Kanile’a Ukulele

4.55/5 (58)

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Kanilea Ukuleles are a Hawaiian company run by Joseph and Kristen Souza. All their ukuleles are made in Hawaii and you can take a tour of the factory if you happen to be on Oahu (you can find out more on their website).

More recently they’ve come out with the entry-level Kanilea Islander range which has been getting excellent reports.

Kanilea Ukulele Review

Ken Middleton reviews his Kanile’a K1-C

On eBay

On Video

Lorraine from Learn to Uke goes on a trip round the Kanile’a factory.


  1. Jake Martins March 31st, 2011 4:08 pm

    I recently purchased the special edition Hawaii 50th Kanile’a CS ukulele, and I must say, the sound, finish and material/construction of the ukulele is amazing. Now I don’t know if it is worth the money I paid but it is beautiful.

    I.ve been playing a ukulele for the better part of 50th years and have a collection of martins’, kamakas’ and iland (Ropozo) ukuleles on hand. I also have been making ukuleles for a while so I have a good understanding of how they are made and the sound it should have.

    I’m a Kauai boy born and raised but now live on the coast; and, in a few years I hope to return to my roots. (retiring)

  2. Simon Clothier July 16th, 2011 7:29 pm

    It’s was my absolute privilege to meet Joe and Kristin Souza and their wonderful family.

    It’s been my further privilege to play one of their Tenor ukes for the past 3 years. It’s a unique instrument and I have used it to record the worlds first ever ukulele power ballad!

    Love it!

    Simon Clothier

  3. Paul September 14th, 2011 9:09 pm

    Bought a Kelii tenor in 2009 ($490USD) and after a couple years I got to be a better uke player and wanted an expensive one, LOL! Couldn’t spend that much money blind so I drove from ST. Louis to Indianapolis to sample a variety of upper end ukes from Ukulelehotline.com because they had them in stock. I’m glad I made the drive! I played Breedlove, Delgado, Koolau, and Kanilea tenors. My top 3 picks were all Kanilea! I bought the K-1 DLX SF ($988USD). The Kelii is a very good instrument but the Kanilea, although similar, has a higher build quality, attention to detail, and refined tone that is worth the extra money in my opinion and I’m picky!

  4. Peter Fox November 28th, 2011 4:07 am

    There have some questions as to how to solve the case problem for a Kanilea super tenor. From the measurements available. It appears that a Fremont tenor case will work quit well, wide enough and not to long.

  5. Sifcell December 12th, 2011 11:15 pm

    I recently had the incredibly good fortune to find a K1 tenor in Satin Finish at a local music store for close to $200 below common retail price. It was pure luck, and perfect timing, since I’d been saving money for the better part of a year specifically for a Hawai’ian “K” brand.

    I don’t know that words can really do this instrument justice. Everything about it is top-quality: from the workmanship to the sound. And in the two months I’ve owned it, it’s only getting better as it begins to open up and let it’s true voice out.

    The best part of joining the Kanile’a family had to be my brief interactions with Mr. Souza. I had some minor questions and emailed him, and he showed not only genuine interest but a strong dedication to his product. It was refreshing.

    It seems very trite to say, but anyone who is even part way serious about playing the ‘ukulele really does owe it to themselves to get a genuine, made by hand in Hawai’i uke. It may take time to scrape the money together, but you’ll be rewarded 100-fold at least with an instrument that will surpass all your hopes.

  6. Meg January 8th, 2012 10:37 pm

    Does anyone have experience with Islander by Kanileโ€™a? I know it’s the import line, but curious about quality …

  7. Andy April 29th, 2012 2:02 am

    @Meg – I bought a soprano Islander a few months ago. It is comparable in build quality to mid-range Kalas and Ohanas.

    It has a very warm tone. Compared to a Kala smhs the fretboard is wider the tone is a bit less punchy. It stays in tune well with standard tuning. It doesn’t stay in tune as well when tuned up a whole step.

    The overall build quality is good. The Islander has more frets than my Kala. For around $200.00 it is a very nice instrument. I would recommend it but personally, I prefer the Kala SMHS however, they are hard to find at this point.

    The Islander would be my choice if I couldn’t get the Kala. I hope this is helpful.

