The Delta Snake Review

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Video Guitar Review: 1978 Ovation Glen Campbell 12 String Model 1618 - Part 1

I've read from a number of sources that Glen Campbell was the one who really put Ovation on the map as a guitar maker, playing it prominently on his Glen Campbell Good Time Hour show.

That's a statement that would have to be verified by a real guitar historian, but I do know on a personal level that my image of Ovation guitars is Glen Campbell playing his famous 12 string.

Ovation makes guitars that players either love or hate, particularly because of the famous (or infamous) synthetic bowl that they use instead of a wood guitar body. 

What most people love or hate is it's acoustic amplified sound, an area that the company pioneered and popularized. They used what was called inboard electronics, as opposed to placing the guitar in front of a microphone or other traditional means of amplifying the guitar.

It's live sound is what most people who don't play Ovations associate with the guitar. It has a distinctive trebly sound, less "woody," with a lot of definition in the bass notes (some feel it sounds rubbery or like nylon strings).

The guitar's primary virtue live is that it can be played at much higher volumes without feedback than with other normal types of amplification.

The main complaint seems to be the bowl, which on most models is shallow, and gives people a feeling that it's always sliding out of your lap. Depending on how you hold it, this can be a valid complaint.

There were two things that really distinguished the Glen Campbell 12.

It had a slotted headstock, with tuning pegs that were very much like a classical guitar, and Glen specified that the bowl be made larger and deeper than normal, which made it easy to hold in your lap.

The deeper body also gives it a richer sound acoustically than most Ovations.

It was considered one of the top-of-the-line Ovation models in it's day, and still is one of the classic 12 strings today. It was made from the finest materials, and has a superb spruce top. The classical guitar-like headstock is actually easy to string, and makes tuning the 12 easy.

One other interesting thing about this model is that it was one of the earliest 12 string acoustics that could be kept at concert pitch. With a lot of twelves, you were always advised to keep it tuned down at least a half step to lessen the stress on the neck (which I always did on earlier ones I owned).

In fact, the "life expectancy" of a 12 string neck of beginner and lower cost models was about 3 years (sometimes less) if you kept it at concert pitch. If you see 12s in used guitar stores, you'll often see this is true. I've seen some otherwise beautiful used guitars of this type that are playable in first position, maybe second, but by the time you get to the 12th fret, it's a cheese cutter.

The main reason was many early 12s were simply six strings that the company simply converted to that type. The necks used weren't really that good compared to ones where the whole instrument was designed to take the stress of 12 strings right from the drawing board. Of all the kinds of used and vintage guitars, these you have to be the most careful buying.

That's why you can look on a rack and sometimes see a vintage Gibson, Guild or Martin 12 for only 600.00 or less, it probably has a bad neck.

The Ovation 12s (and Taylors) were built the way they were to meet the demand for one that could be tuned to full pitch with a modern slim neck, without the baseball bat thickness of older types.

Since this is more of an intro to the video review (see youtube link below), I won't get into a big listing of all the technical specs. These days you can find all that sort of information on the Internet.

The intent of the demo is to give you an idea of the sound. Part 1 (I'll do part two in the future sometime) shows the 12 string being played at medium tempo without amplification with some strumming, but mainly finger picking at a medium tempo. The musical intro ends rather abruptly, because my video editing is a bit rough still at this point and I didn't quite do the fade out correctly. I used a "watercolor" FX filter for the video, which I felt was more visually interesting than normal color settings.

The music is in a C-sharp open tuning, which I like because it gives the guitar a little of that old Guild sound of the early 70s even with light gauge strings.

The music is just some riffs strung together from Handa-McGraw & The Internationals music and works in progress.

So, check out the 1978 Ovation Glen Campbell 12 string in action: