Oscar Schmidt has been around for a very long time, remarkably. Founded in 1871, it has a tumultuous history and has produced a wide variety of stringed instruments. Eventually, following the death of its founder in 1929, it was acquired by innovative guitar maker Washburn. In recent years, Oscar Schmidt has been catering to beginners and people seeking affordable, quality instruments. These include acoustic and electric guitars, basses, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles. I’ve received the OS-300 in surf blue (also available in other colours at Best Buy), a Stratocaster style guitar that promises to deliver a classic tone with tremendous bang for your buck.
I’ve filmed my impressions of the instrument and recorded some sound samples in the following video.
Strat style guitars
Stratocasters are a very well known type of guitar that are used by many artists. Although their design has evolved over the years, the basic principals remain the same; a guitar comprised of a neck bolted onto a 3 pickup body that features (usually) a floating tremolo. This configuration inspired many musicians to create timeless music. Legendary artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jeff Beck recorded some of the most recognizable Stratocaster tones.
For an undetermined reason, I couldn’t find the official specifications of the OS-300 on Oscar Schmidt’s website. The choice of woods for the neck and fretboard seem to follow conventional Strat construction: maple and rosewood. While they are usually made out of Ash or Alder for the body, in this case it’s impossible to say unless you strip the guitar of its finish to see what’s underneath.
The tremolo follows the traditional approach. It’s 6 screws, which gives it 6 pivot points. This makes for a stiffer feel and limits the range of travel. You can wrangle a pretty deep dive, but going higher in pitch is very marginal. Although this sounds limited, it does produce a distinctively aggressive and springy tone; Jimi Hendrix used this to great effect. It’s also great for creating beautiful, ambient vibratos—excellent for recreating the playing styles of music from the 60s. Just keep in mind that if you want to have a larger amount of tremolo action (a la Jeff Beck), this might not be the bridge for you.
The controls for the electronics are the usual 3 knobs and switch you’d find on any Strat. The knobs control the volume for all the pickups, and the two others will affect the tone or the amount of brightness of the pickups. The switch selects which pickup is actually in use at that time.
Apart from the guitar, included in the box is a 1/4 inch jack that you’ll need to plug the instrument into an amplifier. There’s also the whammy bar used to control the tremolo. As is the case with most guitars, there’s also an Allen key tool to adjust the neck relief of the instrument. Although this might seem daunting at first, with all the information available online, it has never been easier to keep your guitar in tip-top shape and as playable as possible. Even if you are a beginner, I highly recommend looking into it, considering the climate conditions in Canada.
Affordable, but good sounding
The OS-300 was quite delightful to play. Out of the box, it came well set up and easy to fret. No noticeable sharp frets or unpleasant buzzing either. The glossy neck is comfortable to play and has that vintage style stick to it. I happen to enjoy this type of finish, but it may not be your cup of tea, so keep that in mind. The fretboard has a traditional amount of frets: 21. This is one less than modern variants, but most of the best music ever written was composed on 21-fret guitars anyway!
Although I couldn’t find any sort of information about the electronics, the 3 pickups sound good and are quite usable. I didn’t have any sort of issues with any of the 5 positions, and no matter the type of Stratocaster tone I was going for, the OS-300 delivered. I really appreciated the singing quality of the pickups in any setting: clean, gainy, or saturated.
The amount of noise was also quite tolerable. Being single coils, these types of pickups can emit a noticeable amount of hum when used in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th positions. This is simply a physical phenomenon related to the guitar’s construction and not a defect. When you switch over to the 4th or 2nd, the coils add up, and being inverted in polarity, cancel out this natural hum. Even plugged into my Marshall style amp, the gain set pretty high, and wah pedal on, the amount of undesirable humming wasn’t overbearing. Check out the Voodoo Child example in the video to hear what I mean.
Paying tribute to its roots, the guitar is finished in a beautiful surf green colour. This really goes hand-in-hand with the vintage-style features of this model. The paint job on automobiles from the ’50s is what really inspired this palette, and I find it absolutely wonderful. I actually own a guitar in this finish, and I’m always happy to see it.
However, if you don’t dig the colour yourself (and plenty people don’t), Oscar Schmidt offers this model in different finishes. A natural, transparent finish is available, revealing the wood details underneath. For an incognito look, there’s a fully opaque black colour. Also, two sunbursts are available: a tobacco and a purple. With these many different choices, you’ll surely find the guitar that’s aesthetically pleasing to you.
The OS-300 is definitely a good choice if you are beginning. It’s affordable, easy to play, and based on a timeless design that is very versatile. It is also easy to modify, so as you progress as a guitarist, it’s easy to make little modifications that greatly bring you closer to the type of player you are. If you already own an electric or acoustic guitar, this is a great entry point into the Strat world without breaking the bank.