June 21, 2009 by Tim
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.
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 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.
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.