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I was sent to boarding school to at the beginning of my High School career at the age of 14. I lived with my parents in Windhoek, the capitol of what was then South West Africa (currently Namibia) and although there were very fine schools there, it was already decided that I would attend the same High school as my father did. SO off to Cape Town I went and settled into Rondebosch Boys High, just off Campground Road.
Boarding school was GREAT for many reasons but the BEST thing was that about a dozen or so boys had real guitars with them and they would sit around the day room or the study after hours and play for hours on end. I was absolutely fascinated and would sit and watch them for hours... wishing that I could do the same. Not long after I got them to explain a few chord shapes for me and less than a year later my parents bought me my second instrument, a classical guitar (my first instrument was a 72 bass Höhner piano accordion because my mother had lessons when she was young).
I still own it today although my son, Oscar, currently has custody of it. I played that poor classical guitar to death for the rest of my school career and only acquired my first steel string guitar about six months after attaining my Senior Certificate. I was working a part-time job for the father of a girlfriend of mine and there was a small music shop near the office. I used to spend time there over my lunch hour and one day plucked up the courage to ask if I might play one of the stunning jet black Ibanez steel string guitars in the sound proof booth. It was love at first touch. <3 There were a few boys at boarding school with steel string Martins but the action, tone and volume of this Ibanez was just heavenly. I absolutely HAD to HAVE IT.
I think I had enough money for the deposit and probably borrowed the rest from my father to make up the balance at the time. I then spent 2 years national service in the South African Navy on ships based in Simonstown Naval Base and another 2 years at a technical college trying to study Graphic & Commercial Arts. In 1984 I got first proper job working for an Audio Visual production house and in around 1985 I walked into Melody Inn in the Cavendish Square Mall and saw my very first Ovation Elite.
I was familiar with Ovation guitars already as there were two fairly well known musos gigging around town with circa 70's balladeers. One was André de Villiers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmEhfSGRlSg) and the other was Joshua Sithole - one of the only or probably THE ONLY black muso gigging the white restaurants and pubs in Cape Town before the end of apartheid in 1994. I also was a regular member of the very active Barley Corn Folk Club. They used to, and still do, meet every Monday night for an open mic and drinks session. Quite a few balladeers appeared on the Barley Corn stage too around the early 1980's.
So this jet black Elite 1537 was like nothing at all that I had ever laid my eyes on. I could not stop staring at it. It was also priced completely out of my lifestyle ;( but the kind fellow that ran the shop worked out a deal me to pay it off with monthly installments that I could sort of afford. I think I laid down about R95 a month for about 4 years for a total of around R4500. Which was about the same price as a cheap second hand car in those days.
But I took it home in its molded brown Ovation case and treasured it like no other. The action and clarity was just unbelievable and nothing like my Ibanez. It literally felt like the chords played themselves.
I had played a few one man gigs with my Black Ibanez a few times in a downtown steakhouse but I did not own any amplification myself and had to borrow from a very kind acquaintance. So I never did get to gig with my Elite at all. Over the years I collected quite a few more steel acoustics... mostly sad patients that needed a bit of TLC but all of them with very unique and very beautiful characters of their OWN.
I had started getting deeply into the finger style playing and traditional folk of John Renbourn, Leon Redbone and Leo Kottke. I also started experimenting with open tunings and slide. I spent most of my time playing the Ibanez or a very light and bright vintage Höfner 6string for the last 37 years. I have taken the Ovation out on various occasions to show it off to people that understand what it is but it was never my 'go to' instrument.
Only recently since just before xmas 2020 when I lent my Höfner to my daughter Hanna to try and decipher a few chords, have I put the Elite on the guitar tree right next to my desk - within an arms reach. SO only now am I playing it for about an average of 2 to 3 hours a day and I must say, I don't know why I left it in its case for so many years. But I suppose we all grow and change attitudes and likes and dislikes and our creative musicality changes with time and with us.
I was fortunate enough to go and see the Incredible Joan Armatrading playing in solo concert in a theater in Johannesburg about 3 years back. Her music and voice has always been an important part of the backing track to my life as well as the amazing music and lyrics of Jim Croce. Both of them Ovation devotees.
I look forward following all of your stories and to many more years with my treasured 1983 Elite 1537.
I will never sell it
My children will one day own it
|I will post photos when I work out HOW TO|
Location: The Great Pacific Northwest
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