Retail Price £209.08*
This a two-pickup-plus-electronics solid guitar. Its shape is weird but comfortable, and the cutaway extends to the 23rd fret. I seem to remember reading a review of this guitar in an American paper which said that it was made of rigid foam plastic, however my pet woodworm assures me that it's mahogany; in fact the neck is very similar to those used on the Ovation acoustics. Body and neck are finished with a creamy-white, hard-textured lacquer which is polished more or less smooth on the back of the neck. The fingerboard is good ebony, with small mother-of-pearl dots, and it would be difficult to find fault with the fretting on this sample. The machine heads are plastic-bodied Schallers and on the review sample they are loose.
The truss rod adjustment slot is machined clumsily and unfortunately the cover-plate is off centre. I particularly like the clear white dots in the edge of the finger-board but the contrast between white lacquer and ebony highlights the fact that more care is required in cleaning lacquer off the edge of the finger-board. The neck screws on to the body, which can be a weakness, but this joint is sensible and strongly made. The bridge is adjustable at each end for string height and has individual adjustments for intonation.
Do not be mislead by the apparently plastic bridge assembly; this is a cover for a substantial metal bridge fitted inside the body. Because of this no screws or sharp edges project from the bridge. For years I have wanted a comfortable hand-support just behind the bridge; Ovation have now produced one, and it has a non-slip surface.
Any doubts one might have about the unusual bridge are rapidly dispelled by the instruments' excellent and natural sounding sustain — the bridge obviously does its job very well.
The fact that the guitar includes a pre-amp means that the pick-ups can have a low external magnetic field without needing to be uncomfortably close to the strings, and this combination not only improves string sustain but also minimises the chances of the magnets "dragging" the lower strings and making them appear out of tune. However I should like to see adjustable pole pieces on the pick-ups, as I feel the balance between strings could be improved.
There is a considerable amount of electronics inside the body, powered by two "Mallory" batteries, accessible from a panel in the back. (Standard radio batteries will fit but are not recommended).
To get the best out of this guitar you must first forget everything you know about tone controls and pick-up switches. Only the volume control works in a conventional manner. The tone control operates from maximum treble at 10, to mild bass boost and a very round quality in the treble at 0, WITH NO LOSS OF VOLUME IN ANY POSITION. The selector switch gives from left to right, neck pick-up, bridge pick-up, and both pick-ups - apparently out of phase. It also gives a progressive loss of volume, moving from left to right, for which there is no excuse, as there are pre-set controls fitted inside the body for balancing the output of the pick-ups. When balanced correctly, this is the only guitar I know which can produce an out-of-phase tone, without the usual drop in volume.
The remaining switch operates an "L-C" filter which can change the whole tone quality of the guitar from warm and acoustic to cold and hollow sounding. I believe this is another Ovation innovation.
I have several small grouses about the design and construction of the electronics. First, I feel that any guitar which requires batteries should have facilities for taking a signal from at least one pick-up directly to the guitar amp, as it can be difficult to buy batteries at 2 a.m. Alternatively, the maker could supply a "Phantom Line" mains power supply box. Either of these requirements could be made fully compatible with normal battery operation of the instrument by fitting either two sockets or one internally switched stereo-socket.
I should like to see some protection, (such as a pair of diodes across the output socket), to prevent a leaky guitar amplifier causing serious damage.
While the general construction of the circuit board is excellent, I am not happy about a heavy choke mounted on its own wires, nor about flexible wires connected directly to the board without terminal pins.
Retail Price £343.00*
This is an expensive guitar in the honourable Stratocaster tradition, which has obviously been designed with the jazz guitarist in mind.
Its resonating properties are part way between a Strat and a deepbodied acoustic jazz guitar, mainly, I think, because of the considerable length of string between bridge and tremelo device. This 'dead' string length produces a noticeable echo, like some acoustic tailpiece guitars and semi's, and also, with the pivoted bridge, allows a note played on one string to activate related harmonics on other strings. If this effect (which also appears on the Jaguar) is not wanted, it is necessary to damp unused strings while playing.
I think this instrument is aimed at the sort of player whose main interest is Jazz, but who requires something versatile enough for any studio job. In this respect, the overriding switch which inserts a duplicate set of tone and volume controls, can be most useful. For example: one can set the amp and the primary guitar controls for maximum treble from the bridge pick-up (sounding almost like a 'Tele'), have two more lead tones available on the normal selector switch, and still override the lot with a mellow rhythm tone when necessary.
The Tremelo device works well and may be locked and the arm removed if you don't need it (also useful if a string should break).
If you should want to play with pick and fingers, this is a better proposition than a Strat. The strings are well spaced and further than usual from the body, and there is no centre pick-up to get in the way.
The most unexpected pieces of music work on this guitar; 'Cherokee' is a little too obvious, but would you believe Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor? I believe there is now a repressing of the 1938 recording of Reinhardt, Grappelli, and Eddie South, playing it. (If anyone knows the whereabouts of this, or the Reinhardt/Lonnie Johnson record, please get in touch.) This is essentially a Fender Solid, redesigned for Jazz (as the name would suggest). There is one point: - it is expensive, but you may feel this is justified by its facilities and flexibility.
All prices are exclusive of V.A.T.
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