The Ovation Balladeer Guitar – Pick Me! Strum Me! Stretch Me!!

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:

Hussein Yoga
The amazing Hussein Yoga. Trying to find a guitar pick?!

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… 😉

Can’t Drive 55

Balladeer Headstock Logo

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

Well, Isn’t That SPE-cial?

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:

The Ovation Balladeer S771 Guitar
  • a solid A-grade spruce top w/ hand-rubbed finish
  • a mid-depth cutaway
  • Lyrachord body
  • A-bracing (previously only available on high-end models)
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Scale: 25-1/4″
  • Nut width: 1-11/16″
  • Hand-inlaid rosette
  • Walnut bridge
  • 20 frets
  • Thinline pickup
  • Chrome tuners
  • OP-30 active electronics system with
    • Volume
    • 3-band EQ
    • EQ In/Out switch
    • Pre-Shape switch (cuts below 40Hz, boosts bass & treble)
    • Mid-shift switch (to either 450Hz or 970Hz)
    • On-board chromatic Tuner


These Are A Few of My Favorite Thiiiiiiings…

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.

Bu-YAH!! 😉

Balladeer Cavity Label

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!

The Balladeer boat setting sail!
The Electronics “boat”!

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!

The Balladeer Bridge

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!

En Guard!!

The Cherry Burst Balladeer
The Cherry Burst Balladeer

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.

What gives??

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”.

StrapLoks on my Ovation

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.

Round Up

The round back of my Ovation

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?!

When You’re Spoiled Rotten…

The Balladeer OP-30 active electronics system
The OP-30 electronics system

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!

That Sound Outside Your Window

A smooth Balladeer Special among artists!
A smooth axe among artists!

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!

Where Do We Go – o Now?!

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

That Deserves A Standing…

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!!


14 Replies to “The Ovation Balladeer Guitar – Pick Me! Strum Me! Stretch Me!!”

  1. Thanks, Anusuya! Indeed, the EW acoustic IS a unique, flexible instrument, and at such a low price, anyone familiar with pickin’ those 6 strings should at least play it once to consider its possibilities.

    Not everyone can afford a high-end guitar, or a handmade one like I wrote about in THIS POST. Thankfully there’s companies like Ibanez looking out for those players who are not stars…. YET!!    😉

  2. Hey, Dale!! Always good to see you here on Seriousgas!

    Are you in the U.S.? Is there a “Music-Go-Round” near you?? They are excellent for finding inexpensive guitars that are “bonfire” worthy… and I don’t mean to throw it IN!!    lol

    Have you read my series on learning guitar?? RIGHT HERE is one of the posts. They’ll get your head and heart set in the right place for learning.  😉

  3. Thanks for posting, Chris! Ya know, from pretty much every guitar manufacturer there will be products that soar, and products that suck! Know what I’m sayin’?? 

    My dad saw I was playing a “cheap Asian” acoustic, and traded me his Martin acoustic for it as a blessing. I ended up trading him back ‘cuz my cheapie guitar just felt so much better to play, and sounded more me.

    To each their own, but definitely play a good number of guitars from any manufacturer to get a better understanding of their products. You may find some winners where you didn’t expect them.

    I really like this Ovation. I use it over my $2,000 handmade acoustic for certain things, like hard strumming. The round back took a couple minutes to get used to. I find that getting the right STRAP works to mitigate the strangeness.

    Takamine has some good axes, tho’, as before described, they also have some “meh” ones in the under $500 niche. 

    For a lower price acoustic, I’d probably send people to Seagull. They’ve really got some high praise in the last few years for their S6, for example.

    If ya get any new ones, throw us a review! We’d love to hear your insights, Chris!

  4. Thanks, Calvin! Sorry to hear that lessons didn’t work out in your past. Finding a good teacher that sets your goals above their own IS possible though, and it’s never too late to start again!

    Check out a series I did about learning guitar by starting with the first post HERE. Maybe it’ll spark that interest again!  😉

  5. Oh, my, Marlinda… there are so many hundreds of guitars to choose from, that’s a hard question!   lol

    Would this be a good guitar for someone giving a concert? Sure! I’ve played and sang many times with mine.

    It’s definitely worth telling her about so she can choose for herself. Buying a guitar is a very personal thing. How it looks is always a factor.

    Tell her to stop by my site here and ask any questions she has. I’ll be happy to help her narrow down her choices! 

  6. Oh yea, Brian! It is especially the acoustic I go to when I need to really STRUM long and loud. This guitar is GREAT for that!

    And it sounds good both through a P.A. system AND through a mic.

    Lemme know when ya get a guitar. We’ll make sure you start strong and smart!

  7. Excellent review of the Balladeer Guitar. Its flexibility compares to Hussein Yoga! Wow!

    You really did a 360 review. I felt your passion for it in the blood. Every feature and its uniqueness is eloquently presented. Guitarists should definitely look at it.

    I find guitar difficult to play compared to other instruments. I am a music lover and use playing as a way to relax.

    Great review!

  8. The Balladeer sounds like one heck of a guitar! Since I certainly would like to learn to play the guitar, I will certainly keep the Balladeer on my radar. Some of the features it has sound amazing such as Chrome tuners, scale, thinline pickup and more. From what you’ve said about this particular guitar, it’s nice that it can handle pretty much anything that’s thrown at it. Do you still use the Balladeer to this day?

  9. Hi Teaj, all I can say is WOW!  Gear Acquisition Syndrome or G.A.S. – perfect description for an authority on guitars.

    Let’s see, where can I start.  Your analogy of Hussein Yoga, and not believing what you see to your review of the Ovation Balladeer, is priceless.  I played music many years ago, ( keyboards mostly ) and then one day I decided to take guitar lessons.  I had an electric and an accoustic.  For me though, since I was left handed, the instruction seemed backwards. Needless to say, I didn’t continue with lessons.  

    Your description of the guitar and the tuning is very thorough.  I really like the use of all you imagery. 

    Overall, a very cool post.  You definitely come across as a guitar authority……Rock On!

  10. One of the very first ‘professional’ acoustics I picked up was a black Ovation guitar back in ’87, and I have to be brutally honest…it stopped me from ever purchasing one again. 

    I can’t put my finger on it – maybe it was the thin neck and the ‘slightly too high’ action, maybe it was the fibre glass back – no idea what, but it didn’t fit me like a glove. 

    I’m wondering, from your opinion, have they come on since then? (I’m hoping so). 

    Also, I’ve been a Takamine man for a couple of decades now – what is your opinion on Ovation versus Takamine?

  11. Dont even play guitar yet but this is quickly becoming my favorite site as my wife and I are leaning towards learning to play the guitar.

    The Ovation Balladeer looks like a very cool guitar but Im guessing a bit over board for beginners.  Gotta learn to crawl before we walk.

    I would love if you could suggest a good cost friendly guitar that would be good around the camp fire.

    Thanks for having this site out there.  Your articles are fun to read.

  12. I think that like people, guitars are beautiful no matter what you make them out of! Your guitar looks absolutely brilliant to me so don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Ovation really does make great guitars and I admit the rounded back threw me a bit the first time I had the pleasure of playing one, but the sound was still great.

    I think that everyone who has the opportunity should try one because it definitely is a new playing experience and one worth enjoying.

    Thanks for bringing back some great flash backs!

  13. Hey there! The Ovation Balladeer Guitar looks like an awesome instrument. I was just talking to a friend who was looking for a good guitar to play for some concerts she has coming up. I don’t know much about guitars so I want to know if this is the best one for concerts or do you have a better recommendation for her?

    Thanks for sharing!


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