As a young girl, fingerstylist Kaki King honed her chops on her father’s Adamas guitar, and she has continued to play the brand’s guitars throughout her career. Having built several custom guitars for King, the company—traditionally Ovation’s high-end division—finally introduced a signature model last year. The 1581 is built on a standard carbon-fiber-top Adamas platform and features Kaki King–approved flourishes like a unique soundhole pattern and a signature fretboard inlay, resulting in a modern acoustic-electric that looks as smart as it sounds.
Minimalist Ornamentation, Traditional Neck
Like all Adamas guitars, the Kaki King Signature Model features a hybrid approach to construction. The guitar has Ovation’s familiar synthetic Roundback® body, which is fitted with a carbon-fiber soundboard. Instead of a center soundhole, the guitar has nine unconventional soundholes of assorted sizes, grouped together in a cloudlike formation on the upper-left bout. But Ovation chose traditional construction for the guitar’s mahogany neck, which has a maple/mahogany/maple center strip and is matched with a rosewood fingerboard.
Ornamentation on the guitar is minimal. The top has a simple gold band around the perimeter, complemented by some subtle gold flecks in the black top. The headstock is decorated solely with a script Adamas logo, and the fingerboard, devoid of binding and marked with simple white side dots, sports only a single position marker—King’s signature crown inlay at the 12th fret. But here’s a nice touch: the inside label is personally signed by King.
Our Kaki King review model boasted excellent craftsmanship, as would be expected from a guitar made at Ovation’s flagship workshop, in New Hartford, Connecticut. The neck-to-body junction was tidy and the neck’s gloss finish was carefully applied and buffed. Similarly flawless, the nut and saddle slots were meticulously cut, the frets tightly seated and smoothly polished, and the walnut bridge cleanly shaped and stained.
The Kaki King model feels a bit neck-heavy, and the entire body has a rough, abrasive surface that makes an audible scratching sound when rubbed against a cotton shirt. But I forgot about these issues once I began to play the guitar. The medium-profile C-shape neck feels great, and it is effortless to play chords and single-note lines up and down the neck, thanks to its silky low action and large frets.
The guitar, with its mid-depth cutaway body, has good response and projection in all registers and ample headroom. It possesses a piano-like attack that sounds especially nice on chordal passages played in the manner of the jazz great Bill Evans. This Adamas also holds its own on more standard guitar repertoire—transcriptions of pieces by Skip James, Django Reinhardt, and Chet Atkins—as well as basic strumming, flatpicking, and fingerpicking patterns.
It seemed only appropriate to audition the guitar using some of the techniques King is known for, and I soon found myself tapping on the instrument with fluidity and an even balance in volume and tone between both hands. It was great fun to try percussive effects on the resonant soundboard, which responds with sensitivity to changes in finger placement and attack. Also, the textured top produces a really cool sound when scratched with a fingernail.
King often uses alternate tunings, so I tried the guitar in one of her favorites: C G D G A D. The tonal balance is great, with none of that murkiness that can afflict an acoustic when it is tuned so low. Fingerpicked cluster voicings sound especially nice, with the individual notes clearly discernible, and arpeggios ring together in smooth accord.
High-Output Piezo Pickup
The Kaki King model features Ovation’s high-output undersaddle pickup, which contains six piezo-crystal elements that send the vibrations of the strings and the top to an OP-Pro preamp (designed with input from Al Di Meola and Melissa Etheridge). The preamp is mounted on the bass side of the guitar and snaps in and out for easy access to the nine-volt battery compartment. It is intuitive to operate, with three-band EQ, preset tone-enhancement circuit, gain control, and a digital tuner. The tuner is superconvenient—just pick a string and the note name appears on the unit’s LED screen, along with an up or down arrow instructing you to raise or lower the pitch
I plugged the Kaki King into a Fender Acoustasonic amplifier, and with the preamp set flat, the instrument sounded tremendous—just like it did unplugged, but more massive, with a minimum of coloring. The tone-enhancement circuit, activated with a click of a button, adds a bit of naturalness to the sound, and each band in the EQ has a smooth taper allowing for further tonal shaping.
The Ovation Adamas 1581-KK Kaki King signature model is a highly playable and detailed-sounding guitar with superb electronics that accurately reproduce the instrument’s acoustic sound. Its design won’t appeal to every player, but the guitar will make a superb performing, recording, and practicing companion for those into nontraditional design and able to afford a premium modern acoustic-electric.
Click here for the Acoustic Guitar Review - May 2011
For full specs on the 1581-KK Kaki King Signature Adamas Click here