1980 Ovation UKII

Ovation guitars grew out of innovation right from the start. When Charles Kaman found that neither Martin nor Harmony was up for sale, he decided to start his own line of guitars. As an aeronautical engineer who had already founded a successful helicopter manufacturer, Kaman and his team of engineers were well experienced with advanced materials. Their first instruments were acoustics with round backs made of Lyrachord, which was much more resistant to cracking than traditional wood construction. It took a few years and an endorsement from Glen Campbell, but Ovation guitars gradually took off. With the addition of piezoelectric pickups, Ovation guitars owned the acoustic-electric market in the 1970s.

Ovation built electric guitars and basses for a decade and a half, though none were nearly as successful as the “bowl-back” acoustics. The Electric Storm series (1967-1973) married hollow bodies imported from Hofner to Ovation-made necks, but subsequent guitar and bass models were built entirely by Ovation in their New Hartford, CT factory. This generation started with the Breadwinner, a model notable partly for its axe-shaped body and partly for being the first production guitar with a modern-style preamp. A few builders in the 1960s had incorporated battery-powered effects, but Ovation was the first guitar to use an onboard preamp to permanently control the guitar’s sound.

The Breadwinner and subsequent models were a step forward, but Ovation wasn’t finished innovating. The UKII (Ultra-Kaman II, no relation to Her Majesty’s realm) was introduced in 1980 with no wood at all in the body. An aluminum core was centered in a mold, and the surrounding space was filled with Urelite foam that hardened into a single-cutaway shape. The body was then given a polyester finish – white, black, nutmeg or charcoal. The last two were actually bursts that incorporated faux-wood grain patterns. The neck was similar to previous Ovation solidbodies: wide and flat, with large frets to facilitate bending. A new feature was the brass nut, which the catalog claimed to enhance the guitar’s sustain.

A pair of blade-style humbuckers were developed specifically for the new model, wound with 10,000 turns of wire to give the guitar considerable output even without a preamp. In addition to separate volume and tone controls, each pickup had a switch that put the coils into either series or parallel mode. Players also had the option of stereo output (one pickup to each channel) via a second jack. The hardware was plated in gold, which gives the UKII the appearance of a deluxe model; in fact, at $650, it was toward the top of the Ovation electric line but no more expensive than the Preacher Deluxe. The ebony fingerboard with hollow inlays (which were subsequently changed to solid pearl) also contributed to the upscale appearance.

Although the UKII featured many desirable features for the early ‘80s, it faired no better than Ovation’s previous electric offerings. No notable players embraced it, and the model was discontinued early in 1984. Ovation made one more very brief attempt to market a US-built electric with the Ultra GP that same year before quickly withdrawing from electric guitars altogether.

 

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