The Ovation Guitar Company, a holding of Kaman Music Corporation, is a guitar manufacturing company based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, USA. Ovation primarily manufactures acoustic guitars.
Ovation guitars are differentiated by their composite synthetic bowl, rather than the traditional wooden back and sides of the modern acoustic guitar as produced by luthiers starting in the late 18th century. Ovation has also produced solid body electric guitars. A lower-priced version of the bowl-back Ovation design, known as the Applause Guitar, has also been produced.
Developed starting in 1966 and introduced as the 'Balladeer' in February, 1967, Ovation has sought to bring modern materials and construction techniques to guitar building.
Ovations reached the height of their popularity in the 1980's, where they were more often than not seen during live performances by touring artists if acoustic guitars were being played. Their low feedback and ability to cut through other band instruments made them ideal for playing alongside electric guitars and drums.
Since the 1980's they have remained popular with studio musicians, but are less frequently seen on stage.
Charles Kaman gained extensive knowledge of composite plastics as an engineer designing rotor blades for helicopters, working with Igor Sikorsky. He reasoned that the negative effects of vibration in wooden rotors were in fact a positive in acoustic instruments that required controlled resonance to produce pleasing musical tone. As a guitarist as well as an aerospace engineer, he developed the round-backed composite-body Ovation guitar as a way to produce uniquely modern instruments.
The extensive number of models, many of which are collectible by virtue of their obscurity, are still mainly distinguished by one or two characteristics: the aforementioned synthetic bowl and early use (1971) of preamps, onboard equalization and piezo pickups. Such features made Ovations particularly attractive to live acoustic musicians who constantly battled feedback problems from the high volumes needed in live venues.
The first Ovation guitar was developed in 1966 by Charles Kaman, an aeronautical engineer and successful industrialist. Born in 1919, his interest in the guitar developed at a young age, and as a teenager he often played gigs with bands in the Washington D.C. area where he grew up. He received his bachelors degree in aeronautical engineering from the Catholic University of America in Washington, and then worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist at United. Eventually he founded his own helicopter design company, the Kaman Corporation, in 1943.
The Kaman Corporation soon became involved in many aspects of science however, branching off into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flight, the development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. This highly successful company now brings in over half a billion dollars annually.
However, much of this success must also be attributed to the company's decision to produce musical instruments. In the early 1960's, financial problems due to the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to consider expanding into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Coincidentally, Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, needed to have his Martin guitar repaired due to a warped neck. When he brought the guitar into the C.F. Martin Company to have it fixed, the president of the company, Fred Martin, offered him a tour through his guitar factory.
Upon touring the factory, Kaman observed with surprise that the guitars were being manufactured with hammers and animal glue. Having worked with extremely advanced woodworking equipment in his years as a helicopter engineer, he instantly saw a means for improvement. He offered Martin the chance to sell his company, which was the top producer of guitars at the time, and Martin refused. A short while later he offered again with the statement that he planned on entering the field with superior technology if he was again refused. Martin turned him down once again, and the Ovation guitar company was born.
Armed with years of design experience, Kaman at once set about creating a guitar that would not only be of a better quality in terms of structure but also in terms of sound. He designed it with a rounded-bowl back to improve the flow of sound through the guitar and developed a new top bracing system that was more durable. Kaman broke even more with tradition by building the guitar with both synthetic materials, such as fiberglass, and with natural woods such as sitka spruce. His theory was that by adding synthetic materials he would achieve a better quality and consistency of sound. The success of Ovation Guitars proved the traditional belief, that only guitars made solely out of the finest woods were good, to be wrong.
Charles Kaman also created one of the first successful electric-acoustic guitars, and the solid-body guitar soon evolved as a result. Kaman's fusion of synthetic materials and an aerodynamic shape produced an instrument that revolutionized the guitar industry as well as changed the face of music.
In 1972, Ovation introduced one of the first production solidbody electric guitars with active electronics, the Breadwinner (the 1963 Burns TR2 had active circuitry, but did not receive widespread attention or sales). The odd but ergonomic shape of this guitar and its deluxe model, the Deacon along with the FET preamplifier made this a popular studio guitar with numerous artists including Steve Marriott of the Small Faces. The model failed to gain widespread popularity, however, and production of the Breadwinner/Deacon line ceased in 1980.
Ovation made several other solid body models up until the mid 80s. Many of these guitars have become collector's items since only a few thousand were made of each model. Guitars such as the UK II which featured stereo output and custom made pickups that featured 10,000 winds each and coil tap switches that would instantly change the humbucker into a single coil pickup. The Ovation Ultra GP, their take on a Gibson Les Paul (and actually priced higher than the Gibson) was produced in an edition 250 units before discontinued.
Other Ovation innovations include composite tops and multiple offset sound holes on guitar tops, pioneered in the Adamas model in 1977.