Every once in a while you see something that just makes you stop. You have to take notice. You cannot NOT see it. It’s just that… striking!
Once such moment for me was when I saw for the first time, in utter incredulity, the inimitable Hussein Yoga. No one should be able to do what he does. It’s… it’s just…
Well, see for yourself:
See what I mean? You’ll never forget that now. Tho’ maybe you want to try?! lol
What does Hussein’s incredible litheness have to do with the Ovation Balladeer guitar? Simple: FLEXIBILITY. Obviously Hussein has it in spades, but so does the Balladeer.
I’m so glad you asked… 😉
Ovation has been making guitars and gaining speed for 53 years now. Only two years away from a Hagar Cabo Wabo party! They obviously know what they’re doin’ after that long in the game.
Here’s something you might not know also: in 2015 Ovation was purchased by Drum Workshop! Makes total sense, right? Uh… (?!!)
You have to hand it to Ovation historically: they came up with a truly revolutionary way to build acoustic guitars and it actually worked. And it built for them not only a great reputation, but also a loyal following.
Now, not everybody likes Ovations. There are plenty of “wood purists” who would never dream of putting any kind of polymer on a guitar body. And others just don’t like how the rounded back looks. Or the odd headstock. Or the…
You get the point. I, for one though, see a lot of merit in their design and am a fan of having an Ovation as a second or third guitar. I’m still a bit of a purist in that if I only had one guitar, it would be all wood. So… I guess I’M a bit old-fashioned now! lol
The Balladeer first came out in 1966, was discontinued, and then re-introduced in 1993. My Balladeer Special S771 was made in ’05, and retailed for around a thousand bucks. It was American-made in New Hartford, Connecticut (not Korea as some of their other lower-price models), and production of it was finally halted on it after a long, successful run in 2009.
It features the following:
I like that I can record this guitar with both microphones AND direct out of its preamp and end up with great, usable signal from either source, no matter if I’m finger-picking, or really going at it strumming.
In fact, going direct when playing live in a band, it 1) sits in the mix great, and 2) sounds like a real, wooden acoustic and has great tone.
Tone, tone, tone. In either setting, that’s what rules the day, right? To that end, I know I can grab the S771 anytime and get a really good sound immediately without a lot of fuss.
This guitar is also extremely capable and consistent for those who, like me, mess with bizarre tunings and capos a lot. I had one instance where I wrote a song in an extreme drop-C tuning and went from quiet, intricate finger-picking on the verses to aggressive strumming on the chorus. I tried a couple of my other, more expensive, guitars and, guess what? They didn’t sound good at all during the chorus.
So I thought I’d try the Balladeer. BOOM! Problem solved.
Again, it comes down to flexibility; I’ve found that this guitar can handle whatever you throw at it really well and allows you, via its preamp, to sculpt the tone however you like, within the given EQ slider parameters, of course. If you want 24-band notch EQ controls, well… call up your DAW for that!
Another excellent feature is this all-in-one electronics “boat” that sits snugly on the guitar side. It’s really cool, in that it comes out in one piece, looking kinda like… well, a BOAT, and without any attaching cables or cords. This enables you to swap out the battery with ease, within seconds, if needed.
The chromatic tuner does all that it should normally, but it also has this useful addition: ever have to play with a piano and it’s slightly flat? Or some other instrumentalist whose axe is… shall we say… not dead on?! Well, with this tuner you can tune one string to the instrument that is off-pitch, designate that as your comparison pitch, and tune the rest of the strings relative to the off-pitch string. Outrageous!
You’ll also notice this acoustic has no bridge pins to lose or break. When you change strings, you simply thread the strings from the bottom of the bridge, through it, and up and over the saddle. Nice, and a lot quicker too.
Finally, the feel of the neck and fretboard are fantastic. The action is nice and low but with no accompanying buzzing ever.
Granted, I give my guitars yearly maintenance, but still… Right from the get-go, the Special felt like but-tuh, baby!
