Ovation 1798 Figured Koa Elite
The folks at Ovation decided to shake things up a bit and revisit the design of their standard roundback models. The result was the limited-edition 1798 Figured Koa Elite, pretty much the state-of-the art Ovation instrument.
Visually, the 1798 is a darned attractive acoustic. The figured, bookmatched koa top has a natural finish to highlight the honey hues of the tonewood. The traditional Ovation headstock is faced with black veneer and a small koa truss-rod cover. Dial in the gold hardware on the tuners and it all amounts to a very luxurious look. Other visual details include a koa “Ovation” inlay at the 12th fret and a simple inlay around the oval soundhole.
The 1798 has an extra-deep Venetian cutaway that reveals a small, elegant strip of koa along the bottom of the fingerboard, as well as a tapered fingerboard from the 18th to 22nd frets. Inside, there’s a Quintad “T” spruce bracing pattern to accommodate the unusual soundhole, which Ovation relocated to the upper bout, creating a more contemporary look and delivering more bass frequencies and placing it closer to the guitarist’s ear. The 1798 sports a medium-depth Lyracord roundback design, while the neck is a five-piece laminate of mahogany with two strips of maple to create a center stripe. Like the bridge, the fingerboard is ebony and sports a scale of 251/4″.
For electronics, there’s an OCP-1K pickup and OP-PRO preamp, part of Ovation’s series of swappable preamps that allow players to try out different units and tones. The OP-PRO has a built-in tuner, three-band EQ, Gain and Drive controls, and an Expressor circuit to bring in the compressor/limiter effect (a critical tool for acoustic guitarists), with a little “aural exciter” sparkle added for good measure. And if noise control is an issue, the OP-PRO adds a balanced XLR output for connecting to a PA, mixer, acoustic amp, or recording rig. The removable preamp pops out via a little button on the top and has a compartment within for a 9-volt battery. Care should be taken when reinstalling the preamp, though – pushing it too hard at the wrong angle can cause it to become wedged. It’s not difficult to figure out the correct installation, but try it gingerly at first.
One feature of the 1798 Figured Koa Elite that jumps out immediately upon playing the guitar is its stunning neck. Truly, this is one of the fastest necks imaginable on an acoustic guitar, and it’s complemented by a superior setup. In fact, this is a rare case where the actual construction and setup of the neck arguably improves the physical technique of the player. Ovation has always been known for its swift-necked acoustics, but this is as good as it gets. Acoustically, the 1798 delivers good tone, but don’t expect tons of projection from its roundback design. The offset soundhole is made primarily for acoustic-electric use.
Plugged in, the 1798 exudes loads of personality. It’s fun to play around with the Expressor knob, dialing more exciter and compression into the overall tone. The Drive knob adds woodier tones to the upper frequencies, but keep in mind that it’s relative to the Expressor, i.e., a more-pronounced Drive effect is apparent the more the Expressor is increased. On the subject of controls, care should be taken when adjusting the Drive knob on the fly during a gig – it’s easy to accidentally turn down the Gain knob at the same time. Overall, the 1798 sounds full and interesting going through an acoustic amp and PA, but it’s important to remember that it will sound like an Ovation, not a Martin. That’s just acoustic-guitar physics.
In all, the 1798 Figured Koa Elite is a terrific instrument that sounds good, looks gorgeous, and has a neck to die for. This is truly a luxury acoustic that reimagines the traditional Ovation design as something fresh and new.
This article originally appeared in VG March 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.