Ovation Guitars History: The Story of Ovation Acoustic Guitars

Published Categorized as Ovation
Ovation guitars logo
By Easter2816 (Own work), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the year of 1966, the guitar world had no idea who Charlie Kaman, the successful helicopter manufacturer, was.

Or that he would become part of the history of guitar making.

They also had no idea that the History of Ovation Guitars would become part of music history.

Table of Contents

The Innovative Mr. Kaman

However, the people that knew him were not surprised by this at all. Mr. Kaman was a “free spirit pioneer” that built the Kaman Aircraft from scratch in 1945 with only $5,000 in equipment and $2,000 in cash.

In 1965, he wanted to diversify his product line and finally decided on guitars, especially since he had loved playing the guitar for many years. After turning down a job as the guitarist for the Tommy Dorsey and being turned down when he tried to purchase the Martin D. Guitar store, he decided to open his own guitar business that would be his own and would never belong to someone else.

This was a humble beginning for Ovation Guitars and also the start of their history in the music industry. Forty years after this business got their start, famous musicians such as Glen Campbell, Al DiMeola, and Melissa Ethridge have played an Ovation guitar, which is considered by some to be the strongest guitar in the world.

The Early Ovation Guitars

Ovation Balladeer Guitar (1968) fiberglass round-back
Ovation Balladeer Guitar (1968) (By doryfour (Flickr: Back of Ovation Balladeer guitar (1968)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The first guitar that Ovation produced was the Ovation Balladeer, which was named after a local folk group that got a standing ovation.

The first reactions that musicians had to this guitar were that it was “smooth, full, rich, clear, and mellow.”

This guitar was very different than any other guitar. It had a composite, Roundback design and was perhaps the strongest “back and sides” design world had seen.

The headstock was sculpted and sleek and the understated dot inlays on the fingerboard were made out of ebony. A dark walnut bridge sat in contrast to a light spruce top. These guitar parts were married to a slim and fast-five piece laminated neck that, even now, people look for when they purchase an Ovation guitar.

Even the bracing, that is not visible to the eye, was a very pretty sight. The first person to endorse this guitar was Josh White.

Josh White Signature Model

Josh Whites 1966 Custom Ovation Acoustic Guitar
Josh Whites 1966 Custom Ovation Acoustic Guitar (By Urbankayaker [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Blues singer Josh White was the first musician to officially endorse this guitar. He loved the prototype of the Ovation and how its rounded and synthetic back had a full-bodied sound. He worked very closely with Charlie Kaman.

The Josh White guitar that Mr. Kaman made with him in mind had fewer frets because that is what he was used to playing as a folk singer. Mr. White’s name was on the peghead and this model was part of the Ovation line until he died in 1970, but they later brought it back in his honor. It is called the Josh White Signature Model.

Growing Ovation Guitars

With the Balladeer and Josh White models, Ovation was slowly becoming more known in the guitar industry. In 1967, the Model #5, a 12-string Ovation, was introduced. With these three guitars, Kaman had a product line to send out to guitar stores.

Even though they were great guitars, retailers did not buy many of them because they didn’t know what to think of Ovation guitars. They were unsure about making these guitars part of their inventory, but that was about to change. Glen Campbell was going to help these guitars become very well-known.

Glen Cambell and Ovation

Ovation Guitar Glen Campbell
By ThatPeskyCommoner (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A young entertainer, guitarist, and singer named Glen Campbell quickly became very famous with his song “Gentle on my Mind” and his appearances on the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour.

He also was well-known for his songs “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman”.

However, it was television that made his career take off. He had it all with his All-American looks, a welcoming personality, distinctive vocals, wicked guitar chops, and an Ovation guitar. In 1968, Mr. Campbell championed the Roundback that has a shallow “Artist” bowl that was debuted in 1968 along with the Glen Campbell model.

After his signature model was made, it seemed like everybody wanted an Ovation and the retailers could not get them into their stores fast enough. The musicians that were the most well-known of that day were on the doorstep of Kaman Music Offices trying to get a guitar. Glen Campbell helped change the future of Ovation guitars. In 1971, Ovation helped innovate the acoustic guitar.

Acoustic-Electric Innovations

In the year 1971, Acoustic guitars were limited in a lot of venues because they could only produce so much sound and could only project so far. In the late 1960s, musicians could either be limited in their mobility with a stationary microphone or a primitive pickup device that really colored the sound of the guitar and neither one of them were good options.