If you look at the red Balladeer to the right, you’ll notice that it does NOT show a pickguard.
If you were an astute observer earlier, you’ll remember that mine DOES have a pickguard.
Well, I’m a pretty aggressive player at times, if the music’s uptempo enough, and I knew after playing my Ovation just once that if I didn’t buy a pickguard for it, I’d end up fairly quickly with a similar approximation of Willie Nelson’s guitar “Trigger”.
So, I hopped over to Amazon and picked up one that I thought would really complement the finish and wood of the Balladeer. There’s dozens of options so I knew I would find something good. And, boy, DID I! I love how it looks now. When I see pictures of the normal Balladeer now, to me it just seems… naked.
You may have also noticed (if you’re a REEEEEEEALLY astute observer!) that my strap pins are different. Yep, those are Strap-Loks. I even put ’em on my acoustics.
What can I say – I’m an energetic performer and that calls for… precautions! The Balladeer as it ships from the factory has normal strap pins.
There is one thing about playing Ovation guitars that some just never get used to: the round back.
If you’ve never had an Ovation on before, it feels really different – mostly because the back is smooth, as well as rounded. It can definitely slip around a bit, unlike traditional squared-off guitar backs which pretty much stay in one place when you’re jumping around on stage.
Now, I haven’t had it influence my playing negatively, so I don’t have a problem with it. In fact, if I ever want to get a little more precise and do some finger-picking or what-not, I can slide the body easily to whatever angle I want in a jiffy. It actually ends up being a plus.
Still, some people just don’t like how the rounded back feels against their torso. Different strokes for different folks.
I suggest if you are serious about testing out the Ovation sound for your own music that you go try one on for size. Play it standing up, as if you’re in a concert, and just see if it’s okay with your own personal sensibilities.
Or do like I did and just order it. I mean, come on… if the sound is great, are we really going to be picky about how the back feels?!
If you read THIS POST on this year’s best Tuners, then you know I’m a stickler for being in tune. I have grown so used to being dead on in pitch through the years, thanks to my Petersen tuner, and so spoiled by its excellence and constant exactitude, that the tuner that is on board this Ovation just isn’t precise enough for me.
Would most people think it’s off?? Probably not, but if you’re finicky, you might want to just use your preferred outboard tuner.
Precision usually comes at quite a cost. I don’t expect any tuner built-in to a guitar to be uber-precise, at least not if the guitar is below a thousand bucks.
Like I said, you’d probably think it’s fine, but I had to do the reveal. Here at Serious G.A.S., we’re an open book!
Whether you’re a pro and want to add another dependable acoustic-electric to your mix for live playing OR for studio recording, the Balladeer will do the trick with polished, full-spectrum flair.
If you’re in love and want to serenade your beloved from down below a warmly glowing bedroom some summer night… well, it’ll work for that too, and not break apart from the heat like all-wood guitars might!
All in all, I wouldn’t trade this guitar for anything. It’s provided me with too many really good recordings, and given me all the flexibility I’ve needed in countless live gigs and studio sessions. ‘Nuff said!
So, because the S771 was discontinued in 2012, where do you go if you want one now??
Well, you can probably find some on EBay, or Reverb, or Music-Go-Round, but if you want something new, with a warranty, then opt for Ovation’s follow-up to the S771 – the Standard Balladeer. It has pretty much all the excellent, American-made options that the S771 did, but with the electronics upgrades that is quieter than ever.
Oh, and I also like that now you have a volume knob instead of just another slider sitting next to the EQ sliders. A much better choice, since we’re gonna be reaching for the volume a lot more than the EQ.
We are guitarists, after all. lol
Have you played an Ovation? Have you captured their sound for your recordings? How do you weigh in on the Ovation “feel” of its polymer back?? Leave a comment and let us know.
In the meantime, let’s all get back to practicing or writing, and go… make… sounds!!