Feb 032011

Larry Coryell, looking EXACTLY how an Ovation Roundback player was meant to look.

Mad props! to Townsman misterioso for sharing a link to the obituary for Charles H. Kaman, a pioneer in helicopter design and an all-around interesting man who also happened to invent one of the most dreaded pieces of musical gear, the Ovation Roundback acoustic guitar. Just thinking of that guitar makes me cringe.

My old guitar partner, Mike, used to have one of those things. Back in those days none of us had even a half-decent acoustic guitar, so when we needed an acoustic overdub on a 4-track demo, one of us would suck it up and play the Roundback. I hated the feel of that rounded, synthetic back against my inevitably sweaty belly. I hated the way the bottom of that guitar slid out, as if I was trying to play slide guitar or serve appetizers off the top of it. Seriously, if you click on no other link in this piece, check out this one! If that’s not going to alert the Rock Crimes Commission to the depth of this guitar’s societal ills I don’t know what will.

I thought the cutout and trim around the soundhole were wimpy. Now matter how you looked at the back of those things they were dog ugly:

  • This one reeks of neo-country artists with high-rise jeans and tight ponytails or mullets.
  • This one’s twice as ugly!
  • How’s this for desecrating our flag?
  • As much as that lefty American flag Ovation saddens me, however, nothing—nothing—in my research is more troubling than this image.

Sadly, that synthetic roundback prevented them from being used for firewood.

I forgot the company also made electric guitars. They were also ugly, but this electric bass, for instance, is ugly in an interesting way. Their electric axes had funny names to boot!

One of the cool things to learn in Kaman’s obituary, beside the fact that he pronounced his last name with the accent on “MAN,” which might have been fun for his friends to say while offering him a high five during Ovation’s glory years (“Who’s ka-MAN?”), was that the Ovation Roundback dated back to the 1960s and was popularized by Glen Campbell. In researching this piece I’ve seen some cool ads for those hideous guitars, featuring ’60s country and folk artists, like Richie Havens, Janis Ian, and Mac Davis. Most of them (including a really cheesy ad featuring REO Speedwagon) were too small to bother asking you to click links, but squint hard and see if you don’t dig the copy for the Havens ad!

Despite spawning the age of hideous acoustic guitars, Kaman seems to have been a true guitar lover and good egg. Even his employees took an interest in their Roundback-loving customers.


  46 Responses to “Inventor of the Dreaded Ovation Roundback Guitar Dies”

  1. I always hated these too. The only advantage was that it was the best acoustic/electric out there as far as sound. My local guitar center still has them for sale (new ones) for $600+ who would pick this over the low end Martin or Taylor?

    Sorry he’s dead though

  2. BigSteve

    You forgot to mention that the Ovation was Ray Davies’ preferred acoustic for live performance. I always thought it was because the sound of it was a distant approximation of the resonator guitars that figured so prominently in mid-period Kinks recordings.

    And the 12-string Adamas model was Melissa Etheridge’s signature instrument for a long time:


    They don’t sound like regular acoustic guitars, but no electrified acoustic does.

  3. I always thought it was because the sound of it was a distant approximation of the resonator guitars that figured so prominently in mid-period Kinks recordings.

    Funny, I always assumed that as well. Last time I saw him, ’round 2007, he mostly played a non-Ovation acoustic thankfully, and only broke it out for “Lola” and a few others.

  4. I’ll bet we can find pictures of ZZ Top on stage with live animals before someone finds an actual picture of Pete playing one of those things…


  5. YES, I remember Ray playing one of those bad boys.

    Thanks a lot for reminding me of Melissa Etheridge. She seems like “good people,” but I couldn’t stand her music. I don’t think she had any influence on that band Beach House, or whatever they’re called.

  6. Good challenge! For starters, I didn’t realize Townshend played a Schecter. Is this the thing he plays in that stinking “Eminence Front” video?


  7. I think a lot of those tiny images of Ovation ads I wished I could see larger come from this page:


    Click on the Buy Now links for each one to see them at least twice as large. Don’t worry, you won’t immediately be committed to buying these ads.

  8. Bingo. The Schecter was Pete’s guitar during the early 80s. It was a Tele-style. I break Pete down into the following phases:

    Mid-60s: Rics and Fender Strats mostly.
    Late 60s-Early 70s: SG.
    Mid 70s-Late 70s: Les Paul
    80s: Schecter
    90s-Now: Fender Strat.

    I’m not sure what all acoustics, but I know he used those weird Tele-styled acoustics in the mid 80s. He uses a J-200 along with a 12-string Guild these days.


  9. machinery

    Thank you Mr. Mod. That Standing Ovation logo just made my week.

  10. The picture and caption made me laugh out loud.

  11. misterioso

    Yes, see him with it in the very odd and uncomfortable looking Who Rockpalast performance from the early 80s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBJQL5yNegg

    Pete just seems like he’d rather be doing almost anything else.

  12. I need to confess. My first acoustic (one of only two that I’ve ever owned) was from Ovation’s low end line, named Applause. I didn’t pick it out, it was given to me by me parents as a present, but I did play it and for that I am heartily sorry. Maybe that’s why, to this day, I rarely if ever pick up and acoustic.


