Gone but not forgotten: the Ovation guitars that I owned

Aberto Biraghi plays an Ovation Adamas 2008-5

In this page I remember the Ovation guitars that I owned since 1979. And here’s why I love them.

1979 Ovation Matrix 1132-1
My very first Ovation, bought in 1978 at Tom Lee Piano in Hong Kong and sold two years later. No big deal of a guitar, but I paid it less than $ 100 including a beautiful brown hard case. I sold it in 1980 to buy a wood neck Ovation, the alluminum neck felt weird.

1979 Ovation Artist 1621-4
My first real Ovation guitar. It was a factory demo that I bough it from the “Prina” store in Milano (now closed) after selling the Matrix. This guitar had a nice mid depht bowl, a pleasant V neck and a nice, warm, real wood fingerboard (after the phenolic Matrix it felt so god!). The sound was very good both acoustically and plugged in. I kept it for a few years, I travelled with it and played quite a lot, then I traded it in the same store (I think it was the early Eighties) to buy the incredibly beautiful Anniversary 1657-8 mentioned below.

1981 Ovation The Anniversary 1657-8
Alberto Biraghi in the 70s with his Ovation AnniversaryMy third Ovation, bought in the above store trading in the Artist is the one I miss the most. It was an awesome guitar, with a gorgeous transparent orange spruce top with a very tight and elegant vein. The neck was perfect, with its ebony board and the gentle snowflakes. It was light, beautiful, resonant, perfectly amplified. I sold in the mid Eighties, in my period of electric madness, when I could not understand how special that guitar was. Big mistake, because in my opinion the Anniversary is the best wood top Ovation ever made, even better than the 1537 Elite.

Late 80s Ovation Elite 1718-4
My first Adamas-style Ovation, bought in the early Nineties and sold in the early 2Ks. It was a very nice guitar.

2005 Ovation Elite 1778T-OFT
Lots of fun to look at, but with a significant neck problem. Sounded like a shoe box stringed with a rubber band, so I sold it.

1988 Ovation Collectors 1988-P
I liked the cosmetics of this guitar, so I bought it on eBay in early 2019. Was described by the seller as “mint”, but had a significant finish crack on rear of the neck. There were also three superficial finish scratches on the back, near the neck to body joint, that the previous owner had touched up with a marker. It also came with a full depth Ovation case, in spite of being a super shallow guitar. The electronics worked, but the control plate screws were rusted. The paperworks were missing. For these reasons I asked a partial reimburse (thank you PayPal!) and sold it in November 2018. Anyway it’s a guitar that looks pretty in a picture, but the real thing is mediocre.

1979 Ovation The Anniversary 1157-7 #159848
1979 Ovation 1657 The AnniversaryCelebrating the first ten years of guitar building (1966-1976), The Anniversary is in my opinion one of Ovation’s best projects ever. A discrete yet elegant, nice looking, playing and sounding guitar, offered from 1978 to 1982 in “antique brown” (actually a reddish aged transparent stain) and in “natural”, in acoustic (1157) and electric (1657) versions. The Anniversary has exclusive snowflake inlays on the ebony fingerboard, multi layered headstock overlay (as on the Adamas 2), exclusive herringbone binding and rosette inlay (later used on the 1991 Collectors), carved bridge and trussrod cover (as on the Custom Legend). I found this very early 1157 (it still had the silkscreened logo) in 2013 on the OFC forum (thank you Jim). It produced a huge sound, with powerful basses, solid mediums and clear highs. In spite of my care it developed a thin finish crack in the middle of the top so I put it for sale at a very reasonable price and sold it in 12 hours in December 2018.

