Guitars come in many shapes and sizes, but two of the most iconic acoustic guitar brands are Martin and Ovation. Both companies have been making quality instruments for over 50 years and have garnered legions of loyal fans. But which is better – Martin or Ovation? Let’s take an in-depth look at the differences between these two legendary guitar makers.
History and Origins
Martin guitars have a long and storied history stretching back to 1833 when Christian Frederick Martin Sr. moved from Germany to New York and set up shop as a guitar maker. For nearly 200 years, Martin has focused almost exclusively on building high-quality acoustic guitars. Based out of Nazareth, Pennsylvania since the late 1800s, Martin revolutionized acoustic guitar design by pioneering the dreadnought body style along with advances in bracing patterns and construction techniques.
Some key moments in Martin history:
Founded in 1833 by C.F. Martin Sr. in New York.
Relocated to Pennsylvania in the late 1800s, establishing the Nazareth headquarters.
Created the iconic dreadnought guitar body style in 1916.
Used by legends like Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Bob Dylan.
Remains family-owned and operated, now in its 6th generation of Martins.
Ovation Guitars emerged much later in 1966, founded by Charles Kaman in Connecticut. Ovation took a very innovative approach to acoustic guitar design, pioneering the use of synthetic materials like Lyrachord for the guitar body instead of traditional wood. Their unique roundback bowl design was a radical departure from the flat-top dreadnought style.
Some key moments in Ovation history:
Founded in 1966 by Charles Kaman in Connecticut.
Known for roundback bowl body shape made of synthetic materials.
Revolutionary pickup and preamp systems for acoustic-electric models.
Endorsed by legends like Glen Campbell, Cat Stevens, Mick Jagger.
Sold to Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in 2015.
Continues to innovate with instruments like the Apprentice Series.
So while Martin has a long legacy of wood craftsmanship, Ovation took a very modern and innovative approach. Both have proven to be hugely influential acoustic guitar brands.
Construction and Materials
The choice of materials and construction methods is where Martin and Ovation guitars differ the most significantly.
Traditionally use solid tonewoods like Sitka spruce, mahogany, rosewood.
Tonewoods are carefully selected and matched for quality.
“X-Bracing” pattern provides strength andprojection.
Dovetail neck joint delivers solid feel and sustain.
Hand-fitted and finished components.
Available with or without pickups/electronics.
Martin uses premium solid-wood tonewoods selected for superior acoustic properties. Their standard X-bracing pattern and dovetail neck joint have proven to enhance volume, sustain and tone. Attention to detail with hand-fitting make Martin guitars feel and sound exquisite.
Composite Lyrachord bowl-shaped back improves projection.
Lyrachord top model and wood tops on others.
Graphite or nylon neck-reinforcement for stability.
OP-Pro preamp system provides excellent amplified tone.
Onboard tuner on most models.
Available as deep-bowl or shallow-bowl shapes.
Ovation’s unique rounded back improves acoustic projection and volume. The composite Lyrachord material resists cracking and warping. Neck reinforcements add stability for better action and intonation. Ovation’s pickup and preamp systems are top-notch for acoustic-electric performance. Their innovative approach and use of modern materials make Ovations very durable and consistent.
The sound of a guitar depends heavily on the construction, and in that regard Martin and Ovation have very distinct tonal profiles.
Balanced warm tone across bass, mids, treble.
Articulate and clear notes.
Excellent sustain and resonance.
Vintage old-world character to tone.
Consistent tone and quality across product line.
Models like D-18, D-28 define acoustic guitar sound.
With their solid-wood construction Martin guitars deliver a wonderfully balanced and warm acoustic tone. The resonance and sustain make each note sing with life. There’s a natural beauty and magic to the Martin sound that enhances vocals and accompaniment. The consistent build quality means even their lower cost models maintain an authentic Martin voice.
Clear, balanced amplified tone.
Punchy bass response.
Excellent projection and volume.
Extended high-end from composite materials.
Versatile across different genres and playing styles.
Onboard electronics provide excellent plugged-in sound.
Ovation’s composite Lyrachord bodies produce impressive volume and projection acoustically. When plugged in, the OP-Pro electronics provide superb amplified tone and consistency. The punchy lows and crystal-clear highs make Ovations favored for stage use where amplification is a must. Their modern tone works well across many musical genres.
Both Martin and Ovation boast excellent craftsmanship borne out of decades of experience.
