by Arthur Stone
Introduction: My first electro-acoustic guitar and an instrument that has enabled my progression and been the source of much enjoyment. It cost circa £280 which seemed a huge amount at the time. I was pretty naive and didn't understand the concept of high-end guitars and the superior tonality and playability they offered. Still I thought it sounded great and played well (which it does)...as I was leaving the shop the salesman said: "Wait until you plug it in."
Hardware: The fretboard and neck are rosewood and the body top is spruce or mahogany (I think the review model is mahogany). Ovation guitars have a bowl-shaped back and are made of a composite material called Lyrachord; this is extremely durable and lightweight and is efficient in transmitting vibration. Inside the bowl is an A-frame brace and as the composite bowl is smooth inside it doesn't hinder the sound. The hardware is of good quality particularly the chrome tuning-machines and I've not needed to adjust the neck or replace any parts (lol. obviously strings excepted) after 10 years of hard use and travel. Much more durable than many guitars. The only issue has been the (stuck-on) rosette which is a little loose around the soundhole but still firmly attached.
The guitar looks great with a beautiful sunburst finish which attracts compliments, as does the tone and shape.
The pick-up is a piezo system housed in the saddle and it works very well...superbly. Plugged-in it sounds like a more expensive guitar; the preamp section is great too with volume and three tone controls, also a pre-shape EQ curve and built-in LED tuner...that's really handy for gigs or general use.
In use: The characteristic bowl-shape has advantages and disadvantages for the player...it is comfortable with no sharp edges to dig in and this can ease performance but on occassion the guitar will not sit right so strap positioning and stability is critical to good performance. If you're used to a flat-backed guitar then it takes a little getting used to but not too much. You can feel the vibes coming through into your body which is pleasant.
The Lyrachord back is extremely durable and takes a knock far better than wooden guitars. The Ovation is my (outdoor) gigging (and studio) guitar and it's often around campfires on damp nights which it takes to without complaint or damage. Whilst the back enables a reasonable/good tone it lacks the volume of all-wood guitars mainly in the lower frequencies but sometimes, particularly in smaller rooms, this tames boominess and there are less of the feedback resonances around 100-110Hz.
The slight lightness in the bass is evident when plugged in too but in practice I didn't find this too much of a disadvantage and I could EQ or adjust playing style to compensate a bit. I jam with a Lowden owner and he covers the bass and the guitars compliment each other well. Apart from noodling and composing I find the guitar quite good for quiet late-night sessions (when I don't want to disturb the neighbour) but the real niche for it is plugged-in and with a bit of overdrive or through an amp it has a solid electric vibe. Up around the 12th fret it sounds superb and the cutaway permits action to the top with a finger stretch. It can sing!
I'm a bit spoilt for guitars now and I recognise the limitations of the neck playability in comparison to guitars costing 3 or 4 times as much - but no pain, no gain...you will find that your hand strengthens and this isn't a particularly fatiguing neck and a cut above most budget-to-mid guitars.
Conclusion: I'm a bit torn here...sure I'd recommend this type of guitar and it's given me so much enjoyment and helped to develop my skills. The small, uncritical audiences I play for love the tone and there's no complaints. However there is stiff competition now - both from Asian-manufactured new-brand guitars which have come on leaps and bounds and compete on price but mainly the budget Martin electro-acoustics which are phenomenal for the price. If you're on a budget then I'd recommend testing the Ovation against other models but if you can wait and save a bit it's worth checking out the Martins which IMO are tonally superior and have more-playable necks...although it's a close call when they are both plugged-in.
If you are starting off or a recreational player/hobbyist then this is a great guitar, no mistake, and should last a lifetime. It's no slouch in the studio either.