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Old 16th December 2014
Lives for gear

Well, HV, to keep this from becoming a drift nightmare, this will be my last post on this matter and for fairness, I'll give you one last one as well after I'm done, if you want it. I actually think it's a fascinating topic and it's one that I wish were more prominent in the field of guitar design. Maybe I'll start a thread about it sometime.

The Ovation approach is to more or less isolate the bowl from the top. The wood top vibrates (although Ovation actually uses a sandwich of composites and wood which, in theory, ought to provide a more balanced tone as it's not so affected by the random grain of the wood). It works like a speaker cone, converting energy into sound. And the bowl acts as a parabolic reflector, aiming and bouncing that sound back towards the sound hole, to push it out of the guitar and into our ears. The less the bowl vibrates, the more sound gets pushed back to the listener.

I wouldn't say that Ovation guitars sound bad... they sound "balanced". They have very little character. And that's a great thing at the low end of the market where most of the "character" is lousy, and it could be a great thing for recording and live performance as well. But without that wood back and sides serving as reactive surfaces of their own, you certainly lose much of the "interplay" between the top and bottom surfaces, which does remove much of the character that we've come to know and love in acoustic instruments. Basically, you're losing harmonics, I believe. So in that sense, I would say that Ovations are the most "electric sounding" of all acoustics. And you do get extra volume and some feedback rejection as a trade-off

And those extra harmonics are what all electric guitar players are really chasing, if you think about it. They chase it through "tone wood", they chase it through tube amps... all trying to add some extra harmonics to get that richness in tone that the instrument generally lacks. I mean, you don't hear a guy on a Martin complaining about needing a tube amp to make his Martin sound good, right? Because he's already got those rich harmonics coming out of the instrument himself. But vibrating wood doesn't change the tone of an electric guitar, because the only sounds coming out of it are from the pickups, which are only responding to the strings. And those strings need the most rock solid non-vibrating attachment they can get in order to conserve the mechanical energy in the strings, to keep them vibrating, as opposed to losing it through translation into the body, which doesn't make any sound at all in an electric guitar.

So what is good? What's bad? It depends on what you're looking for, I suppose.