My visit to Oscar Schmidt


June 21, 2009 by Tim

Tom Ferrone from Oscar Schmidt

Tom Ferrone from Oscar Schmidt

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to tour the U.S. Music Corp. factory in Mundelein, IL Friday. U.S. Music Corp is the parent company for many brands such as Washburn, Parker Guitars, Randall Amps, Oscar Schmidt, and many more brands that we see all the time. I contacted them last week just on a whim. I knew they were in a suburb of Chicago and I am only a few hours away, so I figured that they might let me review a ukulele, a tall order since I do not have a readership at this point. But as luck would have it Tom Ferrone contacted me right away and he asked me to come and see the factory. He Said he would have a few ukes for me to review when I got there.

Tom was really nice to let me come and spend 3 hours there talking and playing.

Very old bell ukulele

Very old bell ukulele

I showed up early, this is my first interview and there was no way I would be late. I walk up to the door and was just in awe of the instruments hanging on the walls, an issue I proceeded to have as I walked around later. I was greeted by the person behind their front desk. I asked for Tom and she asked me to take a seat while she summoned him. I am not a person who can sit when he is nervous, plus there are at least 100+ instruments around me, so I started walking around. There were some of the coolest painted electrics and hand drawn on guitars that are signed by various artists, but I did find the one ukulele on the wall. A bell shaped beauty from the 1920? I looked at it and started to just dream of playing it, but the person behind the desk would have killed me if I touched it, so I did not (at least at that point). Tom Came out to greet me and to show me back to the room that he had setup for us to talk and play, but before we went I commented about the bell, so he walked up to it and handed it to me, in my mind I am saying “RUN HE COULD NEVER CATCH YOU!!”  But alas I did not; I strummed it a couple times, too afraid to try and tune it and gave it good look over. It is a really well made piece, looks old and used but no real wear to speak of. A few things that I noticed were that around the sound hole it has a raised ivory ring, the saddle is just carved from the bridge, and it smelled like a combination of new wood and dust. (I looked inside to see how it was constructed, I did not just put it up to my face and smell it, that would be weird)

Tom led me down a hall with some of the coolest/weirdest guitars from various artists. We ended up in the room pictured below. You can’t see all the ukuleles on the table, but there were 10 different types plus my OU-2. When someone say “I will have a few to play” You do not expect 10, it was awesome!! Never mind the other instruments on the walls. I hope to have a room like this in my house before I die.

The "Playroom"

The "Playroom"

The Ukes on the table.
I only had a few hours with them all, so the reviews will be brief.
If my readership goes up I am hoping I can have a couple for longer.
(* = I will review very soon)
OU250Bell – NSA Review
OU7T – NSA Review
OU26 Wide neck Proto type – Ultra wide spacing, I think it will turn into a 6 string uke

During my time there Tom and I talked about many things and I toured the electric guitar factory (Washburn and Parker are made there). At this moment Oscar Schmidt is selling 21 different ukuleles that are made in Indonesia, but setup here in the states. I asked why Indonesia? Tom explained that they have many types of wood farms and access to woods that many places do not have. He made it a point that many instrument woods are not from forests that are cut down, but reclaimed woods, such as the koa, for the most part, has been harvested from trees that were blown down in a huge hurricane a few years back. Oscar Schmidt uses 6-7 different types of wood to make their ukuleles, and they are always looking for better and more environmentally friendly ways to make their instruments. The main goal of Oscar Schmidt is to make affordable, quality instruments. Some companies will use woods that are not ready to be used for instruments, but they dry their wood for 6 months to a year, and will kiln dry most of it to make sure that it right. Otherwise they could not stand by their warranty, guaranteeing that it will not warp or crack for the lifetime of the instrument. I did ask a few pointed questions, there seemed to be nothing off limits. I asked why they are not selling the nicer $200+ ukes under the Washburn name? He quite simply said that would be too confusing and that the O.S. brand is strong with people. I also asked about the quality issues from a few years back that people where seeing. Tom explained, that was when they switched from China to Indonesia. Mainly for quality and the resources that it offered. We proceeded to talk about the individual instruments, which I will talk about in the individual reviews that I do. But he did give me some insight into what is coming. O.S. is never stagnant, Tom is always thinking of ways to improve the instruments.

Prototype neck beside a regular neck (OU26)

Prototype neck beside a regular neck (OU26)

Things in the works:
6 string OU2 called the OU26
X-mas packages containing the uke, a case, a book and maybe a DVD
Thinner wood ukuleles
Perforated bracing system (Possibly for better/louder sound)
 Thinner neck profiles

I would like to thank Tom Ferrone again for putting up with me for as long as he did. Watch for the reviews of the ukuleles that I played to start coming this week.