Glen Campbell needed mobility on stage, but he also wanted an acoustic guitar. Charlie Kaman and his engineers worked hard to create a guitar that was the very first acoustic electric-prototype well before his show went off the air in 1972.

Ovation is presently one of the leaders in acoustic-electric guitar technology by providing the most sophisticated preamps, piezo pickups, onboard EQ, and microphone imaging available in the industry.

Modern Day Ovation

Plenty of musicians have played Ovation guitars (Josh White and Glen Campbell just being the beginning of the long list of musicians) that include Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue, Godsmack, Blasko from Rob Zombie, Rex Brown (that has played with Pantera and other bands), and Vince Neil of Motley Crue.

Even with being popular with all of these musicians, the demand for the Ovation guitar is currently slowed. Some people say that they are “not real guitars” and do not appreciate that this guitar’s sound is different than other guitars.

They have a unique sound and that sound is not what every musician is looking for. Since this type of guitar is truly one-of-a-kind and is different from a traditional guitar, is what makes this guitar a bargain in the market of used guitars in the world today.

It is surprising because these guitars were so popular with musicians from the 1960s to the 1980s. There you have a piece of the history of guitars, the Ovation guitars history, that have truly had their place in the history of acoustic guitar music.

Have you owned or do you own an Ovation? What’s your opinion on Ovation’s guitars? Feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.

44 comments

    1. I tried one out in 1972 and all I can say was unbelievable. I played it for over 4 hours in this little music store. I was going to buy it for about $400 then the owner said he didn’t realize how great it sounded and he doubled the price. I said ok, then he said it wasn’t for sale. I was pissed. I knew that would be one of my lifetime guitars.
      I still have a 1972 Ovation 12 string. I was recently told it was a Pacemaker not a Balladeer.

      1. Just found out that my Ovation I bought back in 1970 was a first year Balladeer model that was made in 1966 and that it was actually purchased brand new by Glenn Campbell. What do you think the value of this guitar would be ?

  1. Ever since I began playing I wanted an Ovation. I now own 2 a 1978 Balladeer and an 2001 Adamas. Both are excellent instruments. I wonder when Ovation is going to bring back the Deacon?

  2. I love Ovation !! I currently have a 1981 Balladeer and a 1983 Applause. My favorite acoustic. Hope to get a shallow body soon

  3. Interesting article, A readers digest version of the history but basically accurate. Do I own Ovations? yes, a few. They do what they do extremely well. They are not a prewar Martin sound but were never intended for that. Charlie did have a vision with using fiberglass and the bowl shape since thee was going to be a shortage of Brazilian rosewood in the late 60’s. That didn’t quite happen but it got the ball rolling. His second step was the Adamas (1975) using carbon grafite for the top material. After that he went back to helicopters but the groundwork was set and the company took off grew. In the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s practically every major act used Ovation.

  4. I do have an Ovation 1127-4 E …kind of unusual and I’ve been asking questions about it since before Jerry Reed’s death??? … on the little plate on the headstock where I think it should read Glen Campbell…it reads “Jerry Reed” AND … it’s fitted with a Baldwin Prismatone ….it’s seen better days, but is still playable and the pickup works….I’ve talked to several local guitar gurus and the gentleman at Baldwin Prismatone on fb ….it’s been told to me that it very well may have been owned at one time by Jerry Reed??? Any thoughts??

    1. I will only play or purchase Ovation acoustic guitars. I have had so many acoustic guitars and not one acoustic I have ever owned even stands up to Ovation. Super unique and precise workmanship in my opinion the sound is like no other.

  5. I’ve owned Ovations since the 70s. I currently have a Custom Legend, a 6 string Elite and a 12 string Elite
    I’m sick to death of people telling me they’re not “real guitars”. They can all suck it!

  6. I have 2 very special to me Ovations, and love them like my children. I have arthritis in my hands now, and it gets harder to play, but wish I had an electric acoustic, but financially impossible. I cannot tell you what Ovation guitars mean to me, and won’t have any other. They fit my hands perfectly, and have been a part of the happiest moments of my life! THANK you Mr. Kaman, and everyone at Ovation.

  7. I bought my first Ovation Applause in 1976 followed over the years by a Balladeer, Custom Balladeer, Balladeer 12string, Legend, and an easily Adamas. Obviously a love affair with the Ovation sound and awesome neck for many years. Still the only guitars I use professionally. Recently I found a pristine 1985 Ultra Deluxe hanging lonely on a pawn shop wall and scooped it up for almost nothing – what amazing sound came out of this beauty! Yes I own or have owned the other big name acoustic/electrics but I keep coming back. Only Ovation gives me that beautiful ?wall of sound? behind me that as a finger picker or hybrid picker makes all the difference on stage.

