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Jake Shimabukuro completes goal of repairing 100 ukuleles for Hawaii public schools

Posted in Articles on January 6, 2017 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Jake Shimabukuro completes goal of repairing 100 ukuleles for Hawaii public schools

Jake Shimabukuro completes goal of repairing 100 ukuleles for Hawaii public schools

The new year is looking bright for many of Hawaii’s public school students thanks to the efforts of ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro.

He’s completed a project he started last August to repair 100 damaged Kamaka ukuleles in Hawaii’s public schools.

Shimabukuro stepped in, often times repairing them while he was on touring around the world.

He says he wasn’t sure if he would be able to complete the project by the end of the year, but with some hard work and a little bit of help, it paid off.

“But if you had asked me two months ago I would have said no way we’re going to finish this but the last week I had a lot of help,” Shimabukuro told KHON2. “For me, I went to Ala Wai Elementary School where we got a ton of ukulele from Ala Wai and those were the Kamaka that I learned on.”

The refurbished ukulele will be given back to the schools within the next few weeks.

Shimabukuro says he’ll continue working on repairing as many ukulele as he can.


Meet the Hawai‘i Family That Makes the World’s Most Famous ‘Ukulele

Posted in Articles, History on January 6, 2017 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Meet the Hawai‘i Family That Makes the World’s Most Famous ‘Ukulele

Or download it here


Kamaka family.

Making ukuleles for nearly 100 years – Kamaka Hawaii still strumming along

Posted in Articles on August 28, 2015 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Making ukuleles for nearly 100 years

Kamaka Hawaii still strumming along

July 19, 2015

Because of the popularity of the four-stringed instrument, a family-run island business has been around for 99 years.
Everyday, employees of the Kamaka factory shape, sand and meticulously craft more than a dozen ukuleles.

But instead of being known for the quantity of instruments it produces, Kamaka is known for its quality.

“Our instruments are made to last generations, passed down to son or daughter and then grandson or daughter. So we have to make our instruments to last a lifetime,” said Fred Kamaka Jr., the business manager for Kamaka Hawaii.

The same could also be said of the business itself. It has been passed down between generations of Kamakas.

“This business was started by my father Sam Kamaka Sr.,” said 90-year old Fred Kamaka Sr. to a group gathered to the tour the factory.

The family business began back in 1916.

“Everything made in Hawaii at the time was high pitched like the violin, or mandolin sound,” said Fred Kamaka Sr.

But Sam Sr. discovered a way to make the little ukulele sound bigger.

“One of the reasons we survived is my grandfather invented the pineapple ukulele, which made his name and his business,” said Fred Kamaka Jr.

For 99 years, Kamaka Hawaii has been making small instruments that make a big impression on musicians.

“the ukulele is a happy instrument. I love the sound and what I can do with it, that includes sharing a part of me through the ukulele,” musician Bryan Tolentino said.

Sharing is a big part of the ukulele’s universal appeal. The instrument is tiny enough to be taken anywhere, and can often be found when groups of local friends get together.

“We grew up that way. Friends after school would pick up the ukulele, learn new songs and share what we know with everyone,” Tolentino said.

Chris Kamaka, the production manager at Kamaka Hawaii, uses his talent as a musician to make sure each ukulele sounds perfect before it leaves the factory.

“My dad and my grandpa always told us the bottom line is the sound of the instrument,” said Chris Kamaka.

He is just one of many workers who have a hand in the construction of the ukuleles. It not only takes two dozen employees but also 4 years.
Blocks of koa wood have to be aged properly before they are cut into the pieces that make up the various instruments.
The finished products include the smaller-sized soprano model with the signature pineapple ukulele, three larger models, 6 and 8 string versions, and custom creations.

Because of the pineapple ukulele’s important part of the company’s past something special is being planned for the 100th anniversary next year.

“We’re looking at making a special limited edition model and it looks like it will be a pineapple ukulele,” Fred Jr. said.

As the Hawaii business prepares to turn a 100, there is already a fourth generation of Kamakas working to make sure there will be ukuleles for many more years to come.

