Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Ovation Breadwinner and Deacon

The Kaman Factory
 In 1967 I recall seeing THE original Ovation roundback guitar number 006 at the Chicago NAMM show. This guitar was actually built in 1966 by Kaman engineers. As I recall it was very plain instrument. This was in the days when Kaman Company was just starting into the guitar business. 

Charles Kaman had attempted to purchase Martin.  When Fred Martin refused, Kaman started his own guitar manufacturer.

The companies main product was and still is helicopter parts and  equipment that needed precise engineering.

Charles Kaman (pronounced like Command without the D on the end) played guitar and had an old Martin hanging in his office. He saw the Martin as being a great instrument, but very delicate and prone to changes in the temperature and humidity.

Kaman’s goal was to create a guitar with the Martin’s tonal qualities that was durable.

By utilizing the same material that was used to build helicopter bodies, he fashioned a parabolic bowl to be used as the guitars back. He believed this would help to project the guitar’s sound. As a plus the back needed no bracing.
2 of Ovations original models

Skipping forward to 1972. Ovation guitars were by now part of the mainstream guitar market thanks to an array of artists that were using Ovations guitars.  Ovation’s designers were looking to the future and designed a line of solid body electric guitars and basses that utilized some of the features that were developed for the the flat top instruments.

Ovation Toronado with Hofner body

The company had imported some bodies from Hofner and added Ovation necks in the past to the Ovation electric guitars.

But the first two solid electric guitars Ovation created in house were called The Breadwinner and The Deacon.

The fellow that designed these instrument came up with a shape reminiscent of a battle axe.

He states that he worked at Ovation/Kaman in 1971 and was a commercial artist in the advertising and public relations department. Because of his artistic background Ovation’s chief engineer suggested he come up with a couple of sketches of solid body guitars. The concept he came up with was the Breadwinner/Deacon body design.

Shortly afterward Kaman had a plant wide layoff, so he left not knowing what had happened with his design. A few years later he was watching TV and saw David Cassidy playing a Breadwinner on a Partridge Family rerun. The totally blew him away. He was never at the plant long enough to see his design come to fruition.

He states his concept for the guitar was a medieval battle axe, based on the fact most guitar players refer to their instrument as “their axe.”

The deep cutaway on the lower bout was put there purposely to reach the high notes. The cutaway on the guitars end was an early ergonomic idea so the guitarist could rest the instrument on their thigh while playing, much like classical players.

He suggested making the body hollow with a honeycomb structure for added strength, maintaining the traditional Ovation neck and headstock shape and using Lyrachord for the back.

Ovation liked his design, but the honeycomb hollowed body was not feasible or cost effective. However they used the standard (for the time) Ovation neck and headstock and the Breadwinners solid mahogany body was coated in Lyrachord. This accounts for the fact that most 1972 Breadwinners still look like new.

click to enlarge
The Breadwinner neck was a two piece bolt-on affair made of Honduras bound mahogany topped with an ebony fretboard that had diamond-shaped dot inlays and 24 frets. Initially the twin pickups were single coil models, although they were large and appear to be humbuckers. In 1975 this was modified to include 12 pole double coil pickups that resembled mini-humbuckers were introduced. These were advertised to be 20db quieter than humbuckers.

The guitars bridge was made of brass. The bridge unit was adjustable in a way similar to a Stratocaster, however the individual saddles were made of nylon.

The bridge unit was surrounded by a black textured nylon cover/hand rest. The embossed back plate for the electronics was very classy looking, as was the neckplate.

click to see the texture
As I have mentioned, the Breadwinners textured body was covered in Lyrachord and was available in black or white. From 1972 to 1976 grey, tan, red and blue were also an option.

The instruments pickguards came in black, white, tortoise shell and paint swirl.

The guitars electronics featured a the usual volume and tone controls, a 3-way selector throw switch and a band elimination switch that cut the midrange.

The Breadwinner was THE first electric guitar equipped with active electronics. This was accomplished were provided by a FET (field effect transistor) preamp board in a pocket that was routed out of the guitars backside. This allowed the player to achieve a wide array of sounds. The preamp was powered by two 9 volt batteries. Behind the batteries on the preamp were 2 trim pots that adjusted the level of the preamp and phase switch.

