Kamaka Ukulele

Kamaka ukuleles are one of the most venerable ukulele companies around. The company was started by Samuel K. Kamaka, who had previously been an apprentice for Manuel Nunes (one of the original ukulele makers). They were the only Hawaiian uke makers that survived the war years and are increasingly popular today thanks in no small part to Jake Shimabukuro's endorsement.

Kamaka ukuleles are broadly divided into three time periods.

The ukes from the 1920s and 1930s are collectors items and usually fetch four figures. Kamaka invented the pineapple style ukuleles you'll regularly see examples of these on eBay.

The middle years of Kamaka (the 50s and 60s) are where the real bargains can be found. These ukes are usually referred to as 'Gold Label Kamakas' because of the label in the soundhole. You can usually find these for sale on eBay at a very reasonable price. They aren't the flashiest ukuleles around, but they do, by all accounts, sound good and are very playable. The reputation of these instruments is growing and they could be one of the wisest ukulele investments around.

Kamaka ukuleles have had a big renaissance recently. Their most recent instruments are very high quality and have a high price tag to match. Jake Shimabukuro plays Kamaka ukuleles - a big endorsement of them - which has lead to them becoming very popular.

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Kamaka Ukulele Review

I bought my ukulele in June 1976. My father, being in the Air Force, had been stationed in Hawaii and after 3 years it was time to return to the mainland. I loved living on Oahu but knew I could not afford to stay. I spent the last month soaking up as much Hawaii as I could and one afternoon decided I needed a ukulele. I drove down to the Kamaka factory where I bought my uke and a case. In that last couple of weeks a friend taught me a couple of tunes but on my return to the mainland the instrument went into its case. As I took up my career as a teacher my uke traveled with me, more of a souvenir and curiosity than anything else.

This last year, I had the opportunity to teach my first student from Hawaii. (Not many are found in my neck of the woods here in rural Virginia.) Sitting and talking with his father I mentioned that I used to play around with a uke and I still had it at home. I wasn't prepared for his reaction when I mentioned that it was a Kamaka. I had to promise to get it out, get it in tune, and get to work. So here I am, it is summer break and I am working in garden and when it gets too hot to pull weeds, I pull my ukulele and get to work.

Now, about the ukulele itself, it is I believe, a soprano. Made of Koa, the finish is still as nice as the day I bought it. I have not replaced the strings as of yet since they seem to work well. One of the tuners may be slipping and I will tighten it if needed but I am waiting for the strings to settle down a little from the first real tuning in 30 years.

Probably the best part of the story is that I new my student was Hawaiian and had spent previous summer in that state. I play a lot of different music for my class, everything from jazz to classical. One day I am playing from my collection of world music and my one piece by Iz Kamakawiwo'ole comes up. RJ announces to the class that Iz was his cousin. The discussion that confirmed his story and subsequent talks with his family led to my uke coming out of hiding.

Review by Jim

16 Comments

  1. Terry April 12th, 2011 6:11 pm

    I went to Honolulu and toured the Kamaka factory. Then ordered a baritone. I play it almost every day. I play in a group of about 50 ukulele players. We play for rest homes and senior centers for free and all have a good time. We have marched in fourth of July parades, played at the county fair, and recently played on stage at the Gallo Arts center. I seem to attract ukulele’s and am now up to six. I have 2 Kamakas, a Mele tenor, a Tony Garciano concert, a Kala U-Bass and a cheap concert that I let the grandkids borrow. I love how my Kamakas play (both the bari and the soprano) and wouldn’t trade them for the world. They are truely fine instruments. They are both solid Koa and beautifully matched. Impeccable intonation and incredible volume for acoustic instruments. I live where the humidity is about 45% year round in California and don’t do anything special for them. Have had zero problems with them for the 3 years I have had them.
    :) Terry

  2. Annette Clark August 7th, 2011 6:02 pm

    I have a Kamaka uke that a pilot friend purchased for me in the 60′s. I have loved it and always enjoyed playing it. My children and now my grandchildren play it. I am concerned because I see a small crack and also the bottom of it seems to be coming loose in one spot. Had I realized the value of it, I would have purchased another less expensive one for the beginners to play.
    How do I get it repaired the right way? Send it to your factory?
    Is that something you do? Can you give me any idea of cost? I would very much like it preserved. Thank you. Annette Clark, 530 N 1200 E, Pleasant Grove, Utah 84062

  3. Craig March 16th, 2012 8:35 pm

    I recently bought a Kamaka HF-2, and am delighted by it. I have a lot of solid wood and laminate Kala’s, Lanikai’s, and Cordoba’s. I wanted to see if the extra price tag was worth it. Now it’s spoiling me, and I may have to get rid of my other uke’s. It has great intonation down the fretboard, projects a lot louder, and the wood itelf is flawlessly matched and gorgeous. My only criticism is not really a criticism -I like the deep, mellow tone of koa for many songs, but am thinking of another uke with a little brighter sound to balance it out with. Possibly a cedar top or mahogany. Personal taste, I know. If I had only one uke, it would probably be a solid mahogany, not a solid koa.