1986 Ovation Custom Legend 1869-4 #352412
1869 Custom LegendThe Custom Legend 1869 was born as a shallow bowl, cutaway version of the reverend Custom Legend. It has all the gorgeous fancy appointing of the full bowl version, an awesome AAA Sitka spruce top and a super comfortable neck. A perfect onstage guitar that maintains a more than decent acoustic voice. I bought this beautiful 1869 in May 2014, as a first reaction to the closure of the historical plants of New Hartford, CT by Fender Musical Instruments. Seen on Craigslist, it was so clean and the price so reasonable that I decided to bring it home, although at the time I was still looking for a 1619. According to the dating page of the Ovation Tribute website it has been made in 1986. Not a scratch, not a sign of wear, in spite of almost 30 years of life. And what’s best, despite the shallow bowl, this guitar produced a well balanced and quite powerful acoustic voice. Plugged in it takes advantage of the OP-24 preamp, considered by many the best acoustic guitar amplification system. The inlays are stunning as on every CL. Unfortunately the top developed some waving and eventually a minor hairline finish crack, in spite of my care of keeping my guitars in a controlled environment. It’s an Ovation trademark that I usually can keep under control with a constant attention to the correct humidity in the case, but apparently this guitar had not been store properly by the previous owner, so in March 2019 I sold it.

1994 Ovation Viper EA68-5 #478762
Ovation EA68 ViperIn spite of being a non strictly roundback all-wood guitar, this EA68 Viper is 100% an Ovation so I decided to get in touch with the guy who was putting it for sale, in spite of not playing live or recording anymore. I wanted one because Glen Campbell was playing it and because I still miss my Gibson Chet Atkins SST. The Ovation Viper is a small and good looking guitar, so silent when not unplugged that I can strum it late at night. I bought it in August 2018 at a very reasonable price. Near mint, it is one of the first EA68 built and came with a set of Grover Imperial-style Schaller tuners instead of the standard Ovation-Schallers. According to the seller they have always been there, but I replaced them with a gorgeous set of Schaller pearloid buttons bought from StewMac. The neck is awesome, with a low action and a lot of frets out of the body (which I will not use, because I tend to play in the cowboy positions). The amplification system is essential but efficient, so i could get a credible acoustic sound when plugged in my small Yamaha THR-10 home amp.  But… I seldom play plugged in and when I do I prefer a mid-bowl guitar with an OP-24, so in April 2019 I swapped it for a 1995 Collectors with an Ovation friend who lives in Texas.

2009 Ovation 2009-FKOA Collectors #148
Ovation 2009-fkoaI’ve been loving the 2009 Collectors since the day when my editorial staff tested it for our music magazine Accordo. The awesome wood and decoration put this limited edition guitar (150 pieces worldwide) among the best Ovation Collectors. The 2009-FKOA has a lightweight deep contour cutaway body, a hand selected figured koa top, specially designed abalone Celtic knot round soundhole rosette, tortoise/abalone top binding with over 200 pieces of abalone, ebony fingerboard, OP-Pro Studio preamp, 25.5″ scale length, 1-3/4″ nut width, gold tuners with pearl buttons and a deluxe hardshell case. The 2009-FKOA may not be a powerful guitar, but it’s thanks to the koa top has a high edged sound perfect for strumming rhythms. Sold in May 2019.

1989 Adamas 1681-8 #4785
I always wanted a blue Adamas, but after the end of the Kaman era their prices became crazy. When this one appeared on the classified website at the end of 2018 I could not resist and got in touch with the seller, in spite of a very high request. To my great amazement, the nickname hid a guy working in the musical instruments field whom I knew very well, so we found an agreement on a more realistic price. This guitar is quite different in playabilty and sound from my 1983 1681-9  and had a wide neck (46mmm versus the standard 42 mm). Sold in June 2019.

1997 Ovation 1997-4 Collectors #0659
Ovation guitars for salesIn 1997, for the first time after 30 years on the market, Ovation introduced a different body dimension, offering a parlor sized roundback guitar as a limited Collectors series 1997 model. New bowl, new neck available in two widths, and new top design for a guitar that is even smaller than a 000. The top is solid spruce with aged clear finish, bound in maple. The round hole is framed by a rosette made of individual pieces of maple set in ebony and the slothead satin finisched neck attaches to the body at the 12th fret. But that’s not all, because Ovation introduced a completely new electronics system, with a slimline pickup and the TS® preamp  controlled by a touch sensitive slider built in the top waist of the bowl. The output jack is located in the endpin. The Ovation 1997 Collectors is a small and comfortable guitar, with a surprisingly loud acoustic sound considering the size. When I saw this near mint beauty on an Italian musical instruments classifieds website I could not resist. After a pleasant negotiation with the owner we agreed on a reasonable price and now I have an oustanding parlor guitar with my beloved roundback. Sold in August 2019.