  8. Jackson August 1st, 2012 5:53 am

    Just bought a Kanile’a KPE Tenor for around 1700.00. (I think they retail for 2k)
    It has ebony fretboard and bridge, ebony lam on the headstock with the beach sand “K” inlay. Also ebony binding. The wood is a rather understated premium curly Koa (which I really like), that makes it not so blingy. Nice mother of pearl sound hole rosette. Grover closed gear Black nickel tuners.

    Build quality is nothing short of fabulous (except for the plastic bridge pins). The only thing I don’t like about it is the setup. Action is set too high, thus if you press hard on a G chord, for example, the intonation is off. It seems the nut needs to be filed, and the saddle lowered about 1mm. I installed an Aquila red unwound low G string that is stretchier. Intonation is virtually perfect with that string.

    The sound on this KPE is beautiful. Full and bright. I have a piece of junk Lanikai CK-TEK, and compared the two. Wow, the Lanikai sounds like a tin can compared.

    Overall I love the Kanile’a, and I’m sure I will love it more once I find someone I can trust to work on the setup a bit. I gave the playability 3 stars because of this. Had it come setup perfect it would have been 5 stars for all categories.

    P.S. not that it really matters, but why does Kanile’a use plastic bridge pins, when ebony pins are fairly cheap?

  9. john Hubbard November 20th, 2012 6:56 pm

    I bought a Kanilea concert about 9 months ago. I bought without trying . Its beautiful and a real peice of craftmanship. However its just not for me. Its so difficult to get a volume out of it. Its so highly laquered that I think the sound just can get out, The neck is also quite wide which is not for me. Im a real fan of Koaloha and without trying I would not buy any other make. Its a waste of money . I love the look of the Kanilea but thats where it ends.

  10. Steve May 5th, 2013 11:29 am

    I bought a Kanilea MST 4 Tenor a year ago and I have to say that I am not overly impressed with it. It has a “dead fret area” on one string, overall a very heavy action, and a very “glassy”, or un-mellow sound, both on Worth and Aquila strings. I would have returned it but for the relatively high cost of the postage. It plays and sounds like a mini-guitar on the low frets, and a mandolin on the highs. It has too much sustain for a normal ukulele strum pattern.

  11. Steve May 5th, 2013 11:31 am

    Ratings for the above comment….

  12. Jim McCool May 11th, 2013 11:36 pm

    I just bought a K1 Super Tenor while I was visiting Kauai. It is an awesome ukulele. The construction, sound and looks are far above any other uke I have seen. The only fault is that it doesn’t come with a hard shell case that fits the super tenor. I would have thought that a uke of this class would come with one.

  13. Gene K. May 27th, 2013 3:06 am

    I got a k-1 c and have been playing it for the last week. I have to admit I’m not used to a higher line instruments so the fact that the playability is awesome maybe should have been expected, but every aspect of this ukulele seams perfect.I did give her four stares for sound but I expect a five stare in about a year.

  14. Homer M May 7th, 2014 3:43 am

    Does anyone know of the brand called NALO. I bought a soprano in 2008 and trying to find out more about it. It seems to be of good quality and keeps in tune quite well. I noticed you do not have that brand on your list of ukuleles. Thanks for the help.

  15. Mark f May 25th, 2014 4:27 pm

    Recently purchased Kanilea K1 Tenor. Beautiful instrument. I do have one concern the action is a fraction high and the fret height seems very low. I find barre chords quite hard to maintain consistently and the skin on my finger tips touches the fretboard when making a note even though the string doesn’t quite hit. My Kala on the other hand a 1/3 the price is way easier to play. Action is lower fret are higher.
    Has anyone else experienced this with a Kanilea. If so what’s the solution.

  16. Irv January 15th, 2015 2:39 am

    This is for Mark F. May 25th 2014. I have the exact same story , even down to the Kala part.

  17. Tatiana October 10th, 2015 9:15 am

    I have a Kanile’a soprano ukulele and it’s my favorite out of all the ukuleles I own. The one I have seems to be an early Kanile’a since the logo is a K and a U instead of the logo that is currently being used. It’s koa and it’s beautiful and the sound really carries well. I didn’t have to make any bridge or action adjustments to it like I did my Cordoba ukes. The frets are wide, even on the soprano, which is really nice. It’s a well made instrument.

