Ovation UK 11
If there was a prize for the world's least publicised guitar, the Ovation UK11 would have to be somewhere on the short list. Ovation acoustics, even their basses, are household names compared to this six string, yet it deserves attention.
The compact stocky body is Les Paul-ish in principle, though with less voluptuous curves, and is of a lightweight urethane called "Urelite". You wouldn't know unless you chipped a lump away, however, since it's been given a simulated wood grain on top and back, and an attractive "grey burst" finish that begins with a steely hue at the centre and deepens to black at the rim.
It comes glamourously attired in gold fittings which include the bridge, saddles, machines, screws and even the rings around the pickups. The fret markers are in rainbow hued abalone and are possibly too rich in appearance for the rest of the guitar.
The bridge is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it's cast in one solid, trapezoid lump, bearing the saddles and the slots for the ball ends. Second, it sits not in but OVER a matching hole cut in the bodywork, as though it should really have a vibrato arm attached. The far end would then have somewhere to go when you heaved on the strings, but instead there's the unique option of being able to raise the strings by a semi-tone if you push hard on the rear of the bridge. The intonation screws are almost impossible to reach because the surround for the tail pickup is in the way. Daft.
The bolt-on neck has a medium thickness, is gently curved at the back, yet with a fairly strong camber on the rosewood fretboard bearing 24 thinnish frets.
The pickups continue the UK11's individual styling. They're loud humbuckers with bar magnets rather than pole pieces and a series/parallel switch is built into the black plastic mounting plate. The sound, too, is uncommon. Perhaps it's the Urelite; certainly both series selections give the UK a very thick, burry tone, powerful with a lot of weight behind it, but becoming muffled at full volume.
Steve Hackett abandoned his Les Paul Gold Top for an Ovation, and it's possible to see why. The throatiness is reminiscent of an old Gibson (though not so rich) yet there's the extra choice of a thinner, parallel "coil-tapped" sound. The nature of the UK11 prevents the pickups from sounding as sharp and clean as a Strat, however.
The neck is wide, again like a Les Paul, but not as thick, and unfortunately this six string doesn't hang as comfortably as a Gibson, it's more headstock heavy. As a final quirk, the designers have included mono and stereo output sockets, the stereo one putting the neck humbucker on one side, the tail on the other.
An unusual instrument, a bit pricey, but worth investigating. £395