Jake Shimabukuro’s Ukulele

Here’s a random selection of emails I wake up to in the morning:

– What type of ukulele does Jake Shimabukuro play?
– What sort of uke is that Jake uses in While My Guitar Gently Weeps?
– Where can I buy a ukulele like Jake Shimabukuro plays?

OK, I’m exaggerating. But I get enough enquiries to make it easier just to write a post.

Jake Shimabukuro custom Kamaka ukuleleShimabukuro plays a custom Kamaka tenor ukulele by Casey Kamaka. His first ukulele, at the age of 4, was a Kamaka and he’s been using them ever since.

If you want to buy one, you’re pretty much out of luck. In 2006, Kamaka made 100 Jake Shimabukuro Signature Model ukuleles. These ukes were made to Jake’s specifications and individually inspected and signed by him.

Despite a hefty price tag of $5,500, demand for them was over whelming. So much so they decided to have a raffle to determine who could buy the ukuleles. By January 2007 they were all gone. If you manage to find one for sale, expect to pay much more than the original price (at least double would be my guess).

The Nerdy Stuff

Body: Curly Koa
Fingerboard: Ebony
Bridge Ebony: Ebony
Binding: Rosewood
Inlays: Mother of pearl and abalone
Tuners: Gold Schaller tuning keys
Pickup: Fishman Acoustic Matrix

Photo: BotheredByBees

View Comments


  1. seeso May 11th, 2008 6:58 pm

    Do they all have slotted headstocks?

  2. Woodshed May 11th, 2008 10:14 pm

    You’ve got me stumped with that one, Seeso.

  3. Bernie May 13th, 2008 6:34 am

    They’re fucking ukuleles. 5500 for any kind of instrument short of like a piano or something is completely ridiculous.

  4. Rilrod May 13th, 2008 7:18 am

    Hey Bernie, looks like you don’t understand how a signing can increase an instrument’s value. Jake is like, the ukulele master. This is like the equivalent of a signed Satriani guitar. Plus, what’s wrong with ukes anyway?

  5. Nelson May 13th, 2008 6:34 pm

    I don’t really understand having the same exact instruments as famous musicians…like my friends Gibson Les Paul…
    I mean, you gotta make it your own!
    Get a kick-ass quality uke and rock it yo’ own style…
    I don’t like copying.

  6. Woodshed May 13th, 2008 6:47 pm

    Bernie: I don’t think the size of the instrument has any influence on its value. Making a high quality ukulele is a very skilled job. Getting a slim, even width of wood is incredibly important – much more so than something like piano.

    Rilrod: Having Jake’s seal of approval definitely adds a huge amount to the price.

    Nelson: Me neither. But Jake fans do seem to want to be exactly like him. It makes me cringe seeing players doing Jake impressions.

  7. Randy May 26th, 2008 7:58 pm

    I’d be more interested in what type of pickup he uses. I’m sure whatever pickup it is can make any uke sound good.

  8. Minamin May 26th, 2008 10:39 pm

    I feel the same way about all these guys trying to be like Jake. Although, if I were any good I’d try and play just like Roy Smeck, so to each his own.

  9. Woodshed May 27th, 2008 5:46 pm

    Randy: I believe he uses Fishman Acoustic Matrix NT1 pickups.

    Min: Hmm, me too probably.

  10. Paula May 29th, 2008 4:13 pm

    Here’s a photo of Jake playing in SF, where you can more clearly view the ukulele — http://www.flickr.com/photos/inkvision/1358342571/

  11. Woodshed May 29th, 2008 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the photo, Paula. Nice shot. And great blog you’ve got there.

  12. Andrew September 4th, 2008 8:00 pm

    randy: you said its the nT1…how do you know this? i was thinking it was the infinity one

  13. PhilUSAFRet September 30th, 2008 11:35 pm

    Reason so many want to sound like Jake is that no one has ever played the uke like Jake before. Of course, without his technique, nearly all will fall dreadfully short of his nearly unbelievable skill level. You can have a uke like Jake’s, but if you can’t play like Jake, it won’t sound like Jake’s (for the most part)Best of luck trying though.

  14. Where Can I Find Ukulele Tab for Jake Shimabukuro’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps? | Ukulele Online October 28th, 2008 8:36 am

    […] Or, if you want to make your own version of the tune, there’s a tab of the ‘bare bones’ of the tune here. […]

  15. Jinxter May 29th, 2009 8:34 pm

    You think £3600 ($5500) is expensive for a top quality instrument?
    I play violin and good orchestral instruments start at £10, 000 ($16,000). A student violin like mine is about £1000 and to complete the ABRSM grading system up to grade 8 would probably require an instrument costing over £5000 and don’t get me started on the cost of bows!

    I’ve just bought a Pono and although there are far more expensive ukes, I doubt they would sound much better in a blind test.

    In my opinion instruments should be bought for their playing qualities, not investments.