  8. Hi Ovation! I’m crazy about the nylon Ovation guitar, currently I play with an Ovation model 1773 LX series Classic LX. For me it was always the best guitar in the world. I’m so in love with Ovation that I got to change my car on an Ovation guitar. Congratulations on the beautiful Ovation story and I can say that I am also part of this story and the dream of Mr. Kaman. God bless you Ovation.

  9. I’ve been playing Ovations for decades. An Anniversary 6 string and a Legend 12 string. I have never had an issue with either one. Both have faithfully served my needs for the majority of my life. Guitarists are fickle, they go from one guitar to the next, they find reasons to abandon a make and go to the next. Not me. I play them, record with them and up until 2002, performed with them. I have never and will never feel the need to replace them. They are for life with me.

  10. Ovation Guitars are UNIQUE & The Original Composite Roundback Acoustic Guitars In The World ?.

    No Doubt The Most Advance Acoustic Guitars In The World.

    I owned an Adamas 1687-8 30th Anniversary Reissue Series which i admired since i was only 13years old back in 1988 when a Worship Leader from UK ?? Dave Bilbrough came ro our church in Miri, Borneo. I was amazed by the looks & the sound of his Vintage Adamas 1687-8 .
    Only after 25years that is in 2014, i managed to buy my dream guitar as a young boy… The Amazing Adamas 1687-8 30th Anniversary Reissue Series ( the same exact guitar as Dave Bilbrough , ?? ).
    I’m so blessed to own this magnificent guitar!
    I will hand over this guitar to my lovely baby daughter when she gets older.

    Previously i owned Elite C2078AX-4, C2078AX-4 & Celebrity Limited Edition MT37-5, sold in order to acquire the Adamas 1687-8 30th Anniversary Reissue Series.

  11. Quite a summary overview. Ovation’s place in the industry is much more influential, and their products ranged much wider than the acoustic guitar. Their electric instruments were used by countless pros and were equally groundbreaking in their use of alternative materials, electronics and design concepts. Like Parker, PRS, and many other upstarts in the previous millennium, it is hard to find inspired, committed or motivated leaders in the industry today as they were.

  12. I bought my first Ovation Balladeer in 1973 and still have it, love to play it, and sing along with it.
    In the last 15 years I have been “rescuing” early Balladeers and other early Ovations that have been mistreated /neglected. I have several projects in the works now, doing restoration work on these “rescued souls” and then using them to perform in public.
    In the process sometimes proving that great sounding “rescue” guitars do not always look as good as they sound.
    Thank you to Charlie Kaman for following his dream and consequently inspiring dreams of some many others.

  13. As a young man learning guitar, I could never afford my dream of a custom legend. Now I have 2 CLs and I play them more than my Martin’s.

  14. Im the proud and lucky owner of a 1968 1127-4 Glen Campbell artist series balladeer. Also known as Ovation model #7. I own 20 guitars and this one will never be parted with, shallow bowl straight accoustic.it couldn’t get any better for me. Love this guitar. huge Glen Campbell.

  15. I have been playing an Ovation since 1991, when I purchased my first Balladeer. I recently purchase a 1994 Collection’s Series and love both of the guitars. When plugged in, these guitars sound better than my Taylor or any other acoustic I have. I love Ovations!

  16. Hello!
    Santa and my wife offered me on December 2017 a Celebrity Contour Elite Plus C2078AXP-TE (Tiger Eye) Collectors Series, crafted in Korea (K16080877). Not my first Ovation though, as I played an acoustic Balladeer during the early 80ies in my little band. Now that I’m 70, this is my ultimate guitar. She”s a beauty and a real pleasure to play . For me, there’s no conflict between “real” or “not standard” instruments. The OP Pro Studio electronics renders so well, but opn the other hand, this guitar can be played unplugged in front of a good PA mike. Cristalline vibes, good bass and mid tonality. I’m not ashamed to play Irish Pub Tunes with her and my two friends !! Love her absolutely !!

    1. Hi Jean-Francois

      Thanks for your input and glad to hear you’re enjoying your new Ovation! Sounds like a beauty!

  17. Hi
    I had an unusual Ovation in the late 70’s that had a classical-style headstock but with steel strings. It was different because the whole guitar was plastic! I played in a restaurant with no amplification, and other musicians would comment on the volume and projection. Eventually the steel strings ate through the classical-style tuning machines, and I didn’t know at the time that I could have replaced them with steel-string tuners, so I sold it. I wish I knew the model and could find another.

