One of these was Charles McDonough, who created the Ovation Adamas model.[8] Kaman founded Ovation Instruments, and in 1965 its engineers and luthiers (guitar makers) worked to improve acoustic guitars by changing their conventional materials. The R&D team spent months building and testing prototype instruments. Their first prototype had a conventional "dreadnought" body, with parallel front and back perpendicular to the sides. The innovation was the use of a thinner, synthetic back, because of its foreseen acoustic properties. Unfortunately, the seam joining the sides to the thin back was prone to breakage. To avoid the problem of a structurally unstable seam, the engineers proposed a synthetic back with a parabolic shape. By mid-1966, according to Ovation, they realized that the parabolic shape produced a desirable tone with greater volume than the conventional dreadnought.[9]

Once the engineers had settled on a parabolic shape, they turned their attention to developing a substance that could be molded into this bowl-like shape. Using their knowledge of high-tech aerospace composites, they developed Lyrachord, a patented material comprising interwoven layers of glass filament and bonding resin.

The first successful design, built by luthier Gerry Gardner, went into production soon after the company was established.[10]

The first Ovation guitar made its debut in November, 1966. Its Lyrachord body gave the instrument, according to the company, unprecedented projection and ringing sustain.[11] Compared to modern Ovation Guitars the initial instruments had a shiny bowl, that was used again, for example, in the Balladeer 40th anniversary re-issue.

Initial marketing[edit]

The introduction and promotion of the first Ovation was closely associated with two performing artists, the blues-performer Josh White and the country-music singer Glen Campbell.

Josh White[edit]

In 1965-1967, the Ovation Guitar Company produced a signature guitar for Josh White, which was the first signature guitar made for an African American.[12][13][14][15] White was the first official Ovation endorser.[16]

Upon completion, the first Ovation Guitar was called the "Josh White Model",[17][18] which White played at the Hotel America (Hartford, Connecticut), 14  November 1966; at the same show, the Balladeers played Balladeer models.[19] The show was witnessed by "300 representatives of the press and the music industry"[20]

Glen Campbell 1968[edit]

Glen Campbell plays an Ovation guitar.
Glen Campbell (pictured) gave national publicity to Ovation's round-back guitars.

The Ovation Roundback Balladeer first caught national attention in 1968 when Glen Campbell was the host of a show called The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on CBS, and a year later he became one of Ovation's first endorsers.[2]

Design innovations[edit]

A Celebrity's on-board electronics (Electronic tuner and preamplifier)
The Celebrity CC44 (pictured) has an electronic tuner that uses a 9-volt battery. The on-board electronics unit, which includes three pre-amplifier controls, is standard on entry-level Ovation guitars like Celebrities and Applauses (in 2011–2012).
Nancy Wilson plays an Adamas-model Ovation guitar
Heart '​s Nancy Wilson (pictured) plays an Adamas model.

Other Ovation innovations include composite tops and multiple offset sound holes on guitar tops, pioneered in the Adamas model in 1977. Kaman Music has also sold budget guitars—and even mandolins and ukuleles—based on similar design principles of the Ovation such as the Korean-built Celebrity series and the Korean or Chinese-built Applause brand.[citation needed]

Ovations reached the height of their popularity in the 1980s, where they were often seen during live performances by touring artists, such as Rush's Alex Lifeson. Ovation guitars' synthetic bowl-shaped back and early use (1971) of pre-amplifiers, onboard equalization and piezo pickups were particularly attractive to live acoustic musicians who constantly battled feedback problems from the high volumes needed in live venues.[citation needed]

Ergonomics[edit]

Lukather sits on stage, illuminated by a spotlight, playing a dark grey Ovation Adamas acoustic-electric guitar.
Toto guitarist and session musician Steve Lukather plays an Adamas model.

Glen Campbell suggested reducing the weight of the guitar, which caused back strain.[21] Since then, Ovation has reduced the weight of several models and pioneered "super-shallow" guitar bodies.

While it was produced, Ovation's super-shallow 1867 Legend was the recommended guitar in Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft.[22][23] Tamm (1990) wrote that the acoustic 1867 Legend has "a gently rounded super-shallow body design that may be about as close to the shape and depth of an electric guitar as is possible without an intolerable loss of tone quality. Fripp liked the way the Ovation 1867 fitted against his body, which made it possible for him to assume the right-arm picking position he had developed using electric guitars over the years; on deeper-bodied guitars, the Frippian arm position is impossible without uncomfortable contortions".[22]

Model Overview[edit]

The Ovation Guitar Company produces guitars under the names Ovation and Adamas.

Ovation guitars are produced in China, South Korea and Indonesia. Import models generally have a wooden top. Recently Ovation significantly reduced U.S production. From 2010 on better models—Legend, Elite, Custom Legend, Custom Elite—were made both in the U.S. and in Korea. Before that, these models were U.S. made. In recent years, many U.S. made are identifiable by "LX" in the product name (e.g., Legend 2077LX), whereas Korean versions have "AX" in the model name (e.g., Legend 2077AX). Ovation does not use this convention on all models (e.g., Ovation 1617ALE). Currently, Ovation produces only a few U.S. made models, mostly signature and limited edition models (e.g., Custom Legend 1769-ADII Al DiMeola). Production of the standard model range of Ovation guitars in the U.S. has been ceased.[24]

The Adamas name mainly stands for guitars with a carbon fiber top, although there are exceptions (one is the Adamas 2081WT - WT stands for woodtop). Until the closure of the New Hartford, Connecticut factory in June 2014, all Adamas models were produced in the U.S.[25]

LX does not only stand for U.S. made. Originally LX indicated an Ovation guitar that included new features not available on previous models. Back in 2007 Ovation explained on its website that new features included the new OP-Preamp, an advanced neck system (lightweight dual-action truss rod, carbon fiber stabilizers), a patented pickup (made of 6 elements), inlaid epaulets, scalloped bracing, and a new hard composite Lyrachord GS body.[26] Back then, there was no AX model line. The first AX models appeared on the Ovation-website in 2010. Based on the website's history, the LX features were introduced in 2004. Ovation also offers ukuleles, bass guitars and mandolins.

