The Ovation Guitar Collection
For those who've had the chance to catch one of my shows, you'll notice that my guitars are a little weird looking (just like me!). A round back on a guitar - what's that about?
I grew up in the 80's. Back then, it was hair bands all day long. And I'll admit that the second most important piece of equipment next to my guitar was my Aqua-Net hairspray. Well, that and acid-washed ripped jeans.
But while Ovations aren't as popular now, back then they were THE acoustic guitar to have. Every hard rock band seemed to have them on MTV. Remember Ritchie Sambora's doubleneck? Ovation. It was almost as if any Hard Rock ballad you wanted to sing to your girl REQUIRED an Ovation or it just couldn't be played at all.
But even before then, rockers like Paul McCartney, Greg Lake, even Robert Fripp from King Crimson were rocking the bowl-backs.
Alas, being the broke teenager that I was, owning one of those guitars just wasn't in the cards. It just cut too deeply into my rock-n-roll-all-night and party-every-day budgets, respectively.
Years later, on a cold, snowy Buffalo NY evening, a good friend of mine (and an amazingly talented songwriter) by the name of Steve Roth was working on starting up a local open mic, to which I tried to support regularly. He'd just purchased a new Taylor, but was previously using an Ovation Balladeer 1611 as his primary instrument. Luckily for me, his beautiful new Taylor was a bit on the pricey side, so he was more than willing to part with it in oder to pay into the New Guitar Fund (don't laugh - every guitar player has one). So, I picked it up for the low price of about $300 and the dream -and subsequently my obsession - had begun.
Ovations fell out of favor with the public in the early 90's. Brands like Taylor, Breedlove, and the ever-omnipresent Martin and Gibson acoustics dominate the market. Consequently, prices on Ovations came way down. Although they're starting to get more visibility again due to the revitalization of Ovation under parent company D-Drum, you can pick up high quality, USA made used Ovations for amazing prices on sites like Reverb.com.
OK - enough talk. Let's get to the collection!
Balladeer Deluxe 1112 Natural (1978) and Sunburst (1979)
After the Balladeer 1611, which I subsequently sold to my brother-in-law (I believe to finance my own New Guitar Fund), I picked up these two beauties.
The Balladeer Deluxe on the left (called "deluxe" due to the diamond shaped fretboard inlays) was found at a consignment music store in San Jose CA, back in the late 90's. the poor thing was hidden behind a stack of PA subwoofers and hanging on the wall with about 1/4in thick of dust covering the entirety of the instrument. Under that dust however was a beautiful guitar in pristine condition. Inquiring about it with the shopkeeper, he seemed genuinely surprised that it was actually in his inventory. And of course, no price tag or phone number of the owner to be found.
The next hour or so was spent trying to track down the owner via rummaging through a bunch of old index cards. Perseverance won out, and we found the contact info. Turns out, the owner had forgotten all about it too, as he put the thing on consignment way back in the 80's. So, I said I'd give him $150 for it and it's been in my collection ever since.
The sunburst model on the right was my top travel guitar for a number of years, and has seen just about as many states as I have (38 in all). I bought it as a backup guitar but it quickly became my go-to gig guitar. If I recall correctly, this one was my first major eBay purchase.
A special characteristic of this guitar is a small, perfectly round hole that was repaired on the top. This was due to a sound engineer in Denver Colorado ,who, for some reason, felt the need to throw a 1/4 cable across the stage that - as luck would have it - would meet my guitar up-close-and-in-person. Must've been a major league pitcher for his day job.
But in the end all was well and while neither see much action outside of the studio these days both still sound wonderful when recorded. It's these two that your hear on my albums "No Ordinary Anything" and "Flowers Beneath the Ashes".
Both are professionally modded with Martin GoldPlus pickups and a volume pot added near the headstock sporting a die-cast metal knob with a Celtic design.
Legend Models 1667 (1986) and 1651 (1978)
The Legend on the left has been my number one live guitar for over a decade. It's carried me through some of the most important shows of my career, the largest of which was performing to just under 10,000 people.
Yep, just me and my Legend up there, strummin' away.
Although the guitar is stock, it recently went through a re-fret. Very deep and rich tone. I'm contemplating upgrading the electronics however. the 80's electronics just can't compete with today's preamps.
The Legend on the right, while not a new model, is a new to the collection. This acquisition is the epitome of the phrase, "being at the right place at the right time." I was searching for a 1651 for years, as I've always loved the look of the chestnut top. Unfortunately, the few that I came across in my travels were in really poor shape. Way beyond saving.
I happened to be perusing the local Craigslist ads one summer day when I saw an ad at the top of the feed from a local music store (Jackson Music in Grand Island, NY). I immediately gave the owner Jack a shout, bought the guitar over the phone, and rushed on over there to claim my prize.
Glad I did too. As I arrived there was already another collector there looking to buy it. It was probably in the store for no more that 12 hours.
Sorry! Not sorry ;-)
For Beatles fans, you may recognize this model as one John Lennon played on some of his solo albums and live performances. It sure has a nice mellow vibe to it. This model makes an appearance on the cover of his posthumously released Acoustic album in 2004.
