Optical parametric oscillator (OPO) and amplifier (OPA) devices are useful for spectroscopic sensing of chemical processes in laboratory, industrial, and environmental settings. This is particularly true of nanosecond-pulsed, continuously tunable OPO/OPA systems, for which we survey a variety of instrumental strategies, together with actual spectroscopic measurements. The relative merits of OPO wavelength control by intracavity gratings and by injection seeding are considered. A major innovation comprises an OPO with a ring cavity based on periodically poled lithium niobate (PPLN) and injection-seeded by a single-mode tunable diode laser (TDL). Active cavity control by an 'intensity dip' method yields an optical bandwidth ≤ 0.005 cm-1 (150 MHz), which compares favourably with the performance of advanced grating-tuned OPO/OPA systems. A novel adaptation of this TDL-seeded PPLN OPO employs a compact, inexpensive multimode pump laser, with which it is still possible to obtain continuously tunable single-mode signal output. Cavity ringdown (CRD) spectroscopy also figures prominently, with infrared (IR) CRD spectra from both grating-scanned and TDL-seeded OPOs reported. Finally, a tunable ultraviolet (UV) source, combining a TDL-seeded passive-cavity OPO and a sum-frequency generation stage, is developed for measurements of time-resolved IR-UV double resonance spectra of acetylene and UV laser-induced fluorescence spectra of nitric oxide.