  13. I just think it’s hilarious that Ovation’s cheap line is called Applause.

  14. That’s their middle tier line. Their low end line is called Smattering.

  15. cherguevara

    I have an advertising slogan for them:

    Applause guitars will give you the clap.

    I think Joan Armatrading played (or still does) an Ovation.

  16. I got to play one of his J-200’s. Tvox engineer Adam Lasus had one hanging around his studio. Townshend apparently gifted it to a friend of Adam’s whom Adam was recording, a star of Hedwig and the Angry Itch when it was on Broadway. Anyway,
    the guitar played nice enough. The best part were the pick scratches onthe wood from Townshend’s windmilling.

  17. So it wasn’t in mint condition? Interesting, as it regards our quest to find a picture of Townshend playing one of those things. Did the back slide out from your belly, or were you playing it seated?

  18. No, it was a Gibson J-200, not an Ovation.

  19. misterioso

    Doesn’t he play it in the Deep End live concert?

  20. I think I remember Townshend playing an Ovation during that period in the ’90s, when he used to play “under plexiglass,” to preserve what was left of his hearing. I could easily be wrong and just be lumping the Ovation in with the plexiglass enclosure. That was disturbing to watch.

  21. misterioso

    Yeah, that was bizarre. And then he stopped doing it. What, did he experience a Miracle Cure? God, I love Pete, but he’s a headcase.

  22. BigSteve

    I don’t think that’s an Ovation. Ovations have a very recognizable headstock which the Deep End guitar doesn’t have, and I also don’t think Ovations came with the spruce top/black pickguard configuration. They always had that kind of ornamentation around the soundhole which this doesn’t have.

    It’s cool that he played Save It for Later. I didn’t remember that. Great song.

  23. BigSteve

    That’s an incredible website, Oats. I think I’ll spend my afternoon there.

  24. I’ve got it, misterioso: he went to Tommy’s Holiday Camp, or whatever it was called, and went through the mirror, or whatever it was that cured Tommy!

  25. I find it hideous that one would write an article saying how bad a persons invention was announcing this persons passing. What kind of person does something like that?

    If these guitars were truly so dreadful they never would have taken off sales wise. But they have and not only do they continue to sell but many manufactures are using the same design today.

    I guess you are ok with the Les Paul (maybe you find that uncomfortable to play sitting down as I do?) I imagine that you would have given Les the same treatment. And by the way I own an Ovation Adamas and Gibson Les Paul Recording and love them both and believe both Charles and Les were amazing human beings.

  26. Hey billyv,

    Thanks for checking in and registering your beef. I tried to make it clear that I was well aware of the “bad form” of kicking one of a man’s many successful inventions while he was down for the count. I tried to make it clear that I was not attacking the man behind these guitars; Kaman sounds like nothing but a cool, enthusiastic innovator. If I failed in that attempt for balance, sorry. Of course I’m sorry for my “bad form,” but we gather here to talk about music the way we feel about music, and clearly I’m not alone in finding the Ovation Roundback to be an aesthetically unpleasing instrument.

    This blog is by and for music enthusiasts with a range of tastes. Like just about anyone, I would imagine, our tastes are informed by “worthwhile” perspectives and “stupid” ones. I’m sure some of my beefs with the Ovation Roundback are stupid and petty. I’d be lying to our readers if I hid those aspects of my feelings on the guitar and only presented pseudo-scientific data on the resonance of that synthetic backing, right? And maybe I’d deny you and others the right to disagree with me and do such a nice job of stating your opinions on the matter. Really, that’s what we’re aiming for here in our broad scope of music-related topics: people sharing how they feel about this stuff. They said 50,000 Elvis fans couldn’t be wrong, too, but that didn’t convince the 50,001st music lover who didn’t dig Elvis.

    Thanks, and I welcome you to check in on this and other topics in the future.

  27. jeangray

    The Standing Ovation must be destroyed!

  28. I have to wonder how many of you Ovation haters have played anywhere but in a garage or living room. I mean and actually got paid for it. Or…better yet made a living playing music?
    A real living, you know,.. travel on the road playing music, you pay taxes on your income, and you make enough money to support yourself and a family, keeping a roof over your head and still eat real food.
    If you have not enjoyed the experience of playing music on that level, you’re frame of reference and therefore your opinions are questionable at best.
    Between 1982 and 1997, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to make a good living, while playing at over 2000 performances.
    Small clubs; large clubs; opening up for and playing with many top artists in large and small arenas indoors and outdoors. If I calculate that has only 3 hours per gig, that’s 6000 hours of paid stage time. Then there was practice and studio time.
    My primary stage electric was a Custom Fender Telecaster 1 of 100. My primary acoustic was an Ovation 1661 Balladeer, which was made in 1982 and was there and played at every performance. My primary question is this: How many of you opinionated Ovation haters have more time being paid to stand and play your axe,… than you have sitting on your ass pretending to be a seasoned musician/performer?