Smile, you’re in ukulele country

Posted in Articles on September 22, 2014 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Smile, you’re in ukulele country


September 23, 2014

I blame the heat. The glorious 35-plus degree Hawaiian temperature that turns my skin the colour of a barbecued pork chop and makes me do things I wouldn’t normally dream of doing, such as wearing a bikini, drinking cocktails adorned with umbrellas and, on one particularly unfortunate occasion, attempting the hula.

But nothing sets the humiliation bar higher than learning how to play the ukulele.

This is how the conversation goes: “Wouldn’t it be cool to learn how to play the ukulele in the spiritual home of the ukulele?” asks my husband.

Me: “Yes, but there’s one slight problem. Neither of us knows what to do with a guitar, letalone a baby guitar.”

Husband: “But that’s the whole point of a lesson. Besides, the ukulele only has four strings, rather than the guitar’s six strings, so technically it should be easier to learn.”

I’m still not convinced but we’re on holiday, it’s a beautiful day – as it nearly always is in this cluster of tropical islands strewn across the Pacific – and an adventure of the cultural kind seems the perfect counterpoint to Honolulu’s sun, surf and sloth. If we’re going to make fools of ourselves, we reason, we might as well do so in spectacular fashion.

So we drive across the island to Kamaka Ukulele, one of Hawaii’s oldest and most respected ukulele factories, where we quickly realise our first mistake. “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be playing it,” jokes Fred Kamaka, the 90-year-old son of Sam, who founded the two-storey factory in 1916. It turns out that Hawaii’s distinctive stringed instrument is pronounced “oo-koo-lay-lee” not “you-ka-lay-lee”.

Fred explains how Portuguese immigrants contracted to work on Hawaii’s sugar-cane plantations in 1879 brought the ukulele with them. The locals were captivated by how easy it was to play and carry these melodic instruments, particularly the guitar-playing Sam.

“But dad wanted to incorporate the guitar’s ‘bigger sound’ so he travelled to Europe to learn how these instruments were constructed. He came up with an oval shaped body, which gave him that deeper, richer tone. His friends suggested that it looked like a pineapple and one of them painted a picture of the fruit onto the front.”

And so was born the Pineapple Ukulele, which remains the company’s biggest seller (there are eight other models, including their most expensive, an eight-string monster that Sam designed in 1976 to commemorate the US bicentennial).

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These days, the fourth generation of Kamakas has taken over the company reins.

With the vigour of a man half his age, Fred leads us around the factory, showing us how the ukuleles are constructed out of Hawaiian koa wood which is dried and stretched before the mahogany necks and rosewood fingerboards are added.

It wasn’t so long ago that the ukulele was an object of derision, regarded more as an oddity than a serious instrument. But photos of smiling celebrities in the adjacent shop show how the so-called “happy instrument” has come back into vogue with the likes of Lady Gaga, Bill Cosby, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Ziggy Marley and the cast of Glee being the proud owners of Kamaka Ukuleles. “If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place,” says Jake Shimabukuro, a ukulele maestro who Rolling Stone magazine called “a hero”.

We’re honoured to have the ukulele flag-bearer as our teacher; he’s normally more booked up than Madonna’s plastic surgeon (it turns out that our tour guide is his cousin who convinced him to give us a lesson).

The first and only solo ukulele recording artist in the world, Jake warms up with a rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As his fingers fly across the strings, I begin to understand why ukulele means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian.

And then it’s our turn. Jake hands us an instrument and leads us through the basics of how to hold the ukulele, pluck it and strum a few chords to extract the dainty, nimble sound that’s softer than a mandolin and sweeter than a banjo.

I try my best to mimic Jake’s movements but the chap next to me, a guitar player, has bucket loads more talent and puts me off. Somehow I manage to muddle through the Beatles’ Love Me Do, hoping my passable singing voice will make up for my inept playing. It’s surprisingly hard on the pads of my fingers and I’m thankful when Jake stops to tell us about playing for the Queen, jamming with director Francis Ford Coppola and appearing in the Adam Sandler film Just Go With It.