1997 Ovation 5741-9 #527407
Ovation 5741 parlorApparently, the New Hartford people made another parlor guitar with the leftover bodies of the 1997 Collectors (see previous guitar). The Ovation 5741 has a wide neck with a solid headstock (slothead on the 1997 Collectors) and 14 frets clear of the body (12 on the 1997 Collectors), a standard OP-24 preamp instead of the TS (with the battery slot accessible from the side) and is finished in a nice dark sunburst. I saw one of these nice guitars at the 2014 edition of my Music Show Milano. It was very clean, sounded and played fine, the price was OK, but the case was missing, so I let it go. But when I saw a “NOS” 5741 advertised on an Italian musical instruments classifieds website, I could not resist. The guitar was in Sicily and was a leftover from the previous distributor, with its original case and all the case candies, but was offered at a non realistic price. Fortunately after a few emails and telephone calls I convinced the dealer to accept my offer and I got it. After some normal setup (I removed the bridge inserts to lower the action, filed slightly the saddle and the nut, tightened the trussrod) and with a new set of strings (it still had the original 1997 strings!) this small guitar came to a new life. A slim, well sounding and playing, lovely guitar that fits perfectly in a roundback herd. Sold in August 2019.

2011 Ovation 1617 ALE-1 #22
Ovation 1617 ALE-1Always enchanted by the 1617 ALE-1 (ALE = Adirondack Legend), I never found one at a reasonable price (well, after all is a fancy guitar limited to 50 pieces, representing the swansong of the FMI-Ovation, so the owners tend to keep it). In November 2016 I saw one for sale in Rome at a realistic price, made an even lower offer and found an agreement. The ALE has a structure and ornamentation similar to the 2009 FKOA: tortoise binding, scalloped X bracing, the beautiful abalone inlaid rosette with the Celtic infinity pattern, premium grade ebony fretboard with abalone infinity inlays. The selected exquisite adirondack top is finished in a wonderful sunburst while the neck is solid maple with gold Schaller tuners. The new logo enriches the classic design headstock, that looks beautiful thanks to the contrast of the natural maple with the black veneer. The bowl has the original deep profile and is made with the old-style layered Lyracord (no microspheres and no compression here) for that vintage Ovation tone, with lots of ring and clear mids. Sold in January 2020.

2007 Ovation 1773-4 Classic LX #611330
Ovation 1773 Classic LXIn the late 2019 thanks to my new interest for developing my fingerstyle I started thinking about nylon. Ovation needless to say, so I was considering the Ovation 1773-4 Classic LX. The only nylon strings guitar I ever had is my Hofner 6 strings lute that I bough as a teenager to mimic my hero Fabrizio De André, but it uses ball ended strings (hard to find).  The occasion to get one came in April 2019, when my Scottish (NB: being Scottish for me this is a plus) Facebook buddy Paul Templeman decided to move from his 1773 to an older 1763, so he sent a very friendly offer to purchase the LX. Having just sold the 2009-FKOA (beautiful guitar, but very similar to the ALE-1 which I like better)  I decided to take advantage of it. The Ovation 1773-4 Classic LX is as beautiful and well done as any early 2K New Hartford made guitar can be: the spruce top has a great vintage tint, the fretboard is flawless, the preamp is the efficient OP-Pro/Studio and the body is the comfortable mid depth bowl.  I cannot say much about the sound quality, because I do not know anything about classic guitars, but this 1773 plays very well and has a powerful voice. Unfortunately, after trying for a few months, I realised I will never be able to get used to the wide-flat classic fingerboard and to the the soft feel of the nylon strings, so I sold it in February 2020.