    (I also own a Les Paul, but I ain’t Pete Green)

  16. Woodshed May 30th, 2009 7:14 pm

    Jinxter: No, I think it’s a hefty amount of money.

  17. Jinxter June 1st, 2009 12:33 am

    To me £3600 is also a hefty amount. No uke should cost more than around £1000. The rest is what people are willing to pay above the cost of production. Maybe I should become a luthier!

  18. Jake Thurman June 17th, 2009 6:34 pm

    I’m not sure if this thread is still active but I had a chance to play Jake’s Kamaka last night and I’ll just say this; It was the most amazing, beautiful, incredible object I have ever seen/handled.

  19. Woodshed June 17th, 2009 7:55 pm

    Jake: Wow!

  20. Randy June 17th, 2009 9:07 pm

    Jake- and do you remember what pickup he had installed?

  21. Jake Thurman June 18th, 2009 3:19 am

    I didn’t think to get a good look at it because I was in awe but I’m pretty sure its a Fishman Matrix passive pickup.

  22. ray June 29th, 2009 5:48 pm

    i was one of the winners of the raffle and am still waiting for the ukulele..apparently they have not all been made yet. i check in with them once a year and they are still making them

  23. Woodshed June 29th, 2009 9:35 pm

    ray: Blimey, they’re taking their sweet time over that.

  24. David August 5th, 2009 10:38 pm

    My brother met Jake and jammed with him at a concert (after Jake performed, not onstage) and told me his strings felt…heavier than traditional Da’dario’s (excuse my spelling). Do you know what strings Jake uses?

  25. Keoni September 25th, 2009 7:08 am

    Jake Shimabukuro stays at my uncles house when he hits a jam in LA, not allowed to tell anyone though

  26. Woodshed September 27th, 2009 12:00 pm

    Keoni: You’ve told all the internets now.

  27. Bob December 13th, 2009 5:34 am

    David: He uses the D’Addario Classical Guitar strings rather than ukulele strings.

  28. Woodshed December 13th, 2009 10:06 am

    Bob: Thanks for the info.

  29. ray March 12th, 2010 8:19 pm

    still waiting for my uke

    ive emailed kamaka numerous times this year and they dont respond. maybe something fishy is going on

  30. ray April 30th, 2010 9:23 pm

    my Jake Signature model has arrived!!!

    It is beautiful!!!

    Beautiful curly koa, abalone inlays, mother of pearl initials – and Jake’s signature inside

    Number 17/100 was just completed, which means that it takes them a loooooonnnggg time to make each one and 83 other people are still waiting for theirs from the lottery/raffle

  31. daniel maccauley August 3rd, 2010 3:16 pm

    i’d really like to know more about how jake strings his uke with classical guitar strings ??

  32. ukulele dan August 7th, 2010 4:35 am

    where does one bye a kamaka in australia

  33. dan August 8th, 2010 6:30 am

    how would you compare kamaka to koa aloha ukes and in your expert opinion which would be the best buy,

  34. Ed November 6th, 2010 5:51 pm

    Just received my Jake signature ukulele, number 25/100. It’s all what it’s supposed to be and more.

  35. Joe December 4th, 2010 6:45 am

    I have the opportunity to buy a signature uke, but cannot afford to keep it. Please let me know if someone would like to make an offer for it.

  36. Gillian January 5th, 2011 8:18 pm

    I was at the Kamaka factory on Dec. 7 2010 and was told by Fred Kamaka that Jake was in there the day before checking out and approving his signature ukes, so there should be more of them on the way soon to those lucky raffle winners.

  37. Aloysious March 20th, 2011 3:37 am

    Number 22 is on ebay right now, it’s buy it now price is $7995.00; or you can place the first bid at $7,250.00.

    The buy it now price is less than one of Honer’s best harmonicas.

  38. King May 9th, 2011 6:11 pm

    Would like to buy one? Anybody want to sell the raffle, please offer me.

  39. Sam June 8th, 2011 6:50 pm

    They handcraft them, then Jake gets to mess with them to make sure their up to snuff. I’d be willing to wait 6 months if Jake S. was quality testing my uke, lol.

  40. Woodshed June 9th, 2011 12:21 am

    Sam: Yes, that does seem like a bottle-neck in the process.

  41. Mikkel July 8th, 2011 11:08 am

    Just a little ekstra tidbit for the “nerdy” section – the uke Jake plays has a mahogany neck.

  42. Woodshed July 8th, 2011 1:37 pm

    Mikkel: Thanks for the info. Good knowledge.

  43. kileki poquiz September 19th, 2011 4:41 am

    the whole point here is, it would be AMAZING to have his ukulele, but i think you’ll be better off buying a regular kamaka… because i play an Ohana ukulele, and a Lanikai, they are made the same, so wouldnt the others sound the same?

  44. lia November 4th, 2011 4:27 am

    is there any ukulele with sungha jung signature? like his ukulele..

  45. Woodshed November 4th, 2011 7:44 am

    lia: He did do a signature model with aNueNue.

