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Thread: Ovation MM68AX

  1. #1
    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Ovation MM68AX

    I recently picked-up a new Ovation MM68AX.

    I was looking for a sub-$800 acoustic-electric 8-string mandolin that would be practical for a rough-house environment, and would sound good plugged-in in a mix with other electric instruments and drums.

    After some research I decided that either the Ovation MCS148 or the new Ovation MM68AX would be my best choices, and last weekend I found a great deal on an MM68AX. She arrived yesterday.

    Here are some initial impressions:

    Appearance:
    This is a very attractive instrument (pics below). There are a couple of rough finish spots on the side of the Ebony board, and maybe a few thick finish spots on the top around the soundholes, but all-in-all, its appearance is very good. Grade: B+

    Playability:
    Playability upon arrival was decent, but not noteworthy. Although there is a nice, noticeable radius on the fretboard, the fretwire is quite small. (Seeing that this a-e is clearly aimed at guitar players who want to throw some mandolin spice into their playing periodically, it seems odd that Ovation doesn't use larger, more guitar-like frets on these...Oh, well). The action was high for my tastes (about .09" under the G at the 12th fret). However, after watching the Ovation video on adjusting action, I was confident I could lower the action when I installed the new strings, and I did so with very minimal effort. Unfortunately, the action at the nut is also slightly higher than I like (though I will be able to live with this for now). On the plus side the neck is straight and true. Grade: B-

    Tone:
    I was surprised by how much I like the acoustic sound of this instrument. There's not much depth, but the tone is clearly defined and quite distinctive. I will certainly be taking this to a few acoustic jams to see how it fares.
    Of course, plugged-in is where this instrument is designed to shine, and this one sure does. It has an excellent, distinctive, clearly-electric plugged-in voice. The pre-amp in this mandolin works great to drive a tube amp into that welcomed warm distortion.
    Grade: B+

    Overall:
    All-in-all this instrument provides me with exactly what I was looking for, and will be a welcome addition to my jamming & playing out arsenal. To qualify my enthusiasm, however, I should point out that I got this instrument at a considerable discount off the current street price. I do not think I would recommend purchasing one of these for $800, considering the 148 is available for $500. In my estimation the street price on the MM68AX needs to be $700 or less to make it a good value.
    Grade: B

    Pros:....................................Cons:
    Sounds great plugged-in!.........Small fretwire
    Looks great!..........................Merely average factory set-up
    Unique look and sound.............Difficult to access battery compartment *
    Comes with an excellent case...Not a good value at street price

    * - any tips on how I can get in the hatch? I can loosen/remove the screw but the cover will not come off.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    The back-plate has three "legs" that are used as vises by the center screw. When you loosen the screw rotate the plate and push it to the side to slide a leg out and then slide it to the opposite sides of the the other two legs and free them. Accessing the battery is an even bigger pain...

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    Celtic Bard michaelpthompson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by Eddie Sheehy View Post
    Accessing the battery is an even bigger pain...
    Not if your hand is small enough to fit completely into the hole.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    There may be four legs on the hatch. It's a tight fit and total PITA.

    I was so afraid that you'd say just what you have. None of those shortcomings are true of the US made MM-68. Even for the set up out of the factory. The real MM-68 comes with no less than six inspectors signing off on it and it's ready to play out of the box (the only mandolin I know of that can boast that). Even that case is not an MM-68 case. It obviously isn't just an MM-68 made overseas, it's a different instrument.

    I guess you're right that it would be OK for a little less, but I was really hoping you'd completely contradict Ted's appraisal of it. Thanks for the generous, open-minded review. I'm sure you'll get a lot of use out of it, and congrats on getting a good deal.

    Do me a favor and shine a light inside once you get the hatch off. See if there's a hex nut showing through the heel inside the body. That's the sign of a truss rod instead of a graphite neck.
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Thanks for the posts here, as well as for all the private messages and e-mails. They were very helpful in my quest to remove the hatch and change the battery! Mission accomplished (after almost 30 minutes)!

    The hatch and battery compartment for the Ovation mandolins is officially the WORST...DESIGN...EVER...!

    Well new battery is in now, and I'm on my way to rehearsal with the Ovation (and my ever trusty, go-to, Eastwood Warren Ellis GDAE tenor guitar).

    Tim, there is definitely a truss rod. Here are the pics of the inside you requested...

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    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    That's very disappointing. They've had ample opportunity to change that design and more than enough customer feedback to justify it. The only real complaint I've ever had about the instruments.

    OK, so the AX is not simply the MM-68 made overseas. Well, that question is answered at least.

    Thanks in turn to you, ED, for taking the time to post the review and pics. Your putting a few questions to rest.
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    A couple of more questions when you have a moment Ed, if you don't mind.

