1972 Ovation Typhoon V
Ovation built its reputation in the late ‘60s and ‘70s on guitars that maintained a reasonably good acoustic tone when plugged into an amplifier or PA system. The piezoelectric pickups they used were not new technology – Gibson had experimented with them as far back as 1929 – but no brand had successfully marketed them as a way to achieve an acoustic tone before. (Even many of the “contact microphones” sold in the 1960s were actually electromagnetic pickups, as was Valco’s “Silver-Sound” unit). However, despite being remembered almost entirely for acoustic-electric guitars, Ovation did actually produce electric instruments for well over a decade.
This bass is representative of the first series of Ovation electrics. They are collectively known as the “Electric Storm” series due to their model names: the Typhoon bass, Thunderhead, Tornado, Eclipse and Hurricane guitars rounded out the lineup. Two Typhoon models were introduced in July of 1968: the Typhoon I featured a single pickup while the II had two, and the III (introduced a year later) had two pickups and no frets. These featured hollow bodied made by Hofner with double cutaways and short horns, with Ovation necks bolted on. By 1970 it was obvious that none of these basses were taking the market by storm, and the line was revamped. The existing models were replaced by the Typhoon IV (fretless) and V (fretted), both featuring two pickups and slightly different Hofner-built bodies. Both would last until 1973, and would eventually be replaced by the slightly more successful Magnum bass series (1974-1982).
This Typhoon V demonstrates that Ovation were nothing if not innovative. The body appears to have been purchased from Hofner with all the routing completed, since the control layout is identical to Hofner’s model 4572 guitar. The finish was almost certainly applied by Ovation, since it not only imitates the textured fiberglass of their round-back acoustic guitars but also covers the binding. That’s right, up close you can actually see the lines where the binding goes around the body and f-holes. While these basses were available in conventional nutmeg and red finishes that left the binding visible, this black finish is closer to an epoxy than a conventional lacquer. While it may not be as visually appealing, it does have to advantages: it doesn’t check, as the other finishes were prone to doing, and it is exceptionally durable. This bass is not far from mint cosmetic condition as a result.
The bass has an unusual wiring scheme as well – the toggle switch will surprise players expecting a conventional 3-way pickup selector. The first setting engages both pickups, but out of phase; one or the other can be selected by itself by turning down one of the volume knobs. The middle position features both pickups in phase, and either volume control works as a master volume in this position. The third position engages only the bridge pickup, but with a capacitor in place that produces a sound heavy on the mid-range. Curiously, these are very different options described in a brochure for the Typhoon IV; I don’t know if Ovation chose different settings for the fretless model or if they simply changed their minds at some point.
Either way, the bass has a wide range of sounds available. These are further enhanced by the spring-loaded mute, which can be engaged by holding the palm down on the bridge cover while playing. It’s a slightly awkward arrangement that produces a sound with limited uses, but that could describe any number of contemporary instruments. The bass is very easy to play due to the 30” scale and medium-profile neck. My example is mostly original, the exception being the posts and thumbwheels under the bridge. It originally featured a screw that adjusted the angle of the neck; this has been removed for unknown reasons, but has been replaced by a couple of shims.