Hand-fitted dovetail neck joints for optimal alignment.
Hand-voiced bracing patterns customize each instrument.
Extensive time spent shaping and voicing braces.
Playability and setup done by skilled technicians.
High-grade materials from sustainable sources.
Decorative inlay and rosette designs.
Legendary attention to detail and consistency.
You can feel and hear the detailed craftsmanship in every Martin guitar. From the carefully cut and voiced bracing to the hand-fitted dove-tail neck, nothing is left to chance. Martin uses premium solid woods treated sustainably and responsibly. Their guitars are built to last for generations.
State-of-the-art composite material molding.
Computer modeling optimizes bowl-back design.
CNC milling used for precision manufacturing.
Guitars assembled and set up by skilled luthiers.
Carbon fiber neck-through reinforcement.
Advanced comfortable neck profiles.
Excellent electronics integration and shielding.
Ovation has leveraged modern technology to optimize and refine their guitar designs. The combination of computer-aided modeling, advanced material molding, and CNC milling allows for fantastic consistency. Experienced technicians still complete final assembly, setup, andQA testing. The result is durable, great-sounding, and playing instruments.
Playability and Feel
Comfort, playability, and feel are critical aspects of any guitar. Here’s how Martin and Ovation compare in this regard:
Iconic squeezed-in neck shape for comfort.
Low string action and easy playability.
Pleasing balance with or without a strap.
Neck width options from slim to wide.
Vintage-style bone nut and saddle.
Resonant open-pore finish models.
Available left-handed models.
With their slim tapered necks and comfortable string action, Martin guitars are very enjoyable and accessible instruments to play. The balance sits nicely on a strap or lap. A range of neck shapes and widths suit different playing styles and hand sizes. Overall, Martins feel alive, resonant, and natural.
Smooth composite neck with satin finish.
Rolled fretboard edges enhance comfort.
String action optimizable via adjustable bridge.
Lightweight thanks to Lyrachord back.
Onboard pickups and tuner.
Cutaway models improve upper-fret access.
Available left-handed models.
Ovation guitars feature fast thin necks and low action for excellent playability. The smooth satin finish and rolled fret edges create a slick, fast-playing feel. The lightweight composite body reduces fatigue during long performances. The cutaway models provide easy upper-fret access. Overall, Ovations offer modern, slick playability.
Pricing and Value
In terms of pricing, Martin guitars span from affordable entry-level models around $500 to custom-built guitars costing over $5000. Ovation models range from $300 to $2000+. Let’s analyze the value proposition of each brand.
Entry models around $500-700.
Upper mid-range $1500-3000.
Flagship models $3000-5000+.
Custom builds $5000+.
Retain value well over time.
Quality consistent across price tiers.
Martin’s pricing reflects the hand-crafted labor and top-quality materials that go into their guitars. Even some of the lower priced models like the DX1AE use the same construction techniques and attention to detail as pricier Martins. This makes them a great value. The resale value on Martin guitars remains quite high over time as well.
Entry models $300-500.
Mid-range models $500-1200.
Flagship models around $2000.
Custom models $1200-2000.
Consistent construction across tiers.
Good value, especially mid-priced models.
Ovation’s efficient manufacturing and materials sourcing allow them to offer instruments at very competitive pricing. Many of their mid-range models offer excellent bang-for-buck with great electronics, playability, and sound quality. Their state-of-the-art production techniques ensure consistent performance across price points.
Availability of Models
In terms of availability, Martin guitars can be found at nearly any music shop thanks to their broad distribution network and wide product catalog. Ovation has a smaller distribution footprint, but remains readily available online and at many retailers.
Carried by most music stores and chains.
Numerous models at various specs and price points.
Custom builds available through Authorized Martin Builders.
Easy to try out and purchase.
Martin guitars are stocked by guitar dealers across the world. The breadth of body shapes, tone wood combinations, and price tiers makes it easy to find a Martin model that fits your preferences and budget. Their dealer network makes finding and trying Martin guitars convenient.
Carried by many music chains and online retailers.
Mid-range has most variety of models.
Limited distribution compared to Martin.
Custom builds via Ovation Custom Shop.
May need to shop online for wider selections.
While not as ubiquitous as Martin, Ovation guitars can be found at many guitar retailers, especially online. The mid-range price models offer the most choices. Ovation’s custom shop allows for unique designs. You may need to expand your search beyond local stores to find some models, but Ovations are readily available if you look.