Against my better judgment, I agree to have another try, strumming along to Incy, Wincy Spider. Neither my husband nor I fare much better the second time around, but I can see how addictive it could be.

“The ukulele is a portal that only very happy people pass through,” says Jake. He’s right: no matter how bad you are, it’s impossible to play a ukulele without smiling. I know, I’ve tried …

The writer was a guest of the O’ahu Visitors Bureau,

– © Fairfax NZ News Article on Sam Kamaka Jr.

Posted in Articles on May 10, 2012 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Sam Kamaka Jr.

Wednesday – April 26, 2006
By Kerry Miller

Correction: In the April 26 MidWeek “Old Friend” interview with Sam Kamaka Jr., it was incorrectly stated that Freddie Kamaka Jr. is the son of Sam Kamaka Jr., when in fact he is a nephew. Sam Kamaka Jr. does not have a son named Sam. MidWeek regrets these errors.

Sam Kamaka Jr.
Sam Kamaka Jr.

Sam Kamaka Jr., the heir to Hawaii’s “ukulele throne,” is enjoying his retirement years. He’s spending more time with family but still keeping a watchful an eye on the business his father started 90 years ago.

“It’s nice to know the ukulele is still popular. I can’t keep up with all the orders that come in,” says Kamaka, the friendly Hawaiian icon who gracedMidWeek’s cover back in August 1989.

“The ukulele has always been our bread and butter.” These days Kamaka spends most of his time at his family’s home in Kaneohe, where “my dad bought property in the ‘30s. We’re still here,” he laughs.

When he’s not at home, Kamaka works with sons Chris, Sam and Freddie Jr. at Kamaka Hawaii Inc., the ukulele company famous for the pineapple-shaped ukulele. In 1916, Sam Kamaka Sr. started the company in the basement of his Kaimuki home. To this day, the same Big Island wood is still used to manufacturer Hawaii’s most treasured musical instrument.

“It’s beautiful wood (and) has good resonance. It takes a lot of patience and time to air-dry everything. Every inch of lumber takes a minimum of one year (to dry),” Kamaka explains.

On March 18, Kamaka Hawaii Inc. celebrated its 90th anniversary with a gala at the Hawaii Convention Center, featuring many Island entertainers, including Jake Shimabukuro, Aunty Genoa Keawe, Benny Chong, Bryan Tolentino and others.

“My oldest son, Freddie Jr., is still active in the business, he manages the office. Chris is so busy with his music, (but) works at the ukulele company in his free time,” says the proud dad. “As long as they’re happy with what they’re doing. It’s been a tradition in the family since my dad got started. It’s been a fabulous journey.”

Chris Kamaka shows off his musical talents playing the bass and fiddle, instruments his dad says he played during his time in the military. Kamaka’s youngest, Kelly, works as a pilot for different airlines, and Dad has made sure “he knows all about the ukulele, too.”

Most of the women in Kamaka’s family are “all are involved with raising children, (but) they love the music of the ukulele,” he says.

In the future for Kamaka Hawaii Inc., Kamaka sees the need to maybe move the company from its current location at 550 South St. in Honolulu.

“Eventually, we’ll have to relocate,” he says. “That’s going to be the next project for the boys.”

– Kerry Miller

Interviews from Kamaka Ukulele Club Japan

Posted in Articles, History on August 3, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Saw these interviews from some of the Kamaka Family.  They are in japanese, but many web browsers can translate now, or you can copy & paste into a translator.


Casey Kamaka

Fred Kamaka Sr. & Fred Kamaka Jr.

Fred Kamaka Sr. & Sam Kamaka Jr.

Carrying on the Kamaka Legacy

Posted in Articles on August 1, 2011 by unofficialkamakaukulele

Originally posted on: Sunday, August 27, 2006 at

Carrying on the Kamaka Legacy

By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sam Kamaka Jr. strolled through Kamaka Hawai’i Inc.’s ‘ukulele factory, waving at familiar faces and sometimes stopping to chat with employees over the loud, high-pitched buzzing of table saws and sanding machines.

The sweet smell of freshly-sawed koa permeated the air-conditioned room, and a haze of sawdust blanketed every surface, from equipment and floors to the faces and clothing of the nearly a dozen factory workers.