2005 1651-7 Ovation Legend LTD #597051
Ovation Legend LTDSome history: this 2005 Ovation Legend LTD is a reissue of the original Legend LTD of the late 70’s and was built in December 2005 upon request of Ovation Japan in a limited run of 100 pieces. John Lennon used the LTD extensively in the late 70’s, and this reissue was made to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death. Basically is a standard Legend, with a beautiful nutmeg finish spruce top, gold Schaller hardware and the stacked knob V/T FET-3 stereo pre-amp. An addicted Custom Legend fan, I never considered to get me a Legend until early 2016, when I bought this beauty from a guy who lived close to my home.  The color is different from the original Ovation Legend LTD stain brown, the reissue is less transparent and somehow reddish, but gorgeous. The neck has an outstanding ebony fretboard and a modern two way truss rod. A low action and a boomy – yet well defined – voice make this 1651-7 Ovation Legend LTD one of the best performing instruments in my collection. Sold in March 2020.

1981 Ovation Custom Legend 1619-1 #261121
Ovation 1619-1 1981 Custom LegendQueen of the Ovation roundholes, the CL is the guitar designed for Linda McCartney who wanted to make a “custom” present to her husband.  Also, the 1619 is the guitar brought on the New York stage by Paul Simon for the ultimate concert of the last Century. This guitar is a 1981, one of the last non-Kaman-bar made. Finished in a nice dark sunburst, has the original electronics, the carved bridge and the carved trussrod cover. It’s in near mint condition, in spite of its age. Sold in November 2020.

1987 Ovation Collectors 1987-7 #367
Ovation 1987 CollectorsAfter launching the Collectors series in 1982 with the full bowl blue guitar, Ovation with four super-shallow bowls. But in 1987 the deep bowl came back in a guitar designed to be the best sounding and looking instrument ever made in New Hartford. In addition, with this 1987 Collectors, the fancy Custom Legend appointments was applied for the first time to an Elite style guitar. The AAA bear claw spruce top, covered with a clear coat with a vintage amber tone is stunning. The abalone trim of body and neck, the flamed peghead veneer, the carved top are pure American guitar art. Plus this 30+ years old guitar guitar is mint. Sold to a nice guy in France in December 2020.

1995 Ovation Collectors 1995-4 #0323
Ovation 1995 CollectorsI am an avid fan of the Ovation Collectors Series since the reverend blue 1982 Legend. I like the Collectors project and surely the idea of putting together the full series is tempting. Fortunately (I should say) not all the Ovation Collectors suit my taste and playing style, so over the years I acquired only those which I like, from the 1982 Collectors, followed by the 1987 Collectors, the parlour 1997 Collectors, the 2008-5 (first Adamas in the Collectors series and Kaman era swansong), the 2009 F-KOA and the ALE-1. Moving my playing habits from electric to acoustic over the years, I started a search for the perfect amplified acoustic sound. In this field all my Ovations perform wonderfully, but I was curious to try the the Optimax system introduced with the 1995 Collectors. Based on a cocktail of piezo pickup and bridge mic that can be mixed with a fader, it was supposed to deliver the ultimate amplified acoustic tone. The Optimax never made it to the regolar production and this is surprising, because all the guitarists I know that used it (including one of the most famous Italian fingerpickers who had a custom Optimax 1763) consider it the best acoustic pickup system ever. Sold in December 2020.

1995 Ovation Folklore 6774-4 #486627
Ovation FolkloreI always admired the Folklore, evolution of the original Ovation Josh White after Josh’s death in 1969. The 1995 edition of the Folklore is a stunning guitar, steel strings with a wide flat ebony fingerboard, 14 frets clear of the body, a fancy wood rosette, a black veneered slothead, the awesome Ovation preamp system  and a very comfortable mid depth roundback. The perfect tool for playing fingerstyle. It was advertised together with the sibling Country Artist, the same style of guitar with nylon strings. Guitar in mint condition with a superclean case. It plays and sounds as I was expecting. Sold in December 2020.

