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Ovation guitar factory in Connecticut is closing

  • Article by: DAVE COLLINS
  • Associated Press
  • April 23, 2014 - 12:40 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. — An Ovation guitar factory in the western Connecticut hills that produced instruments for music legends from Paul Simon to Cat Stevens to Glen Campbell will be closing in June after 47 years and production of the Ovation line in the United States will stop, the manufacturer's parent company told the shop's 46 workers this week.

One former factory worker called it "the end of an iconic American brand."

Fender Musical Instruments Corp., based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and maker of the iconic Stratocaster electric guitar, said in an announcement Tuesday that it was ceasing domestic production of Ovation guitars and closing the New Hartford factory, citing "current market conditions and insufficient volume levels." The company also said it is consolidating production of U.S.-made acoustic instruments.

Ovations will continue to be manufactured outside the U.S., Fender spokesman Jason Farrell said Wednesday. He said Fender also builds Ovations in China, South Korea and Indonesia.

"We are committed to providing the same high quality musical instruments our artists, consumers and customers expect and demand, and will continue to support the brands that are currently being produced in New Hartford," Richard McDonald, senior vice president of Fender, said in a statement.

The factory also has been making Fender and Guild guitars since Fender bought Ovation's owner, Bloomfield, Conn.-based Kaman Music Corp., in 2007. The shop opened in 1967 after Charles Kaman, an engineer who founded Bloomfield-based aerospace company Kaman Corp., developed the first Ovation guitar. Kaman died in 2011.

The factory closing was first reported by the Republican-American newspaper of Waterbury, Conn.

Richard Hall of Winsted, who worked for Kaman and Ovation for three decades including 18 years at the New Hartford plant, told the newspaper that Ovation made the first acoustic guitar that could be plugged in to an amplifier and the company had 66 percent of the acoustic market in the U.S. in the early 1990s.

"It's the end of an iconic American brand," Hall said. "In the 1970s and '80s, just about every big touring band was playing Ovation."

Ovations made in New Hartford have been praised for their craftsmanship and tone. The company's website shows pictures of many music legends playing Ovations, including Simon, Campbell, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Eddie Van Halen, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond and Melissa Etheridge.

A worker at the shop referred questions Wednesday to an official at Fender subsidiary KMC Music Inc., who didn't return a message seeking comment.

Fender officials say the factory closing will affect all 46 workers, who will get severance packages, outplacement services and other assistance.

© 2014 Star Tribune