‘Ukulele-making and everything that goes with it — the sights, sounds, smells, feel, and most important, the smiles — have always been a part of life for Kamaka, 84, co-owner of the company.

“Oh, it’s just fun going to work,” the semi-retired Kamaka said with a voice as gentle as the wrinkles on his face.

As Kamaka Hawai’i celebrated its 90th anniversary this year, family, friends and fans shared memories of what made Kamaka Hawai’i a world-renowned ‘ukulele maker, as well as hopes for the next generation of Kamakas to continue the family-run business.

“It’s been a fabulous journey,” Kamaka said, beaming.

Company founder Samuel Kamaka Sr., Sam Jr.’s father, learned the craft of ‘ukulele-making from Manuel Nunez, one of the first ‘ukulele-makers in Hawai’i.

When Sam Sr. established the business in 1916, “everything was hand-crafted, and (Kamaka) paid close attention to the sound quality for each ‘ukulele,” said Aaron J. Sala, who teaches Hawaiian music history at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa and is a graduate assistant with the UH Center for Hawaiian Studies.

Thanks to such craftsmanship, which continues to this day, Kamaka has been a household name in Hawai’i and beyond for several generations, added Sala, also a Hawaiian musician who won this year’s Na Hoku Hanohano most-promising artist award for his album “Ka ‘Upu Aloha: Alone With My Thoughts.”

“My grandmother never called her ‘ukulele an ‘ukulele,” Sala recalled. “She never said, ‘Bring me my ‘ukulele.’ She always said, ‘Bring the Kamaka.’ ”


Fred Kamaka, 81, stood outside his second-floor office at the Kaka’ako ‘ukulele factory, gazing at a 1930 photo of his father, Sam Sr., taken in his South King Street ‘ukulele shop.

Beside Sam Sr. was a wide-eyed, 5-year-old Fred, and surrounding the pair were scores of ‘ukulele and guitars hanging on every wall and from the ceiling of the store — known back then as Kamaka ‘Ukulele and Guitar Works.

“If you walked into my father’s shop, he wouldn’t ask you, ‘May I help you?’,” Fred said, continuing to admire the image. “He asked, ‘How many would you like?’ ”

Sam Sr.’s business thrived during the 1920s and ’30s, an era that Sam Jr. nicknamed “the streetcar days.”

“We (Fred and I) used to go there after school and wait for everybody to pau hana and go home,” Sam Jr. said. “We’d see everybody coming in (the store) and the people looking in from the streetcars as they stopped at McCully Station.”

But business slowed considerably for Kamaka after World War II. He would eventually move most of his ‘ukulele-making equipment to his farm in Wai’anae and rent out his South King Street shop to women who ran a clothing and gift boutique.

After Sam Sr. died in 1953, Sam Jr. chose to revive the company. He recalled the kindness of a man named Mr. Murphy, a manager of a music store at Ala Moana Center.

“He encouraged me to make some ‘ukuleles for him to check out,” he said.

With a bachelor’s degree in entomology, the young Kamaka had no solid background in making ‘ukulele or running a business. So he researched the craft, turned to old-time ‘ukulele makers and friends of his father’s for guidance, and sought help from friends with business backgrounds.

“So when I took the first ‘ukuleles in to have Mr. Murphy check out — I brought three of them — he says, ‘I’ll take all the ‘ukuleles you can make,’ ” Sam Jr. remembered, smiling.

The Kamakas were back in business.


During a recent morning at the Kamaka Hawai’i factory, Sam Jr. shuffled through papers in his brother Fred’s office when a head poked through the doorway.

“Dad, uh, your granddaughter called and asked if you’re coming home for lunch,” said Sam Jr.’s eldest son, Chris.

“Uh, I can call her back,” Sam Jr. said and laughed.

For the Kamakas, there’s no escaping family at work, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“They are the epitome of a family company,” said Sala, the UH instructor.

After Sam Jr. took over the business, he renamed the company Kamaka Hawai’i Inc. in 1968. His only sibling, Fred, a Korean War vet, came aboard a few years later. Sam Jr. became the production manager and Fred served as business manager.

