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.
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
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
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
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.
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 1960’s, 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 1960’s to the 1980’s. 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.