2009 Adamas 2008-5 Collectors #57
Ovation Adamas 2008-5 guitar for saleIn 2008 for the first time an Adamas appeared in the Collectors series after 25 years of woodtop Collectors vibes. The Adamas 2008-5 is the last Collectors guitar of the Kaman era. If the original Slothead was the crowning jewel that started the whole thing, this 2008-5 brings the Adamas history full circle into a glorious conclusion. The genius of Charlie Kaman lives in this extraordinary instrument of which I had the honor of being care keeper from June 4, 2014. Sold in January 2021.

1988 Ovation Adamas 1587-X #4602-88 aka Blue Boy made for Jol Dantzig
Alberto Biraghi and his Ovation Adamas Blue BoyI’ve always loved custom color guitars and this 1587 Adamas was one of the guitars I liked most on Ovationtribute. It has a story, because it was a present from Bill Kaman to Jol Dantzig, founder of Hamer Guitars (another guitar icon that I keep in great respect) in 1988. Jol himself was so kind to tell me the real story of this guitar: “The true story was that it was a gift to me from Bill Kaman. But I gave it away to a friend. I did not sell the guitar, I gave it to the office manager (Annette) at Hamer the day we shut the Arlington Heights factory down. She had worked for us at Hamer nearly 15 years in all. I wanted her to have a keepsake from our office because she was not moving to New Hartford with the rest of us”. Eventually the guitar was put for sale, so I did not miss the chance to add it to my roundback herd. The treble side epaulet is weird: instead of being the smaller one used on most cutaway O’s, it’s just been cropped to fit the cutaway, so I asked Bill Kaman, who replied: “we used what we had available…”. This guitar is still featured on Ovationtribute website on behalf of the previous owner. Went to Japan in January 2021.

2004 Ovation 1719-30CM Custom Legend #581477
2004 Custom Legend 1719-30cmFrom 1974 the Ovation Custom Legend (born upon request of Linda McCartney who wanted to give a Legend to Paul, but asked for fancier decoration) is the ultimate wood top Ovation, the guitar that never disappoints (and for me the guitar of the ultimate concert: Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park, 1982). In 2004 Ovation produced a limited series of 300 1719-30CM to commemorate the 30th birthday of this noble guitar, built with the old skills, but with an OP-Pro preamp, an outstanding “bear claw Sitka spruce” soundboard and an LX. With 012 strings it sounds and plays wonderful, but it can easily stand a 013 set for even more volume and tone. Sold in January 2021.

1994 Adamas 1687-x #050494 custom built for Bill Kaman
Ovation Adamas custom made for Bill KamanFound in an American guitar store in 2002, it’s a guitar made by the Ovation mothership for Bill Kaman, Mr. Ovation Himself (that eventually I had the pleasure to meet online and is a great guy) cannot be but a masterpiece of perfection and a piece of American guitar history. There is no date, but according to Jérôme Galopin the serial number says that the guitar was completed April 5, 1994. Obviously the quality is perfect, the details are taken care of even more than on the outstanding standard Adamas guitars of the same era. Incredible neck, perfect action, a great playability and an awesome sound. Sold in February 2021.

1982 Ovation Collectors 1982-8 #472
Ovation 1982 CollectorsEarly in 1982 the Ovation retailers received a brochure (this, front and back) with a young Bill Kaman (scion of the great Charlie) showing off his awesome cowboy boots and holding a magnificent, shocking blue, magnificient acoustic Ovation. The guitars was the first star in the Ovation Collectors Series, a line of limited edition instruments that – year after year – tickled the finest palates until 2010. Somebody sicker than me had the courage to follow Bill in his happy madness for a quarter of Century, buying all the Collectors year after year. I just owned the ones I liked the best, including the 1982, first of the series, that stunned me from the first moment I saw it on the ad. Basically it’s a Legend, hotrodded with an ebony fretboard, abalone inlays, Adamas stereo electronics and a striking blue soundboard with matching headstock. This guitar is in fine original condition with a clean original brown case. It is on the heavy side, with a clear voice and an even frequency response. The neck is perfect, so I can set a very comfortable action. I love the look with the two Adamas-style wood pots. Sold in February 2021.