  18. ’68 Shiny Back Classic and a ’79 12 string Pacemaker. I have enjoyed bringing these back to life. They sounds amazing and play like butter!

  19. Have owned and played all USA Ovations since my first in 1977. Classic story I guess. There it was, hanging on the wall at Mountain Music in Gulfport Mississippi. I was a teenager then; and the images of Roy Clark, Glen Campbell, Mac Davis, and of course Nancy Wilson, were fresh. I still have that balladeer, and have added more balladeers, elites, and a legend to the mix. I don’t think it was ever for the sake of the guitar(s), but for the sake of the song. Whether a lonely boy who just wanted girls to like him, or in a worship band as I am today; I always had something to express. These guitars were always part of that expression and, consequently, part of who I am. The look, the feel, and the sound…….love it.

  20. I had a ovation I bought in 1977 Indiana and played it so much that I wore the frets out by the late 80’s. I loved the sound the round fiberglass back gave me. The projection was amazing. Thanks to all involved in the design of this amazing group of guitars!

  21. A fair start at a summary overview, but it would do the brand a bit more justice to point out other super star singers and songwriters who used them. There are dozens but here are few more folks might recognize: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Kenny Rodgers, Paul Simon, David Gilmore, Roger Waters, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Warren Zevon, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Sambora. Literally everyone was playing Ovation guitars for a while there.

    It’s also worth mentioning the Adamas brand that Ovation produced. These are some of the greatest and most innovative guitars in the history of American guitar making. Carbon fiber tops, decades before all these other brands sprung up using carbon fiber.

    Also, Fender bankrupted and eventually closed Ovation operations here in the US. Fender did a significant amount of damage to the Ovation brand name by really cheapening their quality and having most of the ones available for sale around the nation being made in foreign countries and sometimes (often) of dubious quality.

    My first guitar was an Ovation, back in the early 90s. That one was great. I bought one of the crap ones from when Fender was milking every last dollar they could out of the Ovation brand and when I brought it home I played for under ten minutes before the cheap plastic nut broke. Ridiculous.

    I now own an Ovation 12-string from the 70s, an American made Ovation 6 string, and four, whoops, five Adamas guitars. Some of the Adams guitars are from the early 80s and play like they are brand new instruments. You simply cannot go wrong with an Adamas guitar. They play as fast as any of my electrics and the action and tone are amazing plugged in or unplugged. Some of these guitars were 4-5 thousand dollars when brand new. You can get them on Ebay for sometimes half that and as long as no one threw them down the stairs multiple times, you’re going to have a helluva a high end instrument.

  22. I have just bought a Karman music product guitar. I assume it is the Balladeer type with the black round back.
    It was made in Korea. The number serial number is 064880. Model is CC67.
    I would love to know more anyone help. ( I am an 86 year old beginner)

  23. I have a 1967 12 string Balladeer which I have owned since it was new. It is a great guitar. My luthier just completed a neck reset. I can not wait to get this guitar back!

  24. I have owned an Ovation Balladeer 12-string serial number A-299 since June of 1972. It one of my most prized instruments. I am trying to find out more about it. I purchased it used. I would like to know when it was
    manufactured. It has a smooth back versus the grained backs of later models. any help on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

  25. Could someone please identify my Ovation Guitar left to me by my brother.
    Bought around 1980, sunburst, gold coloured tuning, curved back electric acoustic. Don?t know model but Serial No 178956. Still has original hard case.
    We played in a band and I played the drums, sadly he died and his wife gave the guitar to me as we also played as a duo and were always together.

    Many Thanks

    Michael Geoghegan

  26. I’m looking to date a Glen Campbell model 1127-4 with the only apparent SN on a sticker inside the soundhole that reads M-246. Anyone?

  27. I have a Balladeer model 1111-1 serial # 5009. Bought it used in 1970. Serial #is typed by a typewriter on a rectangular label. Still in original case. Anyone have more information on this?

  28. I spent an evening with Josh White in a coffee house in my hometown of Jacksonville Florida. Later I became a Gainesville, Florida DJ. I then became a TV news reporter and met Glenn Campbell. I am looking right now at getting an Ovation guitar. I’m the co-founder of the Southern Music Hall of Fame website and been in the public relations consulting business for decades. I would love to help bring back the popularity of the Ovation.

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