Glen Campbell 1618 12 String (1979) and Balladeer (1969)
I spotted the Glen Campbell 12 string at a local music store one day while perusing around town with my wife Gretchen. While it's not evident in this picture, the top had seen better days. Many of the earlier Ovation models were prone to cracks in the finish. This was due to a thick lacquer used on the tops in the 70's and 80's. Sandwiched between the fiberglass bowl and thick lacquer, the wood was unable to expand and contract properly during temperature fluctuations.
But according to Ovation lore, part of the reason may also be due to how it was sold to music stores. Sales reps would pitch the guitar as "indestructible" instruments back then to the stores, and subsequently the stores pitched them in the same way to customers. Neglect was inevitable, and the guitars took the proverbial hit harder than their traditional counterparts. Wood is wood, after all.
This guitar however was eminently playable and sounded beautiful. After hemming and hawing about it, I decided not to purchase it for whatever crazy reason I had at the time. Probably for some frivolous thing like food or the mortgage or something.
About a week later, Gretchen calls me up saying that I needed to come home right away because "the kids brought home a new puppy and you HAVE to come see it!" As I came through the back door however, there was no puppy, but there WAS a new "baby" leaning next to the couch. The Glen Campbell. Good one honey - ya got me. Plus, this one was already housebroken.
The Balladeer on the right is the oldest model in my collection. I was able to pick this one up for $199 and it was a rescue operation. While the guitar top, body and neck were in overall fantastic condition for its age, it was clear that it was not played in years. This particular model was made before Ovation switched to using Schaller tuners, and the tuners that we on there were corroded and unusable. I replaced those with Schallers, gave it a good set up, and had a Bill Lawrence saddle pickup installed with a volume control under the soundhole. Once it was cleaned up it had an absolutely gorgeous sound, both plugged in and unplugged. Nice, tight and each string clearly defined. Although it's not much to look at, I like to keep it for the history. records great too.
A couple of additional odd features about this model include a "moustache" shaped bridge, a slimmer neck profile and what appears to be almost a spalted natural finish. At first I had thought that the effect was due to age, but it appears to be a characteristic from the wood itself. I should try to find out more information about this soon.
VXT Electric Hybrid (2008) and Elite 1537 (1983)
While Ovation isn't really known for their electrics, they've made several interesting and innovative models over the years. One such model is the VXT. While sporting a dual humbucker configuration, it also holds a Fishman acoustic pickup in its bridge. Tones can be blended, or run separately in a stereo configuration. The body is chambered to allow for a more realistic acoustic sound. Great tone, great feel.
The VXT came to me in 2016 via a local guitar swap meet. The seller, a kind gentleman who owned a boutique guitar shop in Rochester NY, told me that he used to tour with this guitar throughout South and Central America for years. Had we the time, I would've loved to have heard all about his adventures!
I promised him however that I would take good care of this instrument, and so I have. Today, this is my primary electric for any Chris Squier Band shows. I'll usually run it stereo with the acoustic side going into the PA and controlling blending via volume pedals.
The Elite 1537 on the right was another one of those right-place-at-the-right-time things. I found myself in Cincinnati, and happened to be walking by a music store (I know - what are the chances, right?!). As I was walking by, a staff member was placing this guitar on display. The guitar didn't even hit the guitar stand when I swooped in and told him I wanted to buy - I mean "try" - it. Picked it up for a steal at $375.
As I was waiting for the bags to come off of the plane, I spotted Gretchen waiting for me at the airport. Newlyweds that we were at the time, I thought I could pull a fast one and sneak this guitar home. I didn't travel with a guitar this time but usually did, so my man-logic told me that she'd never know...right?
Upon seeing me, her first words were - and I quote - "Hi. I don't recall you leaving with a guitar. Did this one follow you home?" It was then that I knew I wasn't getting away with anything. Ever. And rightfully so.
The characteristics of this guitar include a deep bass, bright treble and is probably pound-for-pound the heaviest Ovation I own. Not sure why, perhaps the bowl has an asphalt lining :-)
35th Anniversary Model (2001) and 1993 Collector's Edition
The final two models in my collection... for now.
The 35th Anniversary model on the left is the only shallow-bowl Ovation I currently own. When I purchased it, the guitar was heavily marked down and in pristine condition. Very bright sounding when plugged in an surprisingly full sounding when not. While the neck shape isn't my favorite, it is very portable and light on the shoulder. It makes for a great guitar when you're doing a lot of running around town between gigs. Unfortunately, the poor thing took a bit of a tumble last year which resulted in the right "ear" of the headstock breaking off. I have since repaired it, but as my woodworking skills are clearly lacking the repair is rather noticeable up close. Only cosmetic however so there's that blessing.
At last but not least, the newest member of my collection: my 1993 Collectors Edition.
I won't lie - I bought this because it was pretty, I was in Nashville, and quite frankly I wanted to buy a pretty guitar in Nashville.
So I did. And yes it sounds every bit as pretty as it looks.
What I also love about this guitar is my buddy Steve was with me. The man who sold me the first Ovation in my collection was on hand for the newest. My how far we've come. :-)
I hope you enjoyed this tour through my collection. Many thanks to ovationtribute.com for helping with model production dates.