Archive for June, 2011

Kamaka Factory Thru the Years

Posted in History, Photos on June 23, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Sorry these photos aren’t the greatest.  I’ve searched for higher resolution copies, but can’t find any.  If anyone has any better photos please let me know!

1814 South King Street

Years Occupied: 1921-1952, 1953-1959

550 South Street

Years Occupied: 1959 – Present


Kamaka Ukulele factory hits all the right notes

Posted in Articles on June 23, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Kamaka Ukulele factory hits all the right notes
Yvonne Michie Horn

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sam Kamaka is showing me the original pineapple ukulele. It’s oval, not the usual nipped-in-at-the-waist model. His father, Samuel K. Kamaka, designed this one around 1916, he tells me, and when it was finished, a neighbor exclaimed, “It looks like a pineapple!” With that, she took it home and painted its box with thumb-size yellow and green ovals.

Sam turns the pegs on the “pineapple” to tune the strings to “My Dog Has Fleas.” I ask for a song, mentally settling back for a rendition of “Aloha Oe.” Instead, “Little Brown Jug” comes as a bit of a jolt.

We are leaning against a smudged display case, because there is simply no place to sit in the cluttered Kamaka Ukulele factory in Honolulu. What is not covered with stacks of dusty files and record books is covered with ukuleles or bits and pieces of ukuleles.

Kamaka Ukulele has been making the instruments for more than 90 years, Sam and his bother Fred following in their father’s footsteps. Fred, immaculate in a well-pressed aloha shirt, takes care of the “numbers.” Sam oversees production. “I’m the one covered with sawdust,” he says, taking a swipe at his blue jeans. Both Fred’s and Sam’s children are also involved in the business.

After several moves over the years, Kamaka Ukulele has headquartered since 1959 in a two-story concrete-block structure at 550 South St. Once painted blue and now rapidly flaking to its beige undercoat, it sits in the shadows of sleek offices. A casual motorist driving by would think it closed.

That’s far from true. Inside, the golden age of the ukulele continues with the handcrafted manufacture of thousands of instruments a year, ranging in price from $100 student ukuleles to near $2,000. In addition, there are custom orders to fill. Sam picks up a just-completed model with a giraffe-like neck ordered by a banjo player. What is it called? Sam studies it quizzically. “A banjlele, I guess. If they want to pay, we don’t mind.”

Most Kamaka ukuleles remain in the Hawaiian heartland, with only 3 or 4 percent sent to music stores out of state. Ukulele is a required subject in some of Hawaii’s elementary schools, taught by kapuna, older folk well versed in Hawaiiana. Kamaka supplies more than 1,000 child-size ukuleles to the program every year.

Added to the orders is a parade of repairs – dropped or sat-upon ukes, as well as old and precious but neglected instruments.

The material of choice is koa, indigenous to Hawaii, hard as mahogany, beautifully straight grained and increasingly difficult to come by because of stringent harvesting restrictions. The koa comes from the sawmill cut in pieces the size of railroad ties. The wood is warm brown when it arrives at the factory, where it ages outdoors for four years until, “like senior citizens,” as Sam puts it, the lumber turns gray.

Inside, 18 people work at their stations, each a perfectionist at a step in the creation of a perfect ukulele. “There’s not a lot of turnover,” Sam says. “One has been here since 1972.”

Sam and I shuffle through wood curls and sawdust back to the front of the shop, where he again picks up his father’s pineapple. He gives the strings a strum and twists the pegs to “My Dog Has Fleas.” Once again, “Aloha Oe” comes to mind. But Sam swings into “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy …”

Yvonne Michie Horn last wrote for Travel on Willits (Mendocino County). E-mail comments to

This article appeared on page M – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Kamaka Ukulele Sound Differences

Posted in Videos on June 22, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

I stumbled across this on YouTube.  Hawaii Music Supply made this great video where they compared all the C tuned Kamaka Ukulele.  Great to hear the differences.

The Building and Builders of Kamaka

Posted in Videos on June 11, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Couple more videos.  The 1st one highlights the making of Kamka ukulele.  The second one is about some of their workers.  Kamaka in the 50’s began to hire deaf workers, and that video talks about that.

Kamaka Labels & Their Dates

Posted in Dating Your Kamaka Ukulele, History on June 10, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

One of the best ways to date your Kamaka (if the date stamp is gone) is by the label and headstock logo.  Here are the different interior labels, and their dates.

I am missing some of them, and some of these are not that great or clear.  If you have any better photos feel free to email them to me.  Thanks!

Pre 1928 Pineapple Label Non-Patent

1928-mid 30’s Pineapple Label

mid 30’s – ? Pineapple Label

1920 Label

c. 1920’s – ?

(reads KAMAKA Genuine Hand-Made Ukuleles Since 1916 / Kamaka Ukulele Factory / Honolulu 19, Hawaii)

I’ve been trying to find out exactly when the first Concert size ukulele were made.  By the font of this label, I would assume this Concert was made in the 1920’s.  Also, it may not have been a regular model at this time, as they specifically mentioned that it was a “Special Concert Size”.

Gold Label 1954-1969

Special Label used by Sam Kamaka Jr on ukulele that he personally made.  This one is dated May 1, 1969.

White Label 1969-2001

Current Label 2001-Present

Updated June 23, 2011

Kamaka Factory Tour Videos

Posted in Videos on June 10, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

A series of 3 videos.  Thanks to wickedwahine11 from Ukulele Underground for the links!

Kamaka Headstock Decals

Posted in Dating Your Kamaka Ukulele, History on June 9, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Here are the Kamaka headstock decals.  Along with their years.

Pre 1920

20’s thru mid 30’s

Mid 30’s thru ?

The Pineapple headstock decal, but with a silver painted brass pineapple charm glued to the headstock.  Kamaka left a message about this headstock decal.  This was not done at the Factory.  This was done either by individuals or a store.  Thank you for that info!

Beginning in 1954, until 2001, the trademarked Double K decal was used.

Late 60’s Gold Label “Short” Tiki Headstock

Early 70’s Tiki Model Headstock

Then beginning in 2001, the Double K logo became an inlaid logo, with Mother of Pearl.

I hope this information helps you to date your Kamaka!