This has shown up on YouTube, wanted to repost it here. A wonderful documentary on Kamaka Ukulele.
Sam Kamaka Jr.
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., 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
Antiques Road Show was currently in Honolulu, HI. While there they stopped at the Kamaka factory. Not a long piece, but it needs to be here 🙂 Enjoy, it is at Chapter 10 of this video.
George Harrison was a huge advocate for the ukulele. He loved playing them, and even giving them away. On one trip to Hawaii I was told a story that George would go around the island and buy all the Kamaka’s he could find (now I don’t know if it was a certain size he was after, or if he just bought any and all), and he would then give them away.
Below you’ll find a letter that George wrote on Flea Market Music letterhead about the ukulele as well as videos of George playing some of his Kamaka’s.
I’ve had this ready to post for a little while, just got sidetracked. Eddie donated his Kamaka HF-3 to benefit Ferry County Rail Trail Partners (FCRTP) a little while back, and they auctioned the ukulele off on ebay.
This ukulele sold for $17,100, anyone know what the most expensive uke ever sold was???
Here is the info, and photos from the auction:
“This Kamaka ukulele was purchased new from Dusty Strings music shop in Seattle by Pearl Jam’s lead vocalist Eddie Vedder. It was lightly used for a period by Vedder only and is now being auctioned to benefit Ferry County Rail Trail Partners (FCRTP). Vedder has been a longtime supporter of FCRTP and now you can become one too. The winner of this auction becomes a lifetime FCRTP member just like Eddie.
Bonus materials included: Eddie provided a hand written note as well as personal guitar picks and stickers that will accompany the ukulele. In the note he states that this ukulele was used during the recording of his just-released solo CD Ukulele Songs. Also of note: The canoe photo with the [I ♥ Ferry County] sticker was taken by FCRTP president Bob Whittaker during a recent visit with Vedder and the picture is featured prominently on the songbook. YES, this is this same ukulele in the songbook photo that is up for auction here. You can Google Ferry County Rail Trail to get to our website and see more details.
100% of the proceeds go directly to FCRTP, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in northeast Washington State. Their mission is: To preserve the rail corridor for the long term economic benefit of Ferry County and create a non-motorized trail.”
Kamaka HF-3 serial no. 110387
Here is one of the most beautiful Kamaka’s ever made. It was a 1 off Custom that Casey built using an amazing set of Master Grade Koa. The inlay work was done by Craig Lavin and features the Hawai’i state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
I got to see and play this while at the NAMM show this year, and it is an amazing instrument!
It is for sale at Hawaii Music Supply (one of my favorite ukulele shops), you can see more of it, and even buy it HERE. I hope it finds a good home!