From Helicopter to Guitar
Ovation Guitars are different from other acoustic guitars. Instead of the classic back and sides made of wood they have what’s called Roundback from Lyrachord. Ovation founder Charlie Kaman developed his first helicopter in 1947. Its rotors were made of spruce coated with fiberglass - a component of Lyrachord. The experience with these materials and their properties flowed into Kamas guitar making in the 60's.
The round, curved shape of the Roundback body ensures that no standing waves are created, as the floor and ceiling are not parallel to each other. The Roundback was already known in mandolins and lutes. Kaman's "Balladeer", the first roundback guitar, was revolutionary as it made the production process faster, the guitar became more stable and the bracing of the back wasn’t needed anymore, making it lighter.
Knowing about Vibration
"While a helicopter engineer wants to eliminate vibration, a guitar maker wants to amplify it", Kaman knew that and with that knowledge, developed the world's first electro-acoustic guitar. In helicopters, they removed the vibrations on the frame using Piezo crystals and transferred them to a measuring instrument. Kaman used this approach. He was the first to incorporate piezo pickups and preamps into a guitar. So the vibrations on the top and from the strings were picked up and could then be fed to an amp. This made it possible to play acoustic guitars via an amplifier. Even today, Ovation is still a leader in this field.
However, Kaman wanted to change something: at the point where the Central Soundhole is traditionally located, the guitar can actually swing most and produce sound. That's why he created Multi Soundholes at the top of the guitar. Many modern guitar makers have since imitated this method (A) as it makes sense physically and (B) because the guitarist can hear themselves better. It is also quite a distinctive feature: An "Ovation Elite" can be recognized from a distance on any stage.
Another innovation was the use of carbon and graphite for the guitar top - which is also a material used in aviation. Fibronic refers to a super-thin wood layer between two carbon fiber layers. The first guitar with an ultra thin, very stable Fibronic top with incredibly good vibration characteristics and voluminous tone was the Ovation "Adamas" model.
Ovation guitars are instruments optimized down to the smallest detail - the result of sophisticated engineering.
One of Ovation's main features is the Lyrachord Roundback, which varies in material composition, weight and sound quality depending on the price range. Basically, three different body depths are available:
The larger the body, the richer and bassier the sound. However, this can be compensated by an amplifier. Those who play purely acoustic should choose the Deep Contour Body. If you play on the amp and while standing, you should choose the Super Shallow. If you do both, the Mid Depth is a good choice.
The top has either Multi Soundholes or a Center Soundhole. What you choose is definitely a matter of taste. Not just the appearance but also the different sounds play an important role. The Multi Soundholes were first developed for the "Adamas" models because they had very thin tops which are already stable due to the use of Fibronic. As there is no central sound hole, there’s therefore a larger vibrating surface available. There are different versions of the Multi Soundholes too - but what they all have in common is their position to the height of the fretboard, meaning a shorter distance to the players’ ear.
Ovation's acoustic guitar portfolio is very comprehensive. There is something for everyone in terms of price, sound and appearance. You can orientate yourself by this list:
What goes for booking also goes for guitars: Knowhow is good, experience is always better.
Now you know more about Ovation guitars - but how do they feel? So: off to the next music store and try it out!
You can find gigs to play here on gigmit.com
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GSA take place on 9th and 10th December 2019 in Berlin. The application is possible until 20th November.