Kiwaya Ukulele

Kiwaya ukuleles are based, and made in Japan. Over there, they are known as ‘Famous ukuleles’.

You’ll find them proudly declaring ‘Ukuleles since 1919′, which isn’t exactly true. Kiwaya were established then, but they were a gramophone maintenance company. It wasn’t until Kitaroh Okamoto (the man now most associated with the company) joined in 1957 that they began producing ukuleles – just in time for ukuleles completely going out of fashion in Japan.

In more recent years, they have gone from strength to strength and recently launched Kiwaya USA.

There are two ranges of Kiwaya ukuleles that are particularly popular. First is the K-Wave ‘Rock Uke’ series. These ukes imitate the looks of classic guitars such as the Fender Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul.

The other series is Kiwaya’s reproductions of Martin ukuleles. These ukuleles are highly regarded and have been described as being almost as good as the real thing. They are certainly very closely modeled on the originals.

Kiwaya Ukulele Review

Ken Middleton reviews his Kiwaya KTS-4.

And here’s a pdf with Karen Wagner’s review of her Kiwaya KTS

On eBay

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7 Comments

  1. Alex September 17th, 2010 7:33 pm

    I actually bought a K-Wave ukulele in Japan and it plays amazing. The pick up sounds great in it except it has a little high sound but that can be easily fixed by just turning the mids and lows up a bit and turning the highs down. The neck has a very smooth feel and I guess the playing action would be similar to a fender electric guitar. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is the bridge. It gets difficult to change strings, but it’s more of an inconvenience than anything. Overall- great sound, great playing action, and great look.

  2. Laouik April 15th, 2011 2:25 am

    I’ve had my Kiwaya KTS-4 for about… 8 months now. I. Love. It. So far, every other uke has left me underwhelmed. Before this I had a Mahalo.

    Sound – With the Fremont strings it sounds just right to me. Solid mahogany, a lovely mixture of warmth and brightness.

    Playability – This lovely thing is so light. It surprises everyone. I don’t like holding other ukes as much as they’re so heavy in comparison. I’m used to the Kiwaya’s feather-light weight!

    Playability – The action is low, so little effort is required. When I play Schmidts, Mahalos, Kalas, etc. they feel mechanical in comparison.

    Value – I’ve given it 4/5 because they’re not cheap, and this is my second uke. Let’s just say that if something happens to my KTS-4, with my budget, I’ll not be able to buy another one for quite some time.

    Looks – To me it’s perfect. Satin finish, nothing flashy, simple, humble.

    Construction – It’s perfect. Handmade in Japan.

    To see me (try to) pay, I’ve a couple of vids up on Youtube (Laouik).

  3. willisoften October 23rd, 2011 11:49 pm

    I have the KS-1 Kiwaya Laminate its very comfortable to play, loud and has an almost ringing tone, sounds great. Construction is very high quality, but I do have a few niggles:

    1. The fretboard is a very thin slice of heavily dyed walnut. As a result there are no edge markers and I’d have preferred a natural look rather than the odd looking black felt-tip finish.

    2. Action at the first fret is a tiny bit high.
    (Intonation seems pretty much perfect)

    3. The Gotoh standard tuners are a bit irritating very easy to pinch sharp and a bit gritty feeling. This is actually in my opinion the only real annoyance with this instrument because an extra fiver spent on tuning pegs would have sorted this out the point of manufacture.

    I actually love this uke and I am a bit hyper-critical. Can’t see how anyone who wants a quality
    and robust instrument could do better.

  4. Sven March 22nd, 2012 6:13 pm

    I have never seen, on their official website: “Ukuleles since 1919″. I have seen Est 1919, which is true.

    My Kiwaya KS-0 thin ecoline soprano is ideally fitted, frets easily with low action, I have no intonation issues, and the seams are flawless. It is high density laminate and sounds like soldi. I have tow solid ukes that do not sound as good as this Kiwaya. My only niggles are that the sound is a tad shallow, and this is due to the shallow soundbox. Thin will do this every time, but it’s not an issue playing alone–in a group, or performing, a deeper model might be desired. A second niggle, and I am not hyper-critical at all, is there geared tuners. On the small headstock, they are very easy to bump. I prefer friction tuners on all my ukuleles if possible, and a set of lightweight Grotoh friction tuners would have been more ideal on this uke. Kiwaya is outstanding.

  5. Sing dance May 4th, 2013 4:05 pm

    I just came back from Japan where I treated myself to a FT ukulele koa concert. FT is a collaboration of Famous (the local name for Kiwaya, not exported) and Takahashi a highly regarded luthier and uke maker. Not cheap but really fabulous and I already own three Martins, a KoAloha and a Kamaka. Really outstanding in feel,playability and sound. While I was there I got to play any instrument in the museum including a stunning Martin 5 K. If you go to Tokyo, go to the little uke museum of Kiwaya, plus showroom.

  6. Sing dance May 4th, 2013 4:06 pm

    Just straightening up my screen name for my friends and adding stars.

  7. Mikael Anjou November 10th, 2013 7:17 am

    Kiwaya ukuleles are very good. I have a top of the line concert made of exceptionally curly, solid koa wood, and this is the most beautiful thing you can see. I’ts decently loud, too. It really is so well made.
    Still, in Scandinavian climate the neck and fretboard shrink, leaving the fret ends sharp. And the sound is a little bit more mellow/little trebly than a corresponding Martin.
    My other Kiwaya concert , made of solid mahogany, does not show any sign of dryness. Rather mellow, too.

    I also play a Kiwaya KTS-7, a good interpretation of one of Martin’s Style 3 soprano models. Perfectly executed, it offers a fast attack and a nice sound, still on the mellow side. Very lovely sound fpr solo playing; for playing with at guitar backup I would reach for an instrument with a more distinct treble.

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