Ovation DS778TX Review
Aeronautical engineer Charles Kaman introduced his first round-back, space-age, composite-body Ovation guitar in 1966. The ground-breaking 1960s Balladeer model, with its signature bowl-shaped body made first of fiberglass, and later a material called Lyrachord, began a 45-year run of success for the Ovation company. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that an innovative outfit like Ovation would be willing to experiment, and having applied its round-back concept to six- and 12-string guitars, mandolins, acoustic basses, and even double-necks, the company was one of the first to introduce an acoustic-electric baritone with its Longneck model in the mid-’90s. The original, US-made Longneck guitar became a favorite of studio players, but its relatively high cost kept many guitarists from checking it out. In 2011, however, Ovation introduced a version of the guitar as part of its more affordable Elite TX line, filling a neglected niche for those who’d like to experiment with an extended-range acoustic at a budget price.
Materials and Construction
Other than the scalloped trim at the top of the peghead and the matte-finished rock maple neck, the DS778TX is entirely black. Nut, bridge, stained rosewood fingerboard, tuners, Lyrachord composite-coated spruce top, and solid Lyrachord single-cutaway bowl back: all jet black. Combined with excellent fit and finish, the austere design leads to an overall impression of solid craftsmanship. The fretwork is clean, inviting explorations all the way up to the cutaway, and the subtle texture of the Lyrachord bowl and spruce top create an aesthetic that, in its own way, make up for the lack of the usual design touches such as purfling and a rosette around the soundhole. Ovation used a “mid-depth” bowl on the Elite TX, the second-shallowest of the four bowl depths used throughout the line.
Feel and Sound
With its 28.33-inch scale, the DS778TX can be thought of as a baritone guitar, and heavier strings would allow the guitar to be tuned as a baritone (typically B to B). But Ovation strings the guitar with a standard medium-gauge set of strings, tuned down a whole step from standard (D G C F A D, low to high), essentially making it seem as if you’re capoed down two frets (you can place a capo at the second fret to achieve the same range as a standard guitar). This makes it much easier to transpose into different keys than a typical baritone, yet it still allows for some delicious low voicings.
Hunched over the instrument, with the offset soundholes close to my ear, I played a series of big, full chords, letting each ring as long as it wished, feeling enveloped by the luxuriant yet balanced low end. The mid-depth bowl is clearly a good choice to combine with the resonant qualities of the scalloped X-braced spruce top. After only a few strums tuned the way Ovation suggests, I felt compelled to tune down to dropped-C tuning (C G C F A D) and then an open Hawaiian slack-key tuning, and remarkable things started to happen—I noticed that my mood improved almost immediately as I felt around for ideas that may not have presented themselves on a regular guitar. While dreaming of Hawaii alone can be a mood brightener, the DS778TX provided the low, resonant access to this happy side effect.
The wider reach from the nut to the second fret takes a little getting used to, but the string gauges and tension feel entirely familiar. The only problem I had was with the string spacing at the nut, which I found a little tight and which forced me to alter some fingerings to keep from muting the ring of adjacent strings. But since the actual nut width of 111⁄16 inch is fairly typical, it would be easy to install a new nut with slightly wider string spacing if so desired.
I spent some time playing improvised slack-key-style tunes in an open-F tuning with a low Bb, and tried out a few songs like Richard Thompson’s “Night Comes In” and Chris Smither’s “Leave the Light On.” The Elite TX reveled in Thompson’s dark mood and was a good partner for Smither’s dark baritone vocal range.
While I mostly fingerpicked the guitar, I tried some flatpicked tunes as well. I learned, however, that my flatpick style relies on a standard soundhole. And since the Ovation has no central soundhole, when flatpicking, I had to either hold back on the volume or hear my pick brush the pebbled face of the Lyrachord-coated top, a sound I was not crazy about.
The DS778TX’s electronics consist of Ovation’s OP-Pro preamp and high-output OCP-1K pickup, which uses individual piezo crystals installed in a wide, compensated saddle. Besides offering standard features such as controls for volume and three-band EQ and a built-in chromatic tuner, the OP-Pro features a Pre EQ “tone enhancement circuit” button, which toggles between two mid-range presets. This preamp—which elegantly slides in and out of the body for battery changes—is also found in high-end Ovations such as the Al Di Meola and Melissa Etheridge signature models.
To check out the DS778TX’s amplified sound, I ran it through my Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, where I discovered that the onboard electronics are very clean and flexible. With the Pre-EQ function kicked in, the tone was nearly identical to the guitar’s unamplified sound. The manual three-band EQ would certainly be useful in multi-instrument settings or when working through different amps in different performance spaces, but I found the untweaked pickup sound best for playing solo in a controlled setting. After playing at various volumes, from very quiet to rocking loud, I must say that I have rarely heard an amplified guitar sound so natural and acoustic when played through an amp.
Overall, the Ovation DS778TX is an appealing and unusual instrument that may lead you down a few less-traveled musical paths. And since affordable acoustic baritone options are rare, the DS778TX offers a great value for any player wishing to expand his or her musical horizons.
SPECS: Solid spruce top. Lyrachord composite bowl back. Rock maple neck with dovetail joint. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. Scalloped X-bracing. 28.33-inch scale. 1 11/16-inch nut width. 2 1/8-inch string spacing at saddle. Ovation closed-back tuners. High-output Ovation OCP-1K pickup (integrated into compensated saddle) and OP-Pro preamp with three-band EQ and chromatic tuner. D’Addario EXP medium-gauge strings. Made in South Korea.
PRICE: $979 list/$679 street.
MAKER: Ovation Guitars: (860) 509-8888; ovationguitars.com.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar July 2012
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