A man who went against the grain
IN 1966, aeronautical pioneer Charlie Kaman did what few have ever succeeded in doing - he revolutionized the acoustic guitar. Ovation guitars arrived on the scene with their round backs and new ideas. Professional musicians hailed the guitar's performance and purists shook their heads.
In the early sixties, Kaman saw the need to diversify his aviation company into other markets where aerospace technology could create better products. As a longtime guitarist, he understood the needs of players and his extensive helicopter blade experience gave him a better understanding of vibration than any other guitarmaker.
It wasn’t just a case of making a guitar....
“With our background in aerospace, we had the technology to really make a better one." So in 1964, Charlie chose a small team of aerospace engineers and technicians for the project (several of whom were woodworking hobbyists as well) and set them off to work. They were accustomed to doing things the Kaman way - identify the problem; explore the possible solutions; pick the best result and go with it. They discovered that the flat back of an acoustic guitar actually hindered the balance and projection.
So they broke the first rule of many and developed the roundback. The design improved projection, gave the guitar a better balance from bass through treble and made for a stronger and more rugged instrument.
As Charlie himself put it, "in Helicopters, the engineers spend all their time trying to figure out how to remove vibration. To build a guitar, you spend your time trying to figure out how to put vibration in. But vibration is vibration."
Two years and many prototypes later, they brought the first production Ovation to life - the Balladeer. With the now-famous roundback, the first Ovations raised a lot of curious eyebrows in the music industry.
A tribute to a legend.
It is hard to have worked in any of the Kaman companies without having been personally touched, inspired and motivated by Charlie Kaman. Known throughout the United States as an aviation innovator, Charlie is better known in our industry as a musical pioneer. It was Charlie’s continuing quest for a superior sound that led him in 1965 to develop the Ovation® Roundback guitar. Throughout, Charlie continued to drive guitar innovation. He dared to bring modern technology and processes to guitar manufacturing. He applied composite materials, such as the Adamas® carbon graphite top, to guitar construction. He was the first to incorporate pickups and preamplifiers in the acoustic guitar, creating the category of acoustic/electric guitar and allowing the acoustic guitarist to plug in when playing live.
Early on, Charlie saw the importance of efficient distribution in the music industry, first acquiring Coast Wholesale and later C.Bruno & Son, providing the building blocks for KMC Music to establish a national distribution network while growing into the largest independent distributor of musical instrument accessories.
A visionary leader, a pioneer and an entrepreneur, above all, Charlie believed in the people at Kaman. He both challenged and encouraged his team while paying them the respect that they deserved. His goal throughout was to innovate and stretch boundaries. The success of his companies was a mere byproduct of these efforts. Though KMC Music is no longer a part of Kaman Corporation, we continue to take great pride in the heritage that Charlie provided. He will be sorely missed.