Ovation 1667 Acoustic Electric
Ovation have a very good reputation for acoustic guitars, past users having included Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream and Al Di Meola. The distinctive roundback style of an Ovation makes it immediately identifiable, and it's an unusually comfortable and accommodating guitar to play. The acoustic electric models from the Ovation range feature a piezoelectric pickup and FET preamplifier to give many of the sound possibilities of a solid body electric, in addition to acoustic features.
Tests by Charles Kaman, the founder of Ovation, indicated some time ago that traditional flat-top guitar design was far from efficient. A curved bowl gave more even acoustic response, and for this reason all Ovation models feature a curved back made from a patented acrylic material known as Lyrachord. This is claimed to be acoustically and structurally superior to wood, and to consistently vibrate at a known frequency, a fact which simplifies selection of the soundboard materials and design. Certainly it makes for comfortable styling with no hard edges, although the guitar does tend to slide around a little in use due to the curve of the back.
The rest of the guitar is constructed in wood, with the soundboard on the model we examined having a classic finish and consisting of what looked like Sitka spruce. Ovation necks are generally in Honduras Mahogany, with an Ebony fingerboard. Headstock fittings are in gold, consisting of Ovation branded machines fitted with acrylic washers, and with moving parts well sealed off. Frets are in silver with pearl diamond-shaped inlays on the fingerboard and dot markers on the side of the neck, and the nut and bridge saddles are plastic.
Since the FET preamplifier is powered, there's a box for a PP3 battery inside the body. This is released by turning a screw on the top side of the body, and can be pulled out of the soundhole past the strings fairly easily. Replacement of the battery box, however, requires that a couple of strings, at least the low E, be loosened. Since a cut-out from the acrylic body is unthinkable there doesn't seem to be much alternative to this system.
Strap hooks are at the usual two points, and the single chromed output socket is on the back of the bowl, so an angled jack is required for comfort. The Stereo Acoustic Electric has two jacks in the same position.
Controls for the pickup are on the top edge of the bowl. Arranged in a dual concentric design, the inner control is for volume (1-10) and the outer for Tone (Treble-Bass). Power for the preamp is located inside the body as mentioned, and the piezo pickups themselves are under, and part of, the bridge saddles.
Since most amplified acoustic guitars suffer from too much midrange, the FET preamp has two rejection bands at 600 Hz and 1200 Hz to produce a more natural acoustic sound. With the Volume control set at 0 the guitar functions just as an acoustic, while the recommended setting for amplified use is 3. This gives plenty of leeway for volume adjustments up or down without having recourse to Pack-line controls.
The Tone control, although marked Treble and Bass, does not in fact provide a boost in the bass range but is a simple Treble cut design. Since acoustic electric guitars are particularly prone to feedback because of their 'soundbox' design, it would have been interesting to have seen some kind of band-reject filter which could remove feedback at specific problem frequencies.
The controls work smoothly and without noise, and are reasonably placed for easy use. A final point for servicing is that connection to the preamp from the transducer is by a jack plug and socket rather than a solder joint, so removal of the preamp if necessary is easier and less liable to involve damage to the guitar.
Restringing is conventional enough, and there is a wide selection of Ovation Adamas strings available which are recommended for the guitar. The core and wrap wires of Adamas strings are of identical diameter on the lower E and A strings, resulting it is claimed in a finer balance between the various modes of string vibration and thus in a sharper, more precise tone. Adamas strings have a distinctive brass knob for location against the tailpiece.
String action can be altered from the factory 'standard' by adding or removing shims from under the saddle. There's also an adjustable neck rod which can be slackened or tightened using an Allen Adjustment Wrench inserted through the soundhole. A warped neck can be corrected by turning the tension rod nut clockwise, and a bowed neck by turning it anticlockwise. This rod is known as a Kaman Bar, and is designed so that allowances for changes in temperature and humidity can be made relatively quickly and easily.
The Ovation is a joy to use with the possible exception of a couple of small points of personal taste. The round back can make the guitar 'slippery', although comfortable, and the rear-mounted jack is not particularly easy to find. The headstock could be described as ugly, and the Adamas strings supplied won't be to all tastes as they're on the squeaky side.
All that aside, the tone is absolutely excellent. In the acoustic mode it produces a very rich, even sound, with plenty of force from the E/A strings, but an equal precision at the top end. The fingerboard is of average width and pleasant enough to use, having been shaped to a 10" radius for comfort.
The body cutaway allows easy access to the upper frets, which play just as well as the lower ones; despite some effort it was impossible to produce any fret buzz in normal use. The more metallic tone produced by picking closer to the bridge is very attractive, and one outstanding point about the Ovation is that it keeps rocksteady tuning. Even after transportation and long storage it emerged ready for immediate use.
In the amplified mode the excellence of the transducer/FET preamp combination is displayed clearly. It really is a very good version of the natural sound, with a similar balance from bass to treble. The bass is in proportion, but slightly different; if anything it's better when amplified, with an interesting fruity quality.
In conjunction with a few effects boxes the Ovation can produce most of the standard electric sounds such as fuzz/sustain, distortion and so on. The transducer itself won't produce overdrive or distortion (unless the battery charge falls below 6 volts!) but the possibilities of combining a miked-up acoustic sound with an overdriven electric sound are certainly very interesting.
Overall the Ovation is an excellent acoustic which will appeal to those who are used to having synthesisers or electric guitars DI'd and so don't want to mess about with microphones. Because the transducer picks up from both soundboard and strings it gives an exceptionally authentic and natural amplified sound, one which seems to be coming into fashion with bands such as Tears for Fears. The acoustic guitar won't go out of style as long as there are lightweight and well-constructed models like this on the market.
The Ovation 1667 Balladeer Cutaway is distributed by Rose-Morris, (Contact Details). Recommended retail price including VAT is £699.00.