Saturday, August 18, 2012
Oscar Schmidt Ukes, Old and New
Well, I mentioned that I'd quit my job, and naturally, you would think I might have more time to post, but you'd be wrong. I have three clients, added about a month ago, and I'm back to a full work schedule. Ah, well. Happy to be busy with clients I really like.
This post is going to be a look at Oscar Schmidt - the defunct "real" one and the current "fake" one.
I feel it's kind of important to do this because Oscar Schmidt was a company that introduced hundreds of thousands of Americans to music. They built cheap, durable instruments including autoharps, guitars, ukes and banjo ukes under the brand names of Stella, La Scala and Sovereign, and built no-names for several department stores and
So, why is there still a company called Oscar Schmidt out there? Caveat Emptor. DO Not confuse the Oscar Schmidt that operated out of Jersey City with the current manufacturer of the same name: http://www.oscarschmidt.com/ The fact is, the name, lying unused, was picked up by US Music Corporation, and there are now all kinds of Schmidt ukuleles out there, all of them new, many of them quite good, but none of them having ANYTHING to do with the old firm.
OK, enough rant. What are the earmarks of Schmidt banjo ukes? They're pretty recognizable.
Headstock - headstocks are like fingerprints - and Schmidt's was a three-pointed headstock similar to the one that Martin has always used on their ukes.
Neck and heel - Schmidt's have a very distinctive square heel. No one else did this, to my knowledge. This is a great indicator you've got a Schmidt banjo uke. Where the headstock and neck meet, the carving forms a letter 'v' with curved sides. MOP markers are on the fifth, seventh and tenth frets.
Finish - variable, but distinctive. Schmidt commonly used crackle finish, which was a fairly unique choice, as pictured in this Sovreign here. They also used clear finishes commonly, and frequently used paint. Russet red is very common, but so is black, with green and blue being rare, but wonderfully bright. Pearloid is uncommon, but is seen on the fretboard sometimes and rarely on the headstock.
Resonators - not that common, but when present, they are open resonators without a flange. On resonator models, Schmidt used a unique circular design on the back - pictured here and on the Green model below.
How are Schmidts to play? I've only played one, the thin pot, banded model. Bottom line, this one was not great. The neck was slightly twisted and the pot was out of circular, and it was poorly set up with very high action. I long to play one that's in good shape or well restored. I had a Stella guitar years ago and, though clearly not a Martin, it had a great feel and distinctive twangy tone to it and was a joy to play. I expect one of the instruments that you see here, especially this "Emerald City" belonging to Jake at the Wildwood Flower, must be a lot of fun to play.
That's all for now, as it's getting late. Until next time...keep on strumming.