Have you ever heard of Ovation UKII electric guitars from the late 70’s or early 80’s? You have probably only ever thought of Ovation as an acoustic guitar manufacturer. But there was a time when they made electric guitars too. And the electric guitars they made were very innovative (for their time) with premium components (at an affordable price).
The 1980 Ovation Ultra Kaman II is a good example of quality workmanship that didn’t quite become popular enough to keep being manufactured. Take a good look at this guitar, the one shown is commonly known as the UKII 1291:
At first glance it might remind you of 100 other 70’s Les Paul knockoff guitars, but these are the features that set it apart:
The molded urelite foam body
The first shocking thing is that this guitar isn’t a solidbody guitar made of wood at all. The internal frame is aluminum, and the body around it is actually made of a foam – urelite, that is sprayed and molded around the metal frame to make it appear like a solid body wood guitar. The neck (which is of course wood) is actually both bolted to the frame, and glued in the guitar. The foam gives the guitar a slightly hollow sound, but the frame gives it a lot of sustain.
The second thing is the pickups. These pickups were very bright and clear, and they were wound more than 10,000 times. Most standard pickups are only wound between 6,000 and 8,000 times. Pickups that are overwound like this are known to be “hotter” than standard ones. Also, see the slide switch to the left of each of the pickups? This switches the pickups from series to parallel (single coil like sound, or what is commonly called ‘Jimmy Page wiring’).
As pictured below, the Ultra UKII has to output jacks, one for mono and one for stereo. One of the more remarkable features of these jacks and the pickups is that you can actually switch them so that one pickup goes to one jack (for one amp), and one pickup sends signal to the other jack (for a second amp). That’s pretty wild.
Bowtie Mother of Peal Neck Inlays
The neck has real mother of pearl inlay markers in a unique bow-tie design. The neck is a bound ebony neck. At the time that these were sold you usually did not see either of those features in a guitar in this price range. The fingerboard is made of ebony and wide flat (much like a PRS, but slim). In terms of sound, many people say that an ebony fretboard sounds closer to maple but with a certain brightness. The thing about ebony is that it requires no extra finish, but maple does (and the lacquer eventually wears off). Ebony is very dense and heavy, but smooth – which is why some people say that it’s better at handling moisture (from playing) than rosewood is. So there are (depending on taste) some distinct reasons to use ebony over both maple and rosewood fingerboards.
There aren’t a lot of these guitars still out there, but you can usually find a small handful on eBay at any given time in a couple colors. They colored them to look like wood grain, and I’ve heard that there were up to 5 original colors, of which there was black and one was white, and one natural wood grain. Then there was sunburst, blueburst. The prettiest one I’ve seen is the blueburst, which reminds me of silverburst.
Also, I did find this scan of an original UKII owners manual:
If you want to hear the UKII in action, here’s a little surprise. Here’s Neal Schon playing it on his 1980 world tour with Journey:
End Date: Thursday Jul-26-2018 20:19:50 PDT
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