Chatter: Nicky Garrat - Ode to a Silent Ovation

August 6, 2013

I’VE HEARD IT SAID THAT any deviation from a standard opening in chess is an error. Unless, that is, you are a Grand Master. Regardless, those gambits are well tested and have evolved to a point of greatest advantage. Anything else is inferior or a revolution. Not withstanding whim and fancy, every iconic guitar design also started as a revolution, and then evolved or became extinct.

The Ovation Breadwinner and Deacon Deluxe skirted fame, never quite gaining mass appeal, and then sadly died out. Each time a new endorser came forth—Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Ace Frehley, Steve Marriott, Robert Smith, Colin Newman, Tom Morello, Bob “Willard” Henke (Dr. Hook’s guitarist, whose unique factory-custom Deacon Deluxe I now own)—it served only to keep the brand afloat. It was like a crowd batting a balloon in the air.

Breadwinners came in tan, black, off-white, and blue. They featured a Teflon-textured coating, 24 frets, active electronics, and two huge single-coil pickups. Later models introduced mini humbuckers and a brass bridge. The upscale Deacons included these features, but boasted a more traditional wood finish in brown or dark sunburst, and also offered diamond fretboard inlays and neck binding.

 Eastwood’s Tribute.
The initial feedback from anyone who plays a Breadwinner is usually, “The neck is amazing.” That’s actually a universal reaction players have to all of the long-discontinued Ovation solidbodies, but more telling with the Breadwinner is what comes next: “Man, this is really comfortable.” The ergonomic outcome might have been a fluke of the outlandish medieval axe design, but it is one user-friendly guitar.

For collectors, older singlecoil Breadwinners and Deacons with the “bad teeth” nylon bridge saddles are more desirable. Additionally, there were a number of rare runs, including the more contoured Limited and the superb Deacon 12-sting with its graphite- reinforced neck. Ostensibly, these were all variations of the same vision—a revolutionary guitar with an otherworldly design and active electronics.

While the action is usually crazy low, the worry with these odd instruments seemed to revolve around the question of tone. Could these guitars really produce usable sounds?

Frankly, if I want a Strat sound, I use a Strat. For lusher tones, something like a Gibson ES-335. But despite the fact that both pickups cannot operate in phase together on the Deacons and Breadwinners—and the notch filter is a bit arbitrary— I find plenty of utility of sound.

With all its quirks, the Breadwinner series has slowly gained admirers, and it now teeters on the edge of becoming iconic, like the Flying V or Vox Teardrop. Ovation’s Viper 3 and Preacher might have been technically superior instruments, but there is a charm about the Breadwinner that I can’t resist.

The Eastwood Breadwinner tribute addresses some of the complaints about the original Ovation models. Re-stringing is easier with the exposed bridge, the notch filter has evolved into an on/off switch for the active electronics, and the pickup selector is now the standard type. A nice addition is the option of a vibrato bridge.

If the Breadwinner had gained critical mass, we might now have a Breadwinner 5 or such—perhaps a three-pickup version with trem and a custom-shop finish. Still, these fabulous guitars are well suited to customize, and you’ll not find a better neck or a more comfortable play. Dead now for more than 30 years, I say, “Canonize the Deacon!”

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