2005 Adamas U681-T aka UTE #21194
Ovation Adamas U681-TThe Adamas U681-T or “UTE” as the Ovation fans call it is the ultimate fingerpicking composite top roundback. It’s been produced in 2005 as a limited series of 100 guitars to commemorate the 40th anniversary of (I suppose) the year when Charlie Kaman considered building guitars different from the rest. I’ve been hunting one for years, but it’s a rare cat and most of the people who had a chance to get one or do not consider selling it or have played it intensely, so she is not as clean as I want. Eventually in December 2018 an Ovation Facebook group mate advised me of a mint Adamas UTE for sale in France. It took a while to make the deal and the guitar was not cheap, but she is dead mint and perfectly setup. I was expecting a great guitar, but this UTE is beyond any expectation. A fabulous wide neck, a great volume, a perfectly balanced tone, a big voice with strong basses and sparkling highs. Light and comfortable as any good roundback should be, she became immediately one of the gems of my Ovation herd. Sold in April 2021.

1996 Adamas 1881-NB2 #12192
Adamas 1881 #12192The Adamas 1881 is a special and rare Ovation guitar, the only one sporting a graphite top with a super shallow bowl. And in spite of being surprisingly thin, it delivers an incredible amount of tone. It might not be as loud as a deep bowl Adamas, but in spite of being skinny this axe is loud, producing way more sound than one can expect. And a pure Adamas sound. Put your hands on this Adamas 1881 you will understand why it is so sought after by the Ovation aficionados all over the world. The neck is finished in a pleasant satin finish and is obviously perfect (the Kaman bar is awesome). The thin body is comfortable both sitting and standing. The Optima preamp delivers the awesome sound that one expects from an Ovation, with a number of switches to tailor it to your taste. The included tuner is not a champion of accuracy, but can be useful in case of emergency and this is a plus. In the beginning I was not particularly fond of the NB2 pigeon-blood red top color, I usually like better the blue and the black tops, but most Ovation aficionados like,  I must say that the discrete gold flakes add beauty and eventually I got used to it and now I like it. Sold in June 2021.

1983 Ovation Adamas 1681-9 #3343
Ovation Adamas 2 1681The Adamas 2 was introduced late in 1981 to offer a more affordable guitar with the composite top of the 1687. To reduce the price Ovation used a standard 5 piece Ovation neck instead of the one piece American walnut. Also gone is the fancy ornamentation (aka “broccoli”) of bridge and headstock  of the original model. But the core of the Adamas guitar, the suspended composite top, is there, resonant and efficient. According to an old thread on the Ovation Fan Club forum, Bill kaman said that the original 1681 Adamas tops were rejected 1687 Adamas tops.  This might have to do with the frequency response number indicated on the original Adamas labels. Maybe the tops exceeding a certain range considered optimal were used for the A2 that did not come with the frequency response measurement. Who knows? What I know for sure is that this guitar sounds as good as the best Adamas that I owned or own. This 1983 guitar is one of the first A2 made, so it still has the original Adamas stereo electronics with the beautiful wooden knobs. I bought it in 2001 from an Italian guitar collector (thank you Igor!) and I used it with the utmost care, so it is in pristine original condition despite its age. The board is elastic and responding, it vibrates well and resonates wonderfully. Well balanced in the voice and easy to play, thanks to a perfect neck. Sold in October 2021.

1991 Adamas 1587-5 #5767-79
1991 Adamas 1587-5The first Adamas I put my hands on is an Adamas 1587 that I purchased from Gruhn Guitars in the early 90s. When it was time to open the box delivered by UPS I was so thrilled that I just stood there, staring at it for several minutes before having the courage to touch it. Then I found the courage: she was mint and beautiful. This Adamas 1587 is a single epaulet cutaway, the variant that I like the most (the simpler the better!) in the cutaway Adamas family, both for 1 and 2 models. It kept getting more alive and resonant over the years. The Ovation OP-24 preamp sounds real plugged in a PA or in my acoustic amplifiers. Awesome. The neck of this guitar is huge and perfectly straight, giving a friendly feel and fantastic tone. Sold in February 2022.

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