Ukulele Makers of Today
A couple of custom made Kanile'a ukuleles.
With the new century we are seeing a re-emergence of quality ukulele builders, many of whom are one man or very small operations. The following are a few of these ukulele makers who are doing a great job at building quality ukuleles...
A former resident of Kailua, Oahu, Peter Hurney now makes his Pohaku Ukuleles in Berkeley, California. Upon moving to Kailua several years ago, Peter, who made drums and other musical instruments, starting making ukes for local residents. Many were suprised at the amazing quality and sound of his ukes. On his web site,you can see many of his ukes, in all sorts of sizes and colors.
Little River Ukuleles
Dave Sigman lives in Little River, California in Mendocino County. I first met him at the Northern California Ukulele Festival and was very impressed with his instruments. My friend Tom bought a black walnut tenor that was outstanding. Dave makes his ukuleles out of many woods, including koa, Sitka spruce, Brazilian rosewood and many others.
Dave learned his craft from Charles Fox. From Dave's website...
I feel very fortunate to have studied guitar building with Charles Fox, founder of The American School of Lutherie. Charles has been a huge influence in my instrument making, and the knowledge and inspiration I've gained from his classes have set a very high standard for me. I usually feature inlay work on my instruments. I have had the honor of studying shell inlay with Larry Robinson, renowned artist, teacher and author on the subject of custom inlay techniques. Larry's influence on me has been profound." I've played several of Dave's ukuleles and have been impressed with all of them. Plus, Dave is the only luthier I'm aware of that actually fishes for the abalone he uses for his mother of pearl. How cool is that?
Dave's website is http://www.littleriverukuleles.com
David "Kawika" Hurd started making ukuleles as a hobby in 1985. When he moved to Hilo, Hawaii in 1991 he started making and repairing ukuleles full time. He has never looked back. Kawika is one of the world's most respected ukulele makers. He is so good, in fact, that if you want a custom made Kawika Ukulele you will have to wait until the year 2004!!! His orders are that far out now. He specializes in 4-, 6- and 8-string tenor ukuleles, but also makes baritones, concerts and the occasional soprano.
Kawika has a wonderful web site and I highly recommend you check it out. There is a lot of great information there...not only about Kawika Ukuleles, but also information on different types of wood, string tension, building tips, sound bites of his different ukuleles, information on uke song books, and even vintage ukes for sale (Kawika has an AWESOME collection).
A Kawika 5 string concert, a 6 string tenor and special spalted koa "pineapple" soprano ukulele.
The Ko'olau Guitar & 'Ukulele Company is owned and operated by the Kitakis Family: John and Susan Kitakis, and Sons Noa (Bonk) and Andrew. The are located in Kaneohe on the island of O'ahu. They make ukes in all sorts of native Hawaiian woods; Koa, Kamani, Mango, Hawaiian Mahogany, and other exotic woods as available. Ko'olau ukuleles has a very informative web site which has pictures of their various models.
Ko'olau 'Ukuleles are made for and played many professional musicians, including Lyle Ritz, Ledward Kaapana, Chino Montero and Troy Fernandez (Palolo), Benny Chong (Don Ho Band), Candyce Narimatsu (Joy), and Tracey Terada (Four Strings 'Ukulele Studio).
They also do stringed instrument repair for your battered uke or guitar.
Ko'olau Koa Slotted Peg Head
Ko'olau Solid Cutaway Electric Uke With Koa Top and Mahogany Body
Kanile'a Ukuleles is owned by Joe and Kristen Souza and is located on the island of O'ahu. Both Joe and Kristen were born and raised in Kailua. This from their wonderful web site, www.kanileaukulele.com..."For Joe, the 'ukulele has always been part of his life. He can recall, from a very young age, going to family parties and everyone sitting in a circle and jamming Hawaiian music on their 'ukuleles and guitars. Joe remarks, 'In elementary school is when I first got exposed to the 'ukulele. It was a requirement for music. Hawaiian language class in High school is when I really started showing serious interest in the 'ukulele, although, it wasn�t until after I graduated that the 'ukulele started to influence my life.'"