    Are the tuner buttons glued on or are there the little screws on each?

    Looking at the resin of the body in good light, is it dead black or a very dark brown color? (And yes people, it's a very advanced resin material, not cheap plastic!)

    Are the epaulets mounted in relief to the soundboard surface (sticking up about 1/32") or are they inlaid flush to the soundboard?

    Is the Ovation logo inlaid brass?

    Thanks!

    Oh, and you'd asked me earlier about mando-quintad bracing. You're now looking at it. No way to describe it except that it's a modified guitar bracing.
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    Are the tuner buttons glued on or are there the little screws on each?
    The tuner buttons are screwed on. Also, the buttons themselves are beautiful. They have a "cloud-like" figure in them. Actually, every element of the headstock of this mandolin is quite impressive and attractive IMO.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    Looking at the resin of the body in good light, is it dead black or a very dark brown color? (And yes people, it's a very advanced resin material, not cheap plastic!)
    Dead black. No doubt (we are having a super-bright sunny day today, and I took the Ovation out to the backyard to check).


    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    Are the epaulets mounted in relief to the soundboard surface (sticking up about 1/32") or are they inlaid flush to the soundboard?
    Perfectly flush to the soundboard.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    Is the Ovation logo inlaid brass?
    Yes...and it's done beautifully.

    Oh, and Tim, you were right about how these stay in tune. I was banging on it pretty hard during a couple of songs last night and when I took it out of the case this morning it was perfectly in tune.

    Finally, here is a demo video I just recorded of the MM68AX. Please forgive the sound quality during the "clean amplified" demonstration. I am using the internal mic in my Dell webcam to record this and I couldn't for the life of me get it to record the clean channel without over-modulating. It seems to record the overdrive channels no problem, but it doesn't like the clean channel (no matter how low I set the mic volume or the amp volume). Also, please forgive some of the sloppy playing. Let's blame the combination of me spending 90+% of my time on tenor guitar and the high action at the nut on this mandolin.

    Thanks to everyone for the feedback. I'll probably be getting that set-up sooner rather than later. The poor nut action makes it really difficult to play in the first two frets, but the more I play this, the more I like it, and it does sound great amplified (both clean and over-driven).

    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    I talked with my tech yesterday about the set-up. He's recommending replacing the Tusq nut with a handcut, vintage bone nut, saying it would bring out the sound (especially the acoustic sound) immensely.

    However, I know that many electric players favor Tusq nuts claiming they enhance open string sustain.

    Since I'll be playing this plugged-in 90% of the time, I'm wondering which way I should go on the nut.

    Thoughts? Has anyone upgraded the nut on their ovation to bone? Results?

    Thanks.
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    My approach to it, and only my personal opinion, is that other than adjusting the action to suit your taste I wouldn't change the nut. Though the instrument makes an acoustic sound and a number of players will perform with it unplugged from time to time, the Ovation is first and foremost an electric instrument. The engineers at Kaman could have used anything they wanted for the nut, yet they settled on Tusq. Everything about the mandolin's design and construction is there to develop that specific amplified tone. If its acoustic sound is pleasant to you that's a nice plus, but the plugged in sound is the purpose for the instrument to exist.

    Oh, and thanks so much for answering the other questions and for the video!
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Goist View Post
    I talked with my tech yesterday about the set-up. He's recommending replacing the Tusq nut with a handcut, vintage bone nut, saying it would bring out the sound (especially the acoustic sound) immensely.
    ...snip...
    Well, the more I play the Ovation through an amp, the more I like it's electric voice. The amplified sound on this A/E is better than anything I have heard equipped with after-market electronics. Ovation certainly gets the amplification part right!

    I also really like the look of the instrument.

    On the other hand, I can't stand the playability, especially when compared to my acoustic mandolins. I guess it turns out that I can't live with the poor action after all, and I just don't want to live with those tiny frets.

    So, I've decided to have the full-range of work done on the Ovation...
    Radius to be enhanced to 10", complete refret with 80X40 wire, bone nut, and full set-up.

    My hope is that I'll end up with a super-easy playing mandolin with the great Ovation electronics and looks.

    We'll see. I'll report back when the work is complete.
    Last edited by Ed Goist; Sep-20-2012 at 9:58pm. Reason: fixed typos
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Ed, I recommend starting slower. The largest effect will be felt by getting the nut and action height right. Save the fret job for a while; there is no advantage to doing it now, ditto radius change. Radius and frets at the same time does make sense, but I will bet that the string height at nut and bridge is the main culprit so start with that. Maybe even just get the nut slots lower and don't ask for a bone nut, will save you lots of time waiting for it to be done. Get a new nut if you alter the fingerboard in the future.
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Hi Tom; interestingly what you outline above is exactly what I was originally going to do, but as soon as my tech (a good guy whom I trust) saw the nut he cringed (very poor cut, fit and slotting). He strongly suggested a new nut, and since the nut was coming off (and since I hate small frets), I asked about the refretting.