Entry-level guitars: Applause and Celebrity[edit]

Ovation has two lines of entry-level guitars. Applause, the lowest cost line, with mainly laminated tops, is imported from China. Celebrity models are imported from China or Korea, and range from entry-to-medium level laminated top models, to high-end, solid top models with lots of ornamentation.

Standard Balladeer, Legend, Custom Legend, Standard Elite, Elite, Custom Elite[edit]

There are mainly two lines:

  • Legends have one big sound hole above the strings as on most acoustic guitars.
  • Elites have several smaller sound holes. The standard Balladeer also has one big sound hole.
Elite: Standard Elite, Elite, Custom Elite (produced in Korea)
Legend and Balladeer: Standard Balladeer, Legend, Custom Legend (produced in Korea)

The first Ovation guitar model was a Balladeer (later known as Standard Balladeer)[27]

Electric guitars: Semi-hollow and solid bodies[edit]

In 1967–1968, Ovation introduced and produced its Electric Storm Series of archtop guitars and basses with semi-hollow bodies. The pickups for these instruments were manufactured by Rowe Industries, who produced DeArmond music products in Toledo, Ohio. Production stopped in 1969.[28]

In 1972, Ovation introduced one of the first production solid-body electric-guitars with active electronics, the Ovation Breadwinner. The model did not become popular, however, and production of the Breadwinner and the Ovation Deacon ceased in 1980. Ovation made several other solid-body models up until the mid 1980s.[29] Since that time, the company has focused mainly on acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.

Performers using or endorsing Ovations[edit]

Al Di Meola holds an Ovation guitar
Ovation has produced the Custom Legend 1769 ADII for Al Di Meola (pictured).[30]
Melissa Ethridge holds an Ovation guitar
Ovation developed another signature guitar, an Adamas-model twelve-string guitar for Melissa Etheridge (pictured).

Ovation guitars have been used and endorsed by many professional musicians, including:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Denyer (1989, p. 48)
  2. ^ a b c d Cruice (1996)
  3. ^ Carter (1996, pp. 24–36)
  4. ^ Press release "Statement from Kaman Corporation, On the Death of Company Founder, Charles Huron Kaman". Kaman Corporation, January 31, 2011, Retrieved February 1, 2011
  5. ^ Carter (1996, pp. 12–16)
  6. ^ Carter (1996, pp. 17–18)
  7. ^ Carter (1996, Chapter 2 "A better guitar", p. 23)
  8. ^ Kaman's story
  9. ^ Carter (1996, Chapter 2 "A better guitar": "The roundback", p. 24)
  10. ^ Time Off
  11. ^ The History of Ovation Guitars
  12. ^ Ovation Josh White Model Brochure
  13. ^ History Detectives
  14. ^ Transcription of History Detectives program
  15. ^ Josh White was Ovations very first endorsee
  16. ^ The History of Ovation Guitars
  17. ^ 1965 Ovation Guitars Josh White
  18. ^ Ovation early serial numbers, Josh White and Balladeer models
  19. ^ 1966_Ovation_Original_Program
  20. ^ The Music Trades Article December 1966
  21. ^ Carter (1996, Chapter 3 "Into production": "Glen Campbell", p. 46)
  22. ^ a b Tamm (1990, Chapter 10 "Guitar Craft")
  23. ^ "English rocker Robert Fripp with a favorite instrument of his, a super-shallow bowl Legend" is the caption for a picture of Fripp in Carter (1996, Chapter 7 "Bill Kaman and the KMC [Kaman Music Corporation]": "Changes", p. 93)
  24. ^ "Ovation im Wandel". Musikhaus Andresen GmbH. 2012-09-20. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  25. ^ "Sounds Of Silence: Ovation Guitar Closing New Hartford Factory". www.courant.com. 2014-04-23. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 
  26. ^ "Ovation Features - The LX Upgrade". www.ovationguitars.com. 2007-10-30. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  27. ^ "Ovation Gallery". www.ovationguitars.com. 2008. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 
  28. ^ Carter (1996, Chapter 4 Electrification: A brief Electric Storm, p. 58)
  29. ^ Carter (1996, Chapter 4 "Electrification": "Ovation solidbodies", pp. 59–64, and "Toward solidbody success", p. 65)
  30. ^ "Custom Legend 1769 ADII Al Di Meola: The ultimate Ovation". Ovation Guitar Company. Retrieved 8 February 2012. 
  31. ^ a b "Artists" ovationguitars.com
  32. ^ Roy Harpers use of Ovation Guitars
  33. ^ Carter (1996, p. 127 (index), apart from Seal with bass guitar on p.100)
  34. ^ Fitch (2005, pp. 416–430, 441–445): Fitch, Vernon (2005). The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia (Third ed.). London: Collector's Guide Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-894959-24-7. 
  35. ^ Fitch, Vernon and Mahon, Richard: Comfortably Numb. A history of The Wall. Pink Floyd 1978–1981 2006, p. 268

References[edit]

External links[edit]