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