Thursday, June 01, 2017

Ovation 1986-6 Electric-Acoustic Guitar

To mark its 20th Anniversary (1966 - 1986), Kaman Music introduced the "1986 Ovation Collectors' Series" which showcased 6 and 12 string US-manufactured electric-acoustic guitars; including the 1986-6 model featured in this post. Discovered in a used goods store and purchased by the owner at a ridiculously-low price (I'm not allowed to say), this 1986-6 was sent to me for an electronics diagnosis/repair (intermittent and noisy output), as well as fretwork and setup.  

The top of this 1986-6 is laminated Sitka Spruce, while the body is a shallow round back featuring 7-ply black/white/black binding. The single cutaway begins at the 14th fret, greatly enhancing upper-fret access. The paint job on the body is matt dark brown with silver speckles, while the back of the neck and headstock are gloss dark brown. Tuners are 3-a-side Schallers finished in black chrome. Meanwhile, the bound fretboard features 20 medium-jumbo frets and a scale length of 24.25 inches.

I'm quite certain that the fretboard is ebony based upon the rich dark color, smoothness and almost imperceptible grain. Fretboard markers (3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th and 17th) are abalone figure-of-eight inlays, while side markers are black dots. The 12th fret stands out above the rest due to its gorgeous abalone "1986" inlay that changes color depending on the viewing angle. Topping off all this gorgeousness is the soundhole, which is surrounded by an intricate abalone rosette.

The walnut bridge looks solid, with the strings strung through the back. There are two small round abalone markers on the top of the bridge, which hide the two bolts that secure it to the bridge plate. This is the first time I'm seeing bridge-fastening bolts on a high-end acoustic, but I suppose Kaman knows better. Good thing the saddle more than makes up for my disappointment with the bridge design. The compensated saddle consists of six pyramidal segments within a metal baseplate. Thanks to this baseplate, the saddle fits snugly in its slot, with no forward/backward or side-to-side movement at all.

Nice, now let's lift up the baseplate and have a look at the piezo strip beneath. What? Just bare wood? Here, one may logically deduce that the piezo-electric element is built into the saddle segments, as all that can be seen are two bare wires twisted/soldered together, plus a coaxial output cable to the preamp. This coaxial cable terminates in a mini mono jack, which plugs into a corresponding socket on the preamp enclosure.

The preamp is an OP-24. It's housed in a sturdy metal box, and getting into the innards is a tedious task; to say the least. A single 9V battery powers the OP-24, and it is housed in a separate battery box, accessible through the soundhole. The OP-24 features a single rotary volume control. As the original knob was missing, I stuck on a chrome dome in its stead. Beneath the volume pot is a spring loaded battery check button, which lights up a red LED when pressed (provided the battery has enough juice left). EQ duties are handled by three (Bass/Mid/Treble) sliders; each allowing 12dB of boost/cut.

Having disassembled the OP-24 from the saddle to the stereo output jack, I was able to service the connectors, jacks, pots and sliders; and eventually trace the source of the noise and intermittent output to a couple of frayed wires. Cutting and resoldering these wires solved the problem, thank goodness!

A couple of fret ends were also a tad unseated due to binding shrinkage. These frets were reseated properly by gently tapping the ends with a fretting hammer and securing them with super glue. Now it was time for fret leveling and dressing. This time special attention was paid to reducing the fret end bevel angle, as the high E string was prone to sliding off the fretboard. Reducing the bevel angle more often than not results in a slight increase in fret width. Note that once the fret is wider, the high E string won't be slipping off the fretboard edge so frequently. The frets were then polished with 0000 steel wool; and the fingerboard cleaned and conditioned with lemon oil. Now the ebony fretboard was even slicker than before.

The final part of the job was setup, starting with a fresh set of 10 - 49s. I did not need to adjust the truss rod as the neck was as straight as could be. However, the action was too high for the owner's liking. This meant that I had to lower the saddle height. Simply deepening the notches on the saddles turned out to be insufficient, so I ended up slightly flattening the peaks of the saddles and re-notching them. This was done slowly and carefully in stages, as there was always the danger of cutting into the piezo element inside each of the six saddle segments.      

The end result of all this effort, thankfully, is an instrument that scores high marks in terms of looks, playability, projection, and tone; on its own or through an amp. I'd like to think that this was what the 1986-6 used to sound like all those years ago.

Manos Backline Services
Dennis Brizzi
Povation's Guitar Gallery
Nimit Guitar Web Board

No comments: