Oceana Ukuleles: Meet Your Maker

Amongst the videos of the Wine Country Uke Fest that have been uploaded, I noticed a few from Oceana Ukuleles. I wasn’t at all familiar with them, so to get myself up to speed I threw a few questions and Oceana mainman Zac Steimle.

How long have you been making ukuleles and how did you get started?

As an artist I have always been fascinated with the dynamics between instruments and musicians…. . The beauty and and mystery that surrounds an instrument! In 1995 I worked for a few months with a Luthier in Quito Ecuador, and that experience really piqued my interest. About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship with a world class luthier in Southern Ecuador that specialized in small instruments. All my passion and love fell into this work… as a surfer and surfboard shaper I found an easy flow into this art… It is fun to see all the different things I have done in my life come together and make great ukuleles and other instruments!

What sort of players are your ukuleles aimed at?

Oceana Ukuleles are aimed at people who love and play music. So far our buyers are both players and professional musicians….. but I’m not sure we’re aiming our Ukuleles at one group or the other, we just make great instruments that bring the best out of the people that play them!

What separates Oceana from other ukuleles?

The biggest difference between us and most Ukulele companies is the simple fact that we truly hand build the Ukuleles, we hardly use any power tools. What that means is that we spend a lot of time with each piece of wood that goes into a uke. We get to know it’s voice and we are able to utilize the wood so it reaches its maximum potential! We are building Ukuleles with the same techniques and traditions that the best builders used 80 to 100 years ago, but also bringing some great new school elements in as well. We don’t fabricate ukuleles we create them!

What do you think makes a great ukulele?

Music is very personal and the instrument you play is an extension of yourself. A great ukulele is an instrument that you want to play because it draws the music out of you. You will find a new song, one you did not know you had in you being expressed because the Uke you are playing is that good!

Some of your ukuleles have unusually placed sound-holes. How does that change the sound? Or is it just for show?

You must be referring a Kasha braced uke I built as an experiment, the sound hole was placed down by the first string and has a different look. I also built an Acoustic Bass Guitar with an off set sound hole, both these instruments have unconventional bracing that push the sound hole off to one side or the other…. other than that most things on our uke are where you would expect them!

We have not been simply following plans as we developed the Oceana ukulele but have been constantly refining our sound and look. For the past 5 years we have been putting them in the hands of musicians and working with their feed back. That means we have moved some things around. Our ukes have great playability and sound.. the balance is so smooth, none of this is an accident.

What made you choose to set up shop in Ecuador?

My family and I were living in Southern Ecuador working with a small non-profit clinic providing health education and care in rural communities. We came to respect Ecuadorians the more we worked in their culture with deep traditions that were birthed with the fusion of the Incas and Spaniards. In many ways Ecuador is a time bubble 10,50 and in some times up to 100 years behind many western countries, this is not mean in the “development” sense but rather in a very positive way such as, social values, connectedness, time not valued as we value it and that way more patience is applied to the craftsmanship. So building ukuleles in Ecuador was a natural step in the process. It was fun to see the Ecuadorians react to the “pulgas” (uke) I built and hear new melodies coming alive! One huge advantage to living high in the mountains of Ecuador was the perfect year-round relative humidity and tempter to build instruments.

After nearly five years of working with the Master Luthier he remains an integral part of Oceana Ukuleles. He is building ukuleles in Ecuador and now I’m building ukuleles in the North West of USA…We build instruments that your grandkids will fight over!

Enjoy your day and play music!

Visit Oceana Ukuleles.

View Comments

7 Comments

  1. Dan October 28th, 2009 6:53 pm

    “The biggest difference between us and most Ukulele companies is the simple fact that we truly hand build the Ukuleles, we hardly use any power tools.”

    Anyone know if using only hand tools results in a better instrument? I’m willing to pay more for quality, even if that quality lies mostly in visual aesthetics, but I don’t want to shell out extra for needless labor.

  2. Jeff / HumbleUker October 29th, 2009 2:26 pm

    I was at the Northern California Wine Country Ukulele Festival for only about 5 hours. I always want to stay longer but had some promises to keep. I spent quite a bit of time talking to the guys in the Oceana both. They were one of about 20 fine luthiers. They had something the called a Supa’lele which was a five fret short beautiful guitar ADGCEA. My ukulele buddy Bob “DaDawg” from Santa Cruz swiped it up into his collection without much hesitation!

    I thought that the rosette designs were quite beautiful and perhaps they have an Equadorian flair. See the Oceana site gallery. The fronts were quite thin and the polish was much like my DaSilva ukulele. And the prices were a bit lower that other custom luthiers.

  3. todd October 29th, 2009 4:31 pm

    checked out their site…..very beautiful indeed….

    someday……one high end baritone uke

    and one high end concert uke :)

    thanks for sharing Al,

    todd

  4. Woodshed October 29th, 2009 10:18 pm

    Dan: I would guess it depends on the skill of the luthier.

    Jeff: Oh, I think I saw a video of Aldrine playing that Supa’lele.

    todd: I keep thinking I should get a really nice ukulele. Can never bring myself to spend that sort of money on a uke though.

  5. Jordan September 8th, 2010 2:52 am

    Does anyone have any concrete feedback on these ukes, based on experience? How do they compare to names like ko’olau and kanilea? Very tempted to get one of these beautiful ukes, but there’s hardly any info about them online and I have no idea how they sound.

  6. Fred February 27th, 2012 12:58 am

    Went to WinterGrass in Bellevue, WA yesterday. I met Zac and got talk a lot about his philosophy. I got to play a number of his creations in every size. When I played the Baritone my wife said, “It’s singing with you. You have to have this.” When your wife tells you you have to have a hand made uke, you don’t question her. I put it down for a few hours last night to get some sleep and picked it up as soon as I got up this morning.

  7. Woodshed February 27th, 2012 1:44 pm

    Fred: That’s a fine wife you have there!

Got something to say?