  4. Shaun Thomas April 29th, 2012 3:46 pm

    Rang Kamaka direct at the factory in Honolulu. Ordered a HF1 . Had it sent to my home in the uk.
    WOW.
    I’m over the moon with it. Cannot put it down.
    Thanks to the team at Kamaka

    Shaun Thomas. ॐ

    Shropshire
    UK

  5. Blind Lemming Chiffon May 22nd, 2012 4:08 pm

    I bought a Kamaka 8 string tenor when I was in Hawaii 2 years ago. I like everything about it. It’s perfect. Next on my list, when I have some extra money, is to buy a decent-quality baritone, and Kamaka is definitely at the top of the list among those to be considered.

  6. Bruce July 3rd, 2012 2:38 pm

    I have played a few of the HF-3 Tenors, and they were simply outstanding.

  7. Nides Aranzamendez July 11th, 2012 10:31 pm

    I bought my Kamaka HF 3 last year July 13,2011 from Alex at Aloha Ukulele in Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki. I am very happy with the sound and the way it was made. I will buy another one when I go to Hawaii in the future.

  8. Deborah September 6th, 2012 6:55 am

    Just received my Kamaka HF3 Tenor from Elderly Instruments. Its a wonderful instrument. To say I am in love is an understatement. I did change the g string to a low g. Thats the sound I prefer.

  9. Jay Dunning October 25th, 2012 11:56 am

    I just love your site and your opinions. They are very constructive and most valuable. I won’t move on a uke until I’ve read your view. Keep it up old buddy!
    Jay
    Melbourne, Australia

  10. marilyn sachs April 27th, 2013 4:22 am

    I found a Kamaka ukulele that I bought in 1966 but it is in need of repair. I would love to have it refinished to play like new. The strings wont hold their key. Can you help me.
    Marilyn

  11. William Horn May 27th, 2013 3:19 am

    Response to Marilyn Sachs regarding her used Kamaka. Call the Kamaka company and discuss your instruments condition and they can help restore it to its original condition. Your uke may turn out to be quite valuable.

  12. Daniel Silva August 3rd, 2013 1:55 am

    Just bought a Kamaka soprano and I cannot put it down. The volume, smoothness and tone of this instrument is just outstanding. Great instrument and it looks beautiful because of the way the koa is put together. Fabulous wood veneer. It is well worth the price. I was also surprised by the long neck tenor. It was very comfortable to play (I am a guitar player) and it sounded awsome. I will get it next year.

  13. mark graziano October 13th, 2013 2:10 pm

    bought long neck tenor about 8 months sounds loud and the koa wood is beautiful, only fault on thi uke is the nut and saddle for 1399 dollars bone should be used i plan to replace both pieces with bone when i have the strings changed by a local well known luthier the nut is not perfectly smooth into the neck either this is the chance you take when you buy something sight unseen i do love this uke though

  14. brian November 17th, 2013 11:57 pm

    Bought a tenor last summer after visiting the factory in Honolulu. I got my instrument in early Sept.
    I absolutely love this instrument. I did need some time to adjust to the size, I played concert size for the last 15 years. It took me about two months to adjust. The wait time for a build is 4-6 weeks but it was worth it.
    First class organization and wonderful people working there. We took the tour with Fred Kamaka, a real character.
    If you are thinking about buying a Kamaka my advice is to run to your nearest dealer.

  15. Jim Mangum November 29th, 2013 1:45 pm

    I was given a Kamaka tenor several months ago and I am fulfilling a life-long wish to learn to play. The uke is a 1960 model and never played in 53 years. So much pleasure from a beautiful instrument.

  16. Terry White March 3rd, 2014 5:50 pm

    Hi , an uncle went to Hawaii back in the mid 1950`s and bought a Kamaka . He never learned to play .My father and some of his friends would get together and play guitars banjo`s and one guy played a Uke . I was only 5 at the time and wanted to play something so I could play along with them . So my father bough me a Harmony uke and tought me to play .A few years later the uncle who had the kamake let me borrow it and I went crazy with its great sound and volume ,much better by far than my cheep uke . He let me borrow it for almost a year and broke my heart when he took it back . I have pictures of me with that uke and reel to reel recordings with both ukes and the Kamaka is much richer ,louder and deeper even in the recordings .I have transfered those recordings over to CD`s a few years back. About 20 years back I finally bought my own Kamaka and paid a fair amount compaired to the lower priced Ukes but it was well worth it. I have played Chet Atkins style guitar for more than 20 years and use that Kamaka as back ground music and it is so beautiful of backup music for my recordings and so smooth to go along with it . Thanks for such a wonderful site and great to know there still others who enjoy this wonderful little instrument too ! !

    Terry

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