  18. Jeff December 4th, 2015 4:08 pm

    I bought a Concert K-1 Satin finish in 2011. I was a very much an ambitious novice when i purchased it on the North Shore of Oahu. I must have listened to a dozen Ukulele’s that day and each time I came back to the Kanile’a sound quality. Nothing in that shop compared.

    I was not prepared to spend twice what some of the other Ukes were going for. Well glad I did as this piece is a “forever’ instrument. Like buying a Gibson a major investment in your musical journey.

    I believe the quality and sound is what drove me to play every day since and 4 years later I am pretty darn good….!

  19. Shawn Britton January 18th, 2016 4:07 am

    I bought a Kanilea K-1 Tenor Deluxe as a Christmas gift to myself. Beautiful instrument. Frets are sightly lower, and fret board slightly wider compared to my Kala KA-TG starter. So I have had to make playing adjustments. The sound has that beautiful distinct solid koa ring. Compensated saddle that I did not expect, Kanilea’s website does not mention that. I love it.

  20. Curtis Clark September 17th, 2016 8:44 pm

    All good things come to those who wait. Be patient. My K-1 T Premium has matured over the year that I’ve played it. Koa takes time.,,,very “tight” when I first got it…now very deep and resonant. Played it awhile before I adjusted the action……..glad I waited for that, too. Each player will have a very unique preference when adjusting the action. I imagine that’s why it was set high from the factory. Beautiful instrument. Shopping for an 8-string while visiting Kauai.
    Thanks Joe and Kristin. No substitute for quality.

  21. Bruce Gorrie October 13th, 2016 8:52 am

    Hi I just bought a Kanilea concert and very impressed changed the strings when it arrived and played it non stop for about 3 hours.
    Played out with it and the uke was sounding better and better a great uke very impressed

  22. Tom K. December 20th, 2016 6:46 am

    Purchase a Kanile’a K1-Concert Deluxe Ukulele a couple of months ago. I just can’t stop looking at it. Beautiful High Gloss finish and the sound, WOW. I also have Martin, Kala and Gretsch. The Kanile’a is the most expensive but worth ever penny I paid.

  23. Tim L January 29th, 2017 2:50 pm

    Just ordered a k2 tenor deluxe and am pretty excited. Never thought I’d pay this much for an instrument but i play my current kamoa et3 every day and absolutely love the aloha that comes with the uke i decided to spring for the keeper on this one!!! Thks for the site as it was very helpful in research for my kanilea

  24. Fuad Efendi November 23rd, 2017 3:31 am

    I am beginner with Ukulele.

    I bought cheap $100 Uke (I thought it is solid wood…) and then Kanile’a Islander MST-4 (al solid mahogany tenor). Then I bought I bought Kanile’a KPE Tenor. All three within two months.

    Islander sounds amazing! Solid mahogany. But it needs setup; nut is very high; hard to play. But I still exercise on it, since I don’t play yet ๐Ÿ™‚ and also, it is better to play it few months at least and keep it in stable environment so it will settle down (will have stable form); action may become higher or lower after these months; not in a rush.

    Kanilea KPE at first impressed with really dull sound in comparison to Islander. But then after few days, I started strumming lessons, and I noticed it is at least 4x louder. I also read it needs time to open, in some cases from few months to few years. Action from-store is perfect. But the problem with intonation: 1st and 3rd strings sound flat at 12th fret (yes flat instead of sharp as you may expect from higher tension when you press string). I bought it ‘blindly’ with the *deep* *respect* to manufacturer, and I noticed this issue in store, but I bought it due to 30-days return policy. I have experience with guitar, I know harmonic at 12th fret should sound the same as 12th fret pressed; I noticed problem in store; at home measured with tuner 1st and 3rd strings have problem. And it was with TUSQ compensated saddle!!!

    I suspected that Aquila strings stretched unevenly. Wow I am super good in Math and Physics ๐Ÿ™‚ Moscow University! Aquila strings were not smooth on touch. I replaced it to Oasis Warm and intonation is *absolutely* *perfect*!!! So, first of all, replace strings! Especially if this Uke spent 5-6 months in store waiting for you.