The pickup switching was very unusual.  The first position, toward the neck, turned on the neck pickup.  The second position turned on the bridge pickup.
The third position, toward the bridge engaged the preamp.

Click to enlarge
The Breadwinner was offered in 3 different models. The Breadwinner has already been described.

The Deacon could best be described as a deluxe version of the Breadwinner. The pickguard on some, but not all Deacons was smaller. The Deacons body was available in natural sunburst, clear mahogany or clear red glossy finishes. The ivoroid bound neck had mother-of-pearl deluxe diamond shaped inlays.

Deacon with single coils
It was a classy looking instrument The third model was an oddity known as the LTD. The LTD had all the features of the Deacon, but the body had an additional cutaway on the upper bout.

Glenn Campbell was Ovations biggest endorser. From the early years of his TV variety show to the present, he still plays Ovations and he still uses a Breadwinner 12 string.

LTD with Double Coils
Roy Clarke also used a Breadwinner 12 string from time to time.  Paul Stanley of KISS and Jeff Lynn of ELO were also Breadwinner players. There are still a lot of owners that recognized the Breadwinner/Deacon as a great guitar. You will find no negative comments about this instrument.

Possibly due to the odd body shape, Ovation had little success with electric guitars. 

When the Klein guitar came out, Ovation proposed to file a lawsuit for patent violation, but their lack of success with the Breadwinner line caused them to back off. 

Klein electric
(Recently Ovation added and discontinued a wonderful solid body electric called the VXT Hybrid due to poor sales.)

The 1972 price guide for a Breadwinner listed it as $349 with hardshell case. These days they are selling for between $1500 and $2500,

Just recently Eastwood Guitars, which has become known for fine replica guitars, introduced The Breadwinner to its lineup.

Although the new version looks very similar to the original, there are some discrepancies. The headstock is different than the Ovation headstock which make sense. The neck is made of one piece of maple instead of two-piece Honduras mahogany. The pickups are mini-humbuckers, which were different than Ovations double coil pickups. The guitars bridge is not enclosed by the Ovation covering and the saddles are not nylon. Instead of a FET preamp and phaser, this model comes with active pickups wired to a much simpler preamp circuit.

click to enlarge

The Eastwood model has a single volume and tone potentiometer as did the original and comes with a 3-way switch to control the pickups. A second switch turns the preamp on or off. The guitar can be played in the active or non-active mode. It is offered in White or Black and with a hard tail bridge or with a tremolo. The suggested price is $899.


Anonymous said...

My 12 string Deacon had it's preamp fail a while back and the repair man did a poor job fixing it. Does anyone have a schematic of the preamp?? Or better yet,have a deacon preamp for sale?? Let me know.

The Finger said...

I have a limited model_all original I came across it quite by accident, and having no idea what it was, paid the guy $300 at the yard sale, that was about 10 years ago.
Strangest guitar I own, and it seems to have a MIND of its own, half the time I'm not sure if I'm playing it, or it's playing me, but in either case it sounds damn good.
and no its not for sale

Joseph Frame said...

Hi - I am a fan of Charlie Byrd, whom I understand was consulted by Charles Kaman when the first Ovations were built. As I read it, Byrd told Kaman something like, "This gutiar will get you and ovation" - hence the name of the company.
Charlie frequently played a nylon-string Ovation (and subsequently a Takamine), and his brother Joe, the bassist, sometimes played an Ovation bass, which looked like the Hofner bodied guitar you showed above. It was a great sounding bass (Joe, of course, was a GREAT bassist, so that helped, I'm sure). Thanks for the information on Ovation gutiars. - Joe Frame

Anonymous said...

I am still looking for a replacement preamp for my 12 string Deacon..if anyone can help: email me. Thank you!
If you know of a similar preamp I am beginning to think that may be my only option.
Suggestions? Clues? Advice?


Anonymous said...

I need a neck for a '76 Deacon. Wore this one out.

Anonymous said...

Comment on first post..."Does anyone have a schematic of the preamp" at least I found from page some kind of schematicks - don't know from 12 string a they using same on it