Word to the wise: don't buy an Ovation unless you're certain you'll never need factory service

It's a simple story.

I had (still have, entombed in a closet) an Ovation Balladeer acoustic/electric. Not their top-of-the-line by any means, but it had a sound. Punchy, full, ringing when hit hard; sweet and vocal when played softly. Loved that guitar. Loved it. Best I've ever come across for recording rhythm tracks. Learned to write using it. Developed a style around it.

Then I did a Hurricane Andrew benefit show. Just before going on, the strap gave out, and the guitar fell face-down onto the tile floor. Sickening sound. It now had a new feature -- what looked like a hairline crack, running with the grain of the wood, all the way across the top, from the strap button to the lower bout.

I played the set with it, had no choice. By the time I was done the string tension had begun pulling the top up. This was no little crack; this was a serious fracture.

Luckily, this was just after the hurricane, and I lived in Miami. My credit card company practically begged to give me a big "emergency" extension (hey, this was hurricane-related, right?). Took it, rushed over to Ed's and immediately bought another Ovation.

I was told by a few "knowledgable" friends that the guitar just couldn't be repaired, so it languished in its case for months.

But I missed the old thing. I looked around at similar 8-year-old used Balladeers. Average price - $275. Average sound - bland. I needed this one back.

Then it dawned on me. Maybe Ovation could fix it! They built it, who better to revive it? I mean, it's a hell of a crack, but that's it. The bracing is intact, the integrity of the top is fine otherwise. It might set me back close to the price of a replacement, but I'll have my guitar back.

So I shipped it off -- Ed's Guitars thoughtfully gave me an Ovation shipping carton, and off it went.

Weeks passed. Or maybe months.

The guitar came back. It had been sent to an incorrect part of Ovation, so they helpfully sent it back to me, rather than across town. I sent it out again.

Weeks passed. Or maybe months.

Then an estimate shows up (dated "10/38/93", interestingly enough). Their "repair" would consist of:

In other words, a different guitar. Well, they might be planning to reuse the tuning pegs.

And the cost for swapping my guitar out with the nearest similar guitar? $500. $300 for the new top and bowl, $200 for the mysterious new neck. No mention of labor charges, and no total in the "Repair Estimate" box.

I called to congratulate them on their fine sense of humor, and asked for the real estimate.

They were not amused. I asked for the guitar back.

I sent off an angry letter to the head of Customer Relations, or whatever Ovation's name for that department is. Asking how they could, with a straight face, charge more than the value of the guitar to perform a "repair" that would render it a different guitar.

Never got an answer; not even a form letter. It's been almost 5 years now. Never recommended Ovation to another friend or audience member (I get asked about my guitars all the time) -- quite the opposite, in fact. They make nice guitars, but they seem blissfully unaware of their customers.

Maybe they've changed. I don't know -- I won't take the risk of buying another to find out. What happens if that guitar breaks?

Did I mention that Taylor makes amazing guitars?

Update: the Ovation is back from the dead, although no longer in my possession. Progress is tracked over here...

<a href="http://music.paulroub.com/album/acrophobe">Disappear by Paul Roub</a>