The men, now in their 80s and semi-retired, turned the company over to their sons a few years ago; Sam Jr.’s son, Chris, took over as production manager, and Fred’s son, Fred Jr., is the business manager.

Sam’s other son, Casey, restores and repairs ‘ukulele, and creates custom instruments, such as the limited-edition Jake Shimabukuro Signature Model ‘Ukulele, which will be released this year, commemorating the company’s 90th anniversary.

“I’ve known the Kamaka family for many years now,” said Shimabukuro, an O’ahu musician who is now an internationally known ‘ukulele player. Shimabukuro’s latest CD, “Gently Weeps,” features his solo work on the ‘ukulele. It was released in July.

Shimabukuro’s first ‘ukulele was a Kamaka that his mother got when she was in intermediate school.

“Talk about ‘heart,’ you know? They’re just the nicest and sweetest people, and you can feel that in their instrument, too,” the musician said.

The company’s family members are among 20 employees, some of whom have been with the company for so long that they’ve become part of the ‘ohana. That includes George Morita, who was among a group of hearing-impaired workers Sam Jr. hired nearly 50 years ago.

“They had good hands, they were at work every day, right on time, and communication wasn’t a problem because they read lips,” Sam Jr. said. “After a while, it was so easy for them.”

Among other ‘ukulele-making steps, the deaf young men learned how to tap the instrument’s soundboard to feel for the right thickness of wood — a critical step that assured sound quality. Their methods have become legendary among ‘ukulele aficionados.

Back in the factory, Morita was gluing a bridge onto an ‘ukulele when he stopped to chat with Chris, using a mix of sign language and lip-reading. Morita has been working at the company for 49 years — Chris’ age.

“He cannot really hear what the customers are saying or hear the instrument itself, but just by looking at their faces, the pleasure that they have is real fulfilling for him,” Chris said.


In a small room above the factory, contemporary Hawaiian music played on a radio as Dustin Kamaka, 25, plucked and tested the strings of an ‘ukulele.

“He does a lot of the repairs of our vintage instruments,” said Chris, Dustin’s father, while watching Dustin work on the ‘ukulele.

Dustin is among the next generation of Kamakas who may one day help run the family business.

“We’re still going strong,” Chris said proudly. “We’ve got a good group of guys now. A lot of them now are more on the younger side, which is good. There are a few old-timers that are still working hard, too.”

In the immediate future, the company plans to launch its Web site, work with PBS on a special documentary on the company’s history and find a new property to house its growing business.

But Sam Jr. already is thinking about the next major milestone: “My sons and my brother’s son will be carrying on to the 100th anniversary for sure.”

Until then, the family and the company will continue to concentrate on what they do best: creating quality ‘ukulele.

“What Kamaka (Hawai’i) has done is they’ve provided an instrument of such excellence and such high standards that when you pick up a Kamaka ‘ukulele, you don’t look at it as a novelty instrument, you take that instrument seriously and you respect it,” Shimabukuro said. “You want to play it.”

That’s the greatest thing any instrument maker can do, Shimabukuro said.

“Our family loves it, and hopefully they’re going to keep it going,” Sam Jr. said.

Family-run business celebrates its 90th year doing what it knows best: crafting quality instruments

• • •


To commemorate the company’s 90th anniversary, Kamaka Hawai’i Inc. and ‘uku-lele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro collaborated on a limited-edition Jake Shimabukuro Signature Model ‘Ukulele.

The tenor four-string, designed by luthier Casey Kamaka to Shimabukuro’s requirements, will be individually hand numbered and autographed. Among the uke’s features: a premium curly koa body, ebony fingerboard and bridge with Shimabukuro’s logo inlaid in mother of pearl, and gold Schaller mini guitar keys with ebony buttons.

Only 100 of these ‘ukulele will be made. Shimabukuro and Kamaka Hawai’i are conducting a lottery to give would-be buyers a chance to obtain one — at $5,500. Deadline for lottery forms is Thursday. For more, see

Reach Zenaida Serrano at