    Then I asked about doing all this in two trips, and it turned out there was a decent economy (of both time and especially money) to do everything at once. However, (and unfortunately) you're also right about the long down time for the full single job - I'm looking at ~4 weeks.

    Fortunately I'm now primarily a tenor guitar player, and I'll still have my acoustic mandolins.
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    I'm guessing right about now that used MM68 is starting to look real good.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    I admired Ovation when it was the first dedicated acoustic-electric guitar, and for their efforts at employing carbon-fiber composite materials. More recently, I looked to see if they offered a 10-string mandolin, since I wanted guitar-ish tone.

    A shame that the AX is so rough. Best luck with it
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    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by delsbrother View Post
    I'm guessing right about now that used MM68 is starting to look real good.
    Still happy with my decision to go with the new MM68AX. I'm confident the flaws are all non-structural, and fixable by a good tech. Also, the price I got, combined with the estimate for the playability overhaul will still put me under my budget for an A/E.

    If I end-up with an instrument that has both the Ovation A/E electrified tone, and the exceptional playability that comes with a 10" radius, large frets, and a good set-up, I will be one happy camper! If not, well...Live and learn.

    I guess now I'm "in for a dime, in for a dollar".
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
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    ISO TEKNO delsbrother's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Goist View Post
    Also, the price I got, combined with the estimate for the playability overhaul will still put me under my budget for an A/E.
    Well, in your OP, you said your budget was under $800. There's a US made MM68 in the classifieds for under $600 shipped. I think you're already in the "live and learn" stage.

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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    I'm surprised that the US MM-68 is going for such a low price. A couple of years ago that would have been reasonable for a '95, but I really expected some price gouging when the news came out about the AX.

    I for one am very grateful to Ed for going through all this. He is, to the best on my knowledge, the first to give us an in-depth review of the instrument. Kind of the guinea pig for the AX on the Cafe.

    Since I know that radius and fret size are entirely personal choices, those issues don't influence my opinion of the instrument as delivered; that's just the Ovation design envelope. I'm a bit disappointed about the nut and action. Those items are more indicative of the Applause and Celebrity models that don't get the thorough set up and intense inspection of the US made MM-68. I expected there to be some corners cut to lower the price to that degree, and I assumed those corners would be in inspection and QC.

    From all that Ed has said so far, it sounds to me like the new AX is more of an upgraded Celebrity than it is a re-sourced 68, which is to say, it sounds like there's a fourth mandolin in the Ovation family.
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  20. #19
    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    "Visions of a 10" radius and large frets danced in my head"

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    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
    "What a long, strange trip it's been..." - Robert Hunter
    "Life is too important to be taken seriously." - Oscar Wilde
    Think Hippie Thoughts...
    Gear: The Current Cast of Characters

  21. #20

    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    I bought an ovation mandolin once. just to have as a beach or party beater . the only thing I liked about it was the no hassle return policy at the store I brought it right back to . it played all right i just did not like the acoustic tone of it .

  22. #21
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    They're not for everyone, that much is certain. Glad you had an open mind to try it though. A number of folks I know have bought them for acoustic use (often because of their near indestructibility) but have been disappointed. The Ovation sound comes from being plugged in. Any acoustic appeal is just gravy.
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  23. #22
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    +1

  24. #23
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    It's like those large-body, archtop Jazz guitars with magnetic pickups. Do they make a sound when you strum them unplugged? Sure. Can you play them acoustically? Of course. But that's not the point of the instrument. Ovation mandolins are like that.
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  25. #24

    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Quote Originally Posted by Tim2723 View Post
    They're not for everyone, that much is certain. Glad you had an open mind to try it though. A number of folks I know have bought them for acoustic use (often because of their near indestructibility) but have been disappointed. The Ovation sound comes from being plugged in. Any acoustic appeal is just gravy.
    I have to agree with your assessment . I all ready had good performing instruments so I bought it as a tough beater . the action and neck was decent and has a great plugged in sound . I tried a cheap epiphone also but could not stand it either . so I have no beater mandolins .

  26. #25
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    Default Re: Ovation MM68AX

    Finding any 'beater' that sounds as good as your favorite performance instrument is a tough nut to crack. Beaters, almost by definition, are going to be less quality.

    I use the Ovation unpugged when practicing, and the sound is fine for that, but for my uses a beater is an acoustic instrument and I want a good acoustic sound even from a beater. Ovations don't do that for me either. They have to be plugged in to work and so they make lousy beaters.
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