For over a decade following Ovation’s appearance in the mid-1960s, the maker’s unique combination of Lyrachord bowl backs and an effective pickup system meant it faced few challengers, especially among electric guitarists. Which isn’t to say that some fingerstyle traditionalists didn’t take to Ovation’s legendary playability as well, but big stages were the brand’s natural home rather than dimly lit folk clubs. Ovation eventually faced competition as rival makers, led by Taylor, came along with equally playable but traditionally made guitars equipped with good pickup systems and pre-amps and eventually most of the acoustic guitar market followed Taylor’s lead. Ovation was no longer the only acoustic brand that worked for electric guitarists and in band settings. However, a change of ownership in 2013 saw Ovation pass from Fender to California’s Drum Workshop – perhaps an unlikely takeover but one that seems to have done the trick, as Ovation is now back with new models, good promotion and a definite sense that it is on course again.
The Custom Legend we were sent for review isn’t the most expensive Ovation but it is a luxurious looking instrument with a handsome sapele top and an ebony fretboard (thus escaping the CITES restrictions on rosewood). It’s got a bit of bling to about it, accentuated by the gold plated machine heads, but it we certainly liked its looks.
Ben concluded the guitar was made to the sort of standard you would expect of a professional Ovation. There were a few signs of filler around the neck inlays (not uncommon) but aside from that the Custom Legend got a clean bill of health in terms of build quality, It’s a solidly but, well put together instrument.
The Lyrachord back needs no comment, other than to say it was one of the deep contour versions, but the body sat well on the lap with no slipping. The handsome sapele top isn’t solid wood, unfortunately, being what Ovation describes as ‘layered’, which we would call laminated. As we’ve said before, this is not, as some seem to think, a kiss of death tonally – many extremely expensive jazz guitars are made of laminated wood – but it does tend to mean that the way the guitar sounds when new is how it will stay sounding. As we’re talking abut a guitar with a fibreglass back which won’t age either, this isn’t something to worry about, especially so when you get to hear how good it sounds when new. In fact, many will consider it an advantage to have a consistent sounding guitar.
Playability, always a strong point with Ovations, was excellent. Ben, despite being a bit of a fingerstyle traditionalist, was very taken with the Ovation’s neck dimensions, low action and general feel. Our sample was well set-up and although you tend to think of Ovations as strummers’ guitars, it handled Ben’s fingerpicking very well indeed.
Soundwise, the Custom Legend performed well, as you can hear on our video. It’s an immediate sounding instrument which complements the sense you get that you are almost playing an electric guitar – Ben describing it as almost akin to playing an electric through a compressor. This results in a punchy sound with a fair bit of zing and excellent sustain. There’s reasonable headroom, too, but Ben felt there is a point you get to when digging in produces no extra increase in volume, though it never chokes-out. as some acoustics do. Fingerpicking was very cohesive and surprisingly good, while strummed chords also sounded great, though there were a few boomy bottom end notes which, again, you can hear for yourself. A slight adjustment to your playing technique or the EQ if playing amplified will counter this, but it’s there and needs to be acknowledged.
While this Ovation may not deliver the purest acoustic guitar sound you will ever hear it is a very enjoyable one both as a player and a listener. Amplified, the Custom Legend has a bit of piezo quack to it but it is by no means the worst we have heard in that respect and any sound engineer should be able to get you a good sound through the PA.
Overall, the Custom Legend is a delight to play and would be a great choice for ensemble use in a band, where it would sit well in a mix. A solo performer might prefer a more traditional tone but that’s a matter of personal taste and the playability will appeal to anyone,
At its full RRP of £1,600 the Custom Legend has a lot of competition but its street price seems to be a fair bit lower and at that level it is a unique offering among a lot of guitars that are all pretty similar. Ovation obviously knows its own market and has produced a guitar here that will please it. For electric guitarists who want an acoustic-electric, for players in bands and on bigger stages, it works very well and it looks good, too. Purists might prefer a traditional all-wood instrument and but that’s fine – the Custom Legend isn’t aiming for that market. That said, Ben admitted the Custom Legend challenged some of his assumptions about what an Ovation sounds like, offering a punch and balance to the sound coupled with extremely good playability. What we would like to hear now is the same guitar with a solid wood top – that could prove even more interesting!
Ovation Custom Legend C2079AXP-STB £1,621
Soundboard: Layered exotic wood
Bracing: Ovation Scalloped X Bracing
Body: Lyrachord Deep Contour Cutaway
Design: Center Soundhole
Finish: Sapele Tobacco Burst
Binding: Ivory with Abalone Purfling
Neck: 5 PC Mahogany/Maple
Inlays: Abalone Diamond Pattern
Scale: 25.3″ (643mm)
Fretboard Radius: 11 13/16″ (300mm)
Nut: 1 11/16″ (43mm) ABS
Tuning Machines: Ovation Die-Cast Sealed Tuning Machines
Strings: Adamas OV1818E Light Gauge Phosphor Bronze .012-.053
Preamp: OP Pro preamp
Case: Includes Case