12 thoughts on “My visit to Oscar Schmidt

  1. Sharon says:

    I think Oscar Schmidt makes a tenor uke cutaway with electronics – but I don’t know the number on it – Heard it played at an event and sounded great. Do you know which one it is?

    • john mitchell says:

      Maybe OU6TE. I believe that is the koa wood instrument. I don’t think they make the version in another wood. You might check the OS website. John

  2. Romain says:

    I have just got an OS OU225SWK wish is a polished finish. The sound is pretty bad but not sure if it’s due of the strings. The C cord does a buzz sound which is pretty ugly. Does anyone know if it can come from the strings? Any help? Thanks

    • Dag says:

      Buzzing strings can come from any number of sources, including finger positioning on the frets.

      However, here is a quick list of items I would check:

      1) Swap the strings for a set of either Aquila or Martin (I am not a fan of D’Addario). If strings are chipped, nicked or kinked, this can lead send bad vibrations that cause buzzing.
      2) Check the alignment of the nut (at the top of the fret board). If it is not aligned properly or if the grooves are not straight, this could be the cause.
      3) Check the bridge (the strip of plastic that raises the strings at the tie off). If it is too low, then the strings are not being held high enough from the fret board leading to, voila!, buzzing.
      4) Find a straight edge (one that has been trued), and hold it between the strings along the length of the fret board. This is to check to see if there are any frets higher than others. This can also detect if the neck itself is not true.

      In the cases of bad nuts, bridges or high frets, you can affect quick repairs yourself (if you are careful). Nuts and bridges can be replaced. High frets can be sanded down with emery cloth. If the neck is not true or twisted in some other way, then send the instrument to Jack White of The White Stripes because there is little to nothing you can do to fix the issue (Jack likes warped instruments).

      I hopes this helps you address the buzzing issue.

  3. Romain says:

    By the way I have got some hilo strings hight tension doe the sound should improve?

    • Tim says:

      I am about to post on this. I do not review an instrument right when I get it. It can take upto 2 months before it will play at its best. Now if it is buzzing or whatever, take it back or contact OS about it.. They are really cool with getting it right.

  4. Martian says:

    There is a youtube video with some hipster playing a cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland ,1945” with an OU225swk and it too had a slight buzz on the C. I’m trying to find a link so you can see for yourself but so far my searching is fruitless. I’m sure it’s not a flaw in the design though. Also, a trip to Oscar Schmidt’s wonderful factory has always been an offshoot dream of mine, thanks for letting me partially live it. :3

  5. Cesar says:

    Hi, I´m about to buy an OS ou280swk, would you recomend it?
    How it sounds?, Im looking for a all solid koa ukulele, and it is the only one I can afford.
    Please help me decide.
    Thank you very much!

  6. One of the Warner Bros Nephews says:

    I am EXTREMELY DISPLEASED….. I just purchased an OS uke.

    First look it was pretty, but the sound was dead, and in a big rush I couldn’t fully try it out or look it over…. Very high gloss, tiny abalone inlay is no comparison to a Kala I have that is also electric, I didn’t like the wood pattern layout, but the OS by Washburn Logo looks good, but due to everything it’s not what I would put my name on
    I had to pay a high price to have music store order it for me and then waited a long time.

    I have a lot of details I am completely pissed off about this OU7, lousy construction, DULL DEAD SOUND……. And a few other details I will give them a chance to explain and correct. Or I go on a major campaign against Washburn.

    I will never buy another instrument without taking it home to inspect for a couple weeks now… NEVER ONLINE or SPECIAL ORDER….

    I now need to see the finished product and FULLY TEST IT!!!… I don’t have time to sit around and wait for a pile of crap to show up from some lengthy back order

    From now on in any music store I won’t look at Washburn because this is so terribly bad in quality.

  7. cesar says:

    for the same price you can get a kelii concert koa, is solid koa body whit mahogany neck and rosewood fingeboard rosette ad nut, is a very nice uke and sounds great.

  8. Dennis Chia says:

    I wonder if anyone out there has the address of the manufactuter or sales office of the Oscar Schmidt makers in Indonesia, as I would be holidaying in Indonesia soon. I would like to visit their workshop or sales office.

  9. Lynda Fall says:

    I bought an OS 3 with the Aloha on the headstock in the spring of 2009. The E string frequently buzzes. I think the tuner peg needs to be reset. I have 7 ukes. A concert Bruko, a Koaloha tenor (low G), a RISA uke srick, a Wasburn baritone, the OS 3, and a Beansprout concert and a really realy old Clarion soprano. The OS 3 is a great one to practice on. I have never changed the strings! It has great note hammer on effect on the A string. But I must deal with the buzz soon.

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