  46. bigchiz December 30th, 2011 4:28 am

    Heard an interesting story tonight. In 2006, the second time Jake was in Lincoln Nebraska, practicing for a performance the pickup came loose on his Kamaka ukulele. Our local luthier repaired it and was was well received at the concert in the 2,200 seat Lied Center for Performing Arts. The luthier later discussed the topic with Casey at Jakes request.

    Another unrelated fact about a different performance venue in here. November 12th 1971, Pershing Municipal Auditorium. Lincoln Nebraska was the first time that the band The Doors took the stage without Jim Morrison.


  47. Woodshed December 30th, 2011 2:28 pm

    bigchiz: Thanks for the info.

  48. Steph January 5th, 2012 7:17 pm

    I think it is cool that Jake could help Casey make some extra money from people who have that kind of cash to spend!

  49. Joe December 30th, 2012 4:42 am

    Does anyone know what wireless system Jake uses when he plays live?

  50. desmirage March 2nd, 2013 3:00 pm

    I just purchased the the Makala MK – T Tenor ukulele. I used to have a Martin Soprano but sold it when I needed some money for a car repair. Still bummed about my Martin but this Makala Tenor is pretty cool. I also prefer playing on the wider and longer fretboard.

  51. Woodshed March 3rd, 2013 1:43 pm

    desmirage: Sorry to hear about the Martin.

  52. Bill March 15th, 2013 12:02 pm

    Bernie et al.:

    the original price for a 1954 Stratocaster was less that $300 USD (about $2,500.00 in 2013). Today that same instrument would be $40,000 for one that has been damages or modified. Their top of the line Uke’s go for #2K plus. I’ll bet one of Jake’s signed ukes will appreciate similar to other desirable vintage instruments – and the fact that these are limited supply – free market economics will drive that price perhaps even higher than an old Strat. IMHO

  53. Woodshed March 16th, 2013 8:15 am

    Bill: That depends on whether the ukulele stays popular. If it falls out of favour the prices will plummet again.

  54. Gregoire March 29th, 2013 1:39 pm

    As a custom luthier/instrument maker I’m often faced with the question of pricing my instruments. My ‘ukuleles are not “fucking ‘ukuleles” or toys or Waikiki souvenir crap, they are fine musical istruments that can take more than 350 hours to create by hand. $5500 price tag for a hand crafted, solid koa wood ‘ukulele is a bargain. Add the provenance of a celebrity signed ‘ukuelele and it’s a treasure!

  55. casey April 20th, 2013 10:49 pm

    It would be nice to have a Jake shimabukuro Uke but personally id rather have the skills. I have heard and know its true give him any uke he sounds like Jake if you have his uke I guarantee it wont make you sound like him

  56. Sun Tzu September 13th, 2013 2:42 am

    Um I think the original question was to get a Ukulele that was that good….. I doubt if you have to spend over $300 to get an excellent Ukulele….

  57. Barbara October 15th, 2013 10:11 pm

    Perhaps this has been mentioned somewhere else, the strings that Jake Shimabukuro uses are the d’Addario J71s.

    Some find them too mellow, others adore them; to each his own…

  58. Woodshed October 16th, 2013 7:19 am

    Barbara: Thanks very much for the info.

  59. Vic January 10th, 2014 8:18 pm

    A raffle just to buy a Kamaka uke? That’s nuts. Not even the Steinway piano people do that and they are in very high demand. I’ll never buy a Kamaka product because of this. I have a Martin Baritone; they aren’t made anymore either, but I don’t see Martin having freaking raffles. Get over yourselves, Kamaka. Train more people and employ more.

  60. Woodshed January 11th, 2014 5:03 pm

    Vic: They are ten times worse than Hitler.

  61. Greg August 19th, 2014 2:33 am

    Here is a nice little Collings Tenor Uke for just under $3000.00. All you need now is a signature on it!!!


  62. Rodney July 21st, 2015 9:58 pm

    I think the raffle was needed because of the high demand and fairness. You’re definitely not “out of luck” if you’d like a Kamaka. Besides the models they offer, you can contact them with special custom requests for materials and inlays. My wife and I ordered a “special” tenor for our anniversary and are completely blown away by the look, quality, playability, and sound of it. We just love it.

    If you’re ever on Oahu, take the factory tour with Fred Kamaka. It’s amazing. It sounds like their employees all have a long history with them and it really is a small family business.

    I’ve toured Kanile’a as well and Joe Souza and Fred Kamaka both talked about not being able to meet the demand for buyers world wide, but they’re the size businesses that they are, and still hand build all of their instruments. The tours definitely gave me a greater appreciation for their instruments, and it’s so worth it to make the time to try to meet these families and their businesses.

  63. Alan Souza March 14th, 2018 8:18 pm

    I’m interested in what the string spacing is at the nut and the bridge saddle. Is the neck a normal length or longer and how wide is it at the nut.

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