IN PRAISE OF: Ovation bowl-backs
23rd May 2012 | 15:05
Never mind the parabolics…
Charlie Kaman of Ovation Guitars was the Leo Fender of the acoustic. Like Leo, Charlie used his vast experience as an engineer to solve what he saw as flaws in contemporary guitar design.
His company actually made bits for helicopters before he diversified into guitar building when the arse fell out of the chopper business.
Disgruntled with the flat backs of traditional acoustic guitars that he felt didn't project sound efficiently, Charlie had his team of engineers design and build an acoustic with a 'parabolic' (or 'rounded') back made from a glass fibre-like material patented as Lyrachord.
The result released in 1966 was christened the Ovation Balladeer, an acoustic guitar with incredible sustain and projection. Charlie wasn't done revolutionising the acoustic guitar just yet.
Believing that a traditional single soundhole weakened the guitar's top and compromised its tone, the Kaman team came up with the concept of using 22 smaller holes.
This unusual construction was first seen on the 1977 Adamas model, a guitar that further broke the acoustic mould with an immensely strong carbon fibre and birch sandwich 'Fibronic' top that helped prevent feedback when amplified.
That's an important point. As impressive as the acoustic tone of an Ovation guitar is, the brand is best known for its high-quality amplified sound. The company was one of the pioneers of under-saddle piezo pickup technology, evolving from simple volume and tone knob clusters to sophisticated onboard preamps with three-band EQs, feedback busters and electronic tuners.
While the most important early convert was country artist and session guitarist Glen Campbell, the brand was immortalised forever when Richie Sambora played Wanted Dead Or Alive on his twin and triple-neck Ovations onstage with Bon Jovi in the late 80s.
The big-name affiliations don't end there. Slipknot's Mick Thomson, Mötley Crüe and Sixx:AM leader Nikki Sixx, and Swedish note festival Yngwie Malmsteen all have signature models in the current catalogue.
It's a testament to the late Charlie Kaman's vision that the cutting-edge guitars loved by Nikki, Richie and Yngwie, and any Ovation you happen pick up, are almost identical in construction to the first Balladeer.
1966: The Ovation Balladeer round back makes its debut
1977: The Adamas six and 12string models unveiled
1983: Supershallow bowl offered for the first time
2012: Yngwie Malmsteen YM68 and YM63 signatures released