Ovation | Love To Know
By Kevin Ott | Professional Guitarist
Ovation guitars are some of the most beautiful instruments on the planet and just one glimpse of the Ovation website will convince you of this. It’s not hard to see why when you learn the unique back story of one of the most innovative companies in the guitar market.
The Ovation Guitar Story
In contrast to other guitar companies such as Fender and Gibson, Ovation is a relatively young company. It didn’t appear on the scene until well after the guitar revolution had begun in popular music.
- 1964: Charles Kaman’s aeronautical engineering company, Kaman Corp, loses an important defense contract. Around the same time, Charles Kaman travels to Martin’s guitar factory in Pennsylvania to get his warped guitar neck fixed. While there, he sees ways to improve guitar production and offers to buy Martin Guitars. Fred Martin declines the offer. Kaman Corp needs new revenue sources, however, so Charles decides to launch a guitar company and apply his aeronautical expertise to reinvent acoustic guitar construction. Ovation Guitars is born.
- 1966-1966: Kaman invents a revolutionary new way to make acoustic guitars. Using his aeronautical engineering knowledge of the manipulation of vibrations in helicopter blades, he devises a way to increase and shape vibrations in the wood of acoustic guitars to enhance the sound. He creates a rounded fiberglass back, made of the same material as helicopter blades, and combines it with laminated sprucewood.
- 1966: Ovation makes its first guitar and introduces it as the “Balladeer” the following year.
- 1971: A few years later in 1971, preamps, EQ settings, and pickups that reduce feedback are added to lure the interest of musicians who have constant problems with feedback during their live shows.
- 1977: Ovation introduces its graphite-faced Adamas acoustic guitar with offset sound holes on their guitar tops.
- 1981: Ovation’s popularity soars in the music world. Kaman Music, the guitar branch of Kaman Corp, is now making $20 million in annual revenue, 3 percent of the Kaman Corp’s earnings. The company employs 100 workers, and they produce 72,000 guitars a year.
- 1980s-1990s: A slump in acoustic guitar sales in the early ’80s causes some in Kaman Corp to consider selling Ovation, but Charles Kaman refuses and believes the market will bounce back. This happens soon after, and the ’80s turn out to be the most popular time for Ovation Guitars. The guitar’s low feedback and strong sound make it the guitar of choice for dozens of high profile musicians, from Paul McCartney to Melissa Etheridge.
- 2007: Fender buys Ovation from Kaman Corp for $117 million.
- 2011: Charles Kaman, founder of Ovation, dies in Bloomfield, Connecticut at age 91.
- 2014: Fender closes the original plant in New Hartford, Connecticut, and relocates Ovation production outside of the United States. Fender will continue making the high quality guitars in China, South Korea, and Indonesia, but they will no longer be American-made. One of Ovation’s workers calls it the end of an iconic American brand.
- October 2015: Drum Workshop (the maker of DW drums) buys Ovation from Fender and returns Ovation’s production to its original plant in New Hartford, Connecticut. The news causes jubilation among guitar enthusiasts. Ovation resumes its original classic line of Adamas and Ovation guitars and produces a new line for the Applause model.