  29. Well I just did some quick calculations and figured out that I’ve had 6004 hours of paid stage time and I don’t agree with you so I guess that I’m right and you’re wrong.

    Seriously, do you have to be a NASCAR driver to have an opinion about a car?

  30. Jeffrey K, welcome aboard, and see if you can’t take a little time to realize that we’ve got a diverse group of regulars, including folks who have paid bills by making music – even on guitars other than the dreaded Ovation Roundback! I know it’s hard to believe. By the way, did you know that Van Gogh didn’t make a dime from his paintings? He was booted off our sister site, Art Town Hall, for having nothing to back up his opinions. Seriously, I welcome you hanging around and sharing your thoughts on other topics, but – I don’t think I’ve ever said this to a first-time Townsperson before – try growing the hell up enough to get past your “adult” notions of equating power with success. More power to you for your successful music career – seriously. I’d love to hear more about it and enjoy how it colors your OPINIONS on things. We are well aware that opinions are like assholes, or however the expression goes. We like assholes as much as we like opinions. Thanks.

  31. bostonhistorian

    The Country Bear Jamboree has probably done more performances than anyone ever. I want them to weigh in.

  32. BigSteve

    Seeing Wire on TV the other night, I noticed that Colin Newman still has his white electric Ovation. It was on the stand behind him during those performances. And he’s playing it during the performance of Drill hosted by Suzanne Somers posted on RTH a couple of days ago. The guy in the Nervus Rex used to play one too:


    People used to call them toilet seat guitars.

    And I think a professional guitarist who toured with one would be a good authority on the playability, durability, and reliability of a particular guitar. But any listener would be perfectly justified in making a judgment on the sound of the guitar, and I say that as someone who is not as negative as most others here about Ovations.

  33. bostonhistorian

    That’s from GWAR’s Americana tour I think.

  34. No, absoulutly not. You don’t need to be a NASCAR driver to have an opinion about a car. But to have an extream negative opinion regarding a specific car that been on the NASCAR circuit for decades, it ‘s important to have an educated opinion.

  35. With regard to your philosophies Mr. Moderator of “Adult” notions of equating power with success, and then referring to booting people off sites in the same paragraph that adamantly disagree with you, sounds like you’re the one who is equating power with success/position. You can kiss my round back Ovation on the side where the string ain’t!

  36. 2000 Man

    Well, I don’t play a guitar, but if I did, I’d stay away from Ovations because they seem to operate by sucking the sense of humor out of the player.

    You should get one of those cool ones like Jack White anyway.

  37. BigSteve

    Dude, read it again, the Van Gogh thing was a joke. The “I welcome you hanging around and sharing your thoughts on other topics” part was not a joke.

  38. Correct, BigSteve. Jeffrey K, no joke, if you are interested in chiming in on other topics or continuing your point on this one, be our guest. You wouldn’t be the first person to join with a beef and then find that we’re actually pretty nice people and all have our beefs now and then.

  39. Just had two more gigs this weekend, bringing my total up to 6006 and further securing my rightful place as Rock Town Hall’s authority on gear. You better get your numbers up if you want your opinion to carry any weight around here…

  40. The reason for pointing out the amount of stage time was two fold. One,.. that over a period of 15 years and that many gigs, no matter how careful you are, or how well you treat your guitar, it can be very rough on it. During that much time there are bound to be mishaps’, little bangs, a few knock over’s, getting caught in the rain, etc., you name it, mine went through it. The durability of that guitar was amazing, and still it held in tune better than most others (other guitars I’ve owned) and other guys guitars that I worked with through those years. The second reason I pointed out the amount stage time was the simple fact that most people that play a guitar have not done so day in, day out for years making their living at it.
    I did, and I can honestly say that standing up, holding and playing the Ovation was never an issue or problem for me. It also sounded good through all those years of use and abuse. I think it’s fair to point out that perspective to anyone who may be considering owning the dreaded round back as it’s been nicknamed here.
    Now go out and get a few more gigs in to keep your title safe.

  41. Thanks for the fuller explanation! I hope we get to hear your take on other issues that come up.

  42. Now that explanation is something that I can understand. I appreciate where you are coming from and why an Ovation would appeal to you. And I like the fact (although not the initial way) that you came on here to defend them. It’s similar to why I enjoy the handful of folks who are willing to defend Billy Joel. I don’t agree with you (or those Billy Joel people) but it certainly keeps things interesting.

    For me personally, I need more of a balance of form and function in my guitars. I’m sure that Ovations play well and stay in tune, but they’re not for me for the same reason that Steinbergers and Paul Reed Smiths and other “high performance” guitars aren’t. Long before I started playing, I fell in love with the Look of the various classic electric guitars. It may well be a failing on my part but any benefits that an Ovation has to offer are offset by their unappealing aesthetics. I’m just that shallow.

    Full disclosure: I haven’t picked up my acoustic in years. I’m not even sure if it’s strung right now. Also, although I did have two gigs this weekend, I do not make my living as a musician and I never have. I was clearly just yanking your chain a bit.

    Welcome to the fray.

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