In 1990, Joe started working as an apprentice with Uncle Peter Bermudez, a master luthier in Hawaii. It was here he learned the craft and in 1998 started Kanile'a Ukuleles with Kristen.
Being of both Portuguese and Hawaiian ancestry, Joe has a special place in his heart for the ukulele.
Examples of Joe's beautiful work.
Tony Graziano Ukuleles
Luthier Tony Graziano is in Santa Cruz, California. His becoming a ukulele builder was kind of an accident. He had never built an ukulele before until one day he took an order from a woman for an ukulele with some special inlay. After delivering the instrument to the very happy customer, he was so happy with the results and the pleasure it gave him that he decided to make ukuleles almost exclusively.
Tony currently builds standards, concerts, tenors and baritones with all sort of options...he even makes a double neck uke; one neck with 4 strings, the other with 6! Led Ka'apana, Hawaii's preeminent slack key artist, plays a Graziano spruce top tenor. Everything is built to order and the current wait time is about 3-4 months. Tony's web site has a wealth of information. Pictured below is Tony's bamboo ukulele.
'Oiwi Ukuleles, by David Keoni Tachera, are wonderful ukes. Dave's web site is still being worked on, but has some nice pictures on it. Check out the first ukulele on the page, "Koa Koa Binding - T1009". At an ukulele workshop that Dave and his wife Theresa put on last year in Sonoma, California, my wife and I bought this wonderful uke from Dave. I was amazed at its sound and beauty.
Dave started building ukuleles just a few years ago, in an extra bedroom in his apartment! He told me he put large plastic sheeting on all the walls so as not to cover the room with sawdust.
In 1995, Alvin Okami began crafting miniature ukuleles. Measuring only 5 1/2 inches in length, these little ukes actually worked! Soon after, ukulele master Roy Sakuma suggested to Alvin that he build full scale models of his miniature ukuleles and KoAloha Ukuleles was born. Roy offered his support, along with his expertise as one of Hawaii's ukulele masters. After a lot of work and many prototypes, the KoAloha ukulele emerged full sized and ready to play.
From Roy Sakuma's web site, "Among the elements Sakuma and Okami have designed into the KoAloha are clarity of tone and acoustic volume, ease of playing and quality of appearance and detail. 'It's very clean when you hit the strings,' explains Sakuma. 'There's a very balanced sound, so you don't hear one string dominating everything else.'" KoAloha now has a new web site.
From KoAloha's brochure: "Following the Hawaiian tradition, our instruments are built from koa. Koa has long been treasured for its beauty and strength. It's dancing grain and rich colors complement it's exquisite sound. Kiln drying is done in house to insure stability of our wood. Controlling the drying process allows us to use koa for everything from the necks to sides, tops and backs, without hesitation." KoAloha ukuleles come in many sizes: soprano, pineapple soprano, extended neck soprano, concert and the new tenor. They are located at 744 Kohou Street, Unit K, in Honolulu.
A Koaloha concert ukulele
Da Silva Ukulele Co.
Michael De Silva makes wonderful ukuleles out of his workshop in Berkeley, California. From Michael's web site, "The ukulele bug bit me about five years ago. A discussion with a new acquaintance about things we have in common such as woodworking and bluegrass banjo playing led to his telling me how musically expressive ukes are and how easy they are to build. He then offered to give me plans for a ukulele he had built himself. I just had to follow his lead. Then, believe it or not, I found a 1930�s Martin "1" ukulele for only $100 at a local music store and I learned a few songs quickly. Since then I can't stop living and breathing ukes. I build my ukuleles as light as possible for tone and projection and pay very close attention to intonation, action and playability. Looks are only a slightly lower priority, but the natural beauty of wood and following proven designs easily takes care of that."