    Someone noticed here plastic bridge pins. I ordered from StewMac, ebony and bone pins, but unfortunately not compatible. I think what I ordered it 2A, but Kaniela needs 1.3 size (3 degree). TUSQ pins (0.202″, or 5.14mm) are perfect fit for Islander, and I believe for Kanilea too.

    I bought KPE to keep it on shelf and play it only in rare cases and to learn on something cheap as Islander, but now I am learning on KPE, it is wonderful experience. I don’t care I can scratch it, and etc.; I don’t want to keep it on shelf ๐Ÿ™‚

    BTW humidity in my house in Winter is 45%

  25. Fuad Efendi November 23rd, 2017 12:16 pm

    Few more words about my newborn Kanilea KPE Tenor:
    – when I gently touch headstock I hear this touch from the soundhole!
    – When I pick E at 4th string, E at 1st string starts ringing too, and with almost full power, same volume! And so on with other combinations, including different octaves, including overtones
    – I even have hard time tuning it: I need explicitly mute three strings while tuning one, so many resonating overtones
    – I was super impressed by my first touch: it feels light as feather!
    – and I really like that KPE comes with Ebony fingerboard, bridge, and top binding, I feel it is better for sound transmission between strings and body, especially bridge is Ebony.
    – as other reviewer mentioned, KPE is understated; I really believe they were specifically looking for golden yellow color for it because they believe this color is best sounding. Compare with dark color of some K-1 deluxe models.
    – Kaniela KPE is thinner than Islander MST-4, and it has bended back; it has T.R.U. bracing (rods with holes in it below soundboard + special gluing technique which doesn’t ‘kill’ the sound) and Islander doesn’t have it; and it instantly started sounding amazing with new Oasis strings. I don’t think TUSQ bridge pins will improve amazing sound; but it may add some sound color of course (it will vibrate too; it may additionally resonate to high frequencies)

    I am super happy, I feel it is custom made for me. Indeed, 99% of customizations are just some non-standard extra decorations which I don’t need. I’d buy K-1 (2.2 times cheaper) but this one has Ebony, TUSQ compensated, golden color, 30-days return policy, so I took the risk and I am not returning it to store.

  26. Anthony Graham January 21st, 2018 9:15 am

    For those with concerns about high action; My Kanilea came with a pickup installed under the bridge saddle resulting in high action. I simply sanded some material from bottom of saddle until action improved. Just be careful you don’t take off too much material or you will be starting over after buying a new saddle. Also very important to keep instrument well humidified, as wood shrinkage can occur, and as a result cause action problems, cracks or separation of glue joints in body or braces.

  27. Ian Denchasy March 24th, 2018 3:57 am

    @meg, My first ukulele was an entry level Islander soprano that I bought at a swap meet in Hawaii (Aloha Bowl). I still own it and it continues to play great after more than three years!

  28. Shawn Britton May 13th, 2018 6:26 pm

    To deal with the Kanilea’s lower frets, I use heavier gauge strings: D’Addario Titanium. I have experienced no tuning or intonation issues.

  29. David Sherring May 4th, 2020 8:30 pm

    I have owned a Kanile’a Islander SA-4-C (Concert) for around 18 months now and I must say it is a lovely instrument to play. It has a deep, rich tone and the Aquila strings are good. I am thinking about trying fluorocarbon strings to see what difference it makes. I have just purchased a Soprano Islander MOS-4 and will submit a review when I have played it for a few months.

  30. Eric Leong November 22nd, 2020 3:12 am

    I purchased a kanilea tenor k1 in May. Its sounds great but had string buzz issues from the start. The ukelele site said the is a common problem with the stock strings (Aquilas) so they set me a set of Uke logic strings. That did not help so i tried many other sets and finnally settle in with Oasis. But still have slight buzzing. I purchased from the Ukelele site because i thought they would setup the uke properly, but i think the frets are not level. Frets 10 and up seem to be higher, so barring at fret 7 i still hear buzzing. I think i may try Shawns idea about using heavier gauge strings. I have a Ko’olau tenor and it plays beautifully… no buzzing.

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