Best Uses and Strengths
While both quality instruments, Martin and Ovation excel in different scenarios.
Perfect for accompanying vocals.
Consistent vintage acoustic tone.
Recording and studio use.
Jazz, country, folk genres.
Solo guitar playing.
Premium all-solid-wood construction.
With their balanced warm tone, resonance, and quality craftsmanship, Martin guitars sound amazing for vocal accompaniment and solo playing. The vintage character fits perfectly with folk, country, blues, and jazz. Martin invented the dreadnought – their acoustics define the classic acoustic guitar sound.
Amplified live performance.
Electric guitar-like playability.
Contemporary pop/rock styles.
Reliable electronics and tuning.
Gigging and touring.
Ovation’s Lyrachord bowl-back projects excellently amplified, with clear balanced tone. The low-action composite neck and cutaway models make Ovation a top choice for electric players transitioning to acoustic. Their durable construction and quality electronics handle touring and gigging with ease. If amplification and reliability are priorities, Ovation excels.
Pros and Cons
To summarize, here are the key benefits and tradeoffs when choosing between Martin or Ovation:
Timeless vintage acoustic tone.
All solid-wood construction.
Resonant, full sound.
Excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Consistent quality across line.
Holds value extremely well.
Traditional style not for everyone.
Electronics an additional cost.
Heavier than composite models.
Models with premium tone woods cost more.
Excellent amplified acoustic tone.
Modern ultra-playable neck profile.
Lightweight and comfortable body.
Onboard electronics on most models.
Durable composite construction.
Great quality-to-cost ratio.
Synthetic top not as resonant as wood.
Limited acoustic volume and projection.
Electronics can cause feedback issues.
Lesser resale value compared to Martin.
Some don’t like synthetic aesthetic.
Which is Better for You?
Deciding between Martin and Ovation comes down to your budget and needs as a player. Both are excellent guitar brands.
For authentic all-wood tone and craftsmanship, Martin reigns supreme. If your priority is vintage acoustic sound for vocal accompaniment or solo playing, Martin is likely the best fit for you.
If you prioritize modern amplified tone and playability, especially for pop/rock styles, Ovation’s innovative designs really shine. The integrated electronics and composite build make Ovation ideal for gigging and recording.
At the end of the day, there’s no universally “better” option. Choose the guitar brand whose strengths align closest with your needs as a musician. With quality craftsmanship and iconic status, you can rest easy choosing either Martin or Ovation as your next guitar. Whichever you select, it will serve you well for many years and songs to come.
Which brand is better for beginners?
Both Martin and Ovation make excellent beginner models, but Ovation’s lower cost entry-level guitars give them the edge for beginners on a budget. The Ovation Applause line provides great playability and electronics for only around $300-400.
Which brand is more expensive?
Martin guitars can reach higher prices overall, especially for premium all-solid-wood models. But both brands have entry-level models in the $300-500 range. Ovation provides greater value for the money in the mid-range prices.
Which brand is better for live performance?
Ovation’s acoustic-electric models with integrated pickups and preamps project beautifully amplified, making them a top choice for live gigging. Their bowl-back shape also improves acoustic volume on stage.
Which brand has better craftsmanship?
Martin’s meticulous hand-crafted construction and attention to detail give it the edge in premium acoustic guitar craftsmanship. But Ovation’s precision manufacturing and quality components also result in well-made, consistent instruments.
Which brand has more “vintage” sound?
With their all-wood construction and traditional designs descending from 19th century acoustic guitars, Martin embodies a beautiful vintage acoustic tone. Ovation has a more modern voice geared toward amplified settings.
Which brand is more comfortable to play?
Ovation’s thin composite necks, smooth satin finish, rolled fretboard edges and lightweight body make their guitars uniquely comfortable and fast playing. But Martin’s slim taper neck also provides excellent playability.
Which brand has more body shape options?
Martin wins for diversity of body shapes and styles. Their catalog includes classics like the 000 and dreadnought along with jumbo, travel, and crossover designs. Ovation focuses mainly on their iconic roundback shape, though offers shallow or deep bowl depths.
Which brand holds value better over time?
Martin guitars typically retain their value exceptionally well, especially vintage models. Ovation guitars depreciate more over time but provide great bang for buck when purchased new. For resale value, Martin is the better brand.