Ovation guitars are some of the most unique acoustic-electrics on the market. Designed by engineer Charles Kaman, who had previously worked designing helicopters, Ovations are hybrid guitars with a number of unconventional features, including shallow plastic backs, a built-in preamp, and (on some models) multiple soundholes. For this reason, they can be extremely polarizing. Guitarists tend to either love or hate them. Here are five reasons an Ovation guitar might be just the right thing for you, and five reasons it might not be a good fit.
Pros of Ovation Guitars
Let’s say you’re a solo singer/songwriter whose work includes both electric and acoustic sounding songs. It can be frustrating to have to carry two guitars to every gig, or to unplug and reset multiple times. Ovation gives you a single guitar that splits the difference between electric and acoustic tones, and sounds decent standing in for either. One guitar is all you need to carry on the subway, or throw in the trunk of your car, or stand guard over in the corner at an open mic night.
One common issue with playing a traditional acoustic plugged in is the feedback created by resonance in the body, which can muddy your tone. Ovation guitars solve this problem with a back that is shallow, rounded, and plastic, all of which reduce this problematic feedback and give you a much cleaner plugged in sound. The company’s higher end Adamas models even go one step further by eliminating the large single soundhole and replacing it with multiple smaller ones scattered around the body.
Designed to be plugged in
Unlike many acoustic-electrics which are designed first and foremost as acoustic guitars, Ovations are specifically built to be plugged in. The built-in pre-amp gives you clear electric quality sound and enough tone control to tweak your sound for different songs with the turn of a knob, allowing you to plug direct to a PA with no need for an amp and no loss of sound quality.
Acoustic Sound, Electric Feel
Ovation guitars are the perfect acoustic guitars for primarily electric players because they feel like electric guitars. Playing in an electric rock band, but want an acoustic for the one ballad in your set? Ovation’s shallow body, narrow neck, and light weight means they play like electric guitars from a mechanical standpoint and make it easy to transition seamlessly.
Value for money
While Ovation does produce some excellent higher end guitars, it’s their low-mid range models that really separate them from the pack. The “Celebrity” model in particular is a budget friendly guitar that is significantly higher quality than many other guitars at its price point. And that benefit is doubled when you consider that you only need to buy one guitar (instead of an acoustic and an electric). I speak from experience here. A Celebrity was one of my first guitars, and even though I have higher quality gear now, it still gets regular use.
Cons of Ovation Guitars
Less resonance than full acoustic
The Ovation’s drawbacks come primarily as the flip side of its versatility. Because it is neither fully acoustic nor fully electric, it lacks some of the tonal subtleties of each. This is especially apparent when played unplugged. The same features that help to limit feedback when plugged in leave the tone somewhat less warm and resonant than a pure acoustic.
Less tone control than full electric
At the same time, while the preamp does give the player a fair amount of control, the physics of acoustic pickups mean that that tone can never be as customizable as a fully electric guitar with multiple magnetic pickups, tone knob(s), and/or a toggle switch. If you want crystal clear high end or highly customizable tone, a pure electric guitar is probably a better bet.
Lack of sustain
Ovations are sometimes criticized for lacking sustain. This is not necessarily always a bad thing, but it can be if sustain is important to the sound you are trying to achieve. Interestingly, this is one area where Ovation guitars tend to perform worse relative to both acoustic and electric guitars.
Another common complaint about Ovations is their long-term durability. Because of the different materials used for the front and back of the body (wood and plastic respectively), they can sometimes separate or warp differently requiring significant repairs down the line. This is not really an issue over the normal life of a guitar (I’ve had my Celebrity for 20 years and never had a problem). But if you are investing in a high-end Ovation that you plan on playing for decades or passing down to your children, it is something worth considering.
Ovation guitars have a unique look and it is not for everyone. Their hybrid shape doesn’t look like anything else on the market (acoustic or electric). While visual aesthetics are often not the first consideration for musicians, if this guitar is something you plan on performing with for some time, it’s worth making sure you like the way it looks and that it fits with your particular stage presence. This is maybe more of a consideration with Ovations than other guitars specifically because of how different they look.
Hopefully this look at Ovation guitars has been helpful in considering whether the brand is right for you. Love them or hate them, Ovations are some of the most interesting and unique instruments on the market, and one might be just right for your needs. Or not.