Fun Facts About Kamaka Ukulele
The Hawaiian name "Kamaka" means "the eye" or "the vision."
The Hawaiian meaning of Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka's middle name is "small fish that swims in the ocean." Both Sam Sr. and Sam Jr. share this middle name.
Sam Kamaka (1890-1953) attended the Royal School in Honolulu from age 8 until 14. His hanai ("foster") father Keopuiki was one of King Kalakaua's fishermen. Sam's six years at Royal School comprised his entire formal education.
The Company celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2006 of making handcrafted ukuleles in Hawaii. When Sam Kamaka first began making ukuleles in 1916, Hawaii was still a Territory. Early Kamaka ukulele labels bore the letters "T.H." to show they were made in the Territory of Hawaii.
Sam Kamaka's first shop, Kamaka Ukulele and Guitar Works, stood where the Japanese restaurant Gyotaku is currently located at 1814 S. King Street.
A street car stop was located directly in front of the original Kamaka factory on King Street. Sam Kamaka would wait for his sons after school ended and expected the boys to arrive promptly for work.
The Hawaii State Motto, "Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono," appeared as part of the decal design on early Kamaka ukuleles. The translation of the motto is: "The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness." Originally the motto of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the saying is attributed to Kamehameha III, who presided over the Kingdom from 1825 until 1854.
The original pineapple ukulele designed and patented by Sam Kamaka Sr. has been loaned out for exhibit by the Kamaka family on only three occasions -- twice to the Bishop Museum and once to the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
In their early teens, Sam Jr. and Fred Sr. would occasionally desert the shop -- lights on, door open -- when surf was up. During one of those surf sessions, Sam Sr. changed all the locks at the factory to bar his sons' return. He wanted to teach the boys a lesson after he discovered they had shirked their work responsibilities.
Sam Jr. and Fred Sr., along with five of their cousins, appeared in the 1932 film "Bird of Paradise" starring Joel McCrea and Delores Del Rio. Although Fred Sr. was only six years old, he appeared in one of the promotional stills, seated in a canoe with Del Rio.
Back in the days when Sam Kamaka Sr. was just starting out, there was a real spirit of aloha and camaraderie among ukulele makers. The Hawaiian ukulele makers would frequently help each other out if someone was short-handed or needed assistance. Some of Sam Sr.'s friends and contemporaries were ukulele makers Jonah Kumalae, Makini, Sam Chang, Louis Gaspar, Ah Tau Kam, Ernest Kaai and later during WWII, Johnny Lai.
Ukulele maker Louis Gaspar learned the craft from Sam Kamaka Sr., who was his brother-in-law.
From 1940 to 1946, Johnny Lai was given permission by Sam Kamaka Sr. to use the Kamaka factory on evenings and weekends when business was closed. Lai used the name "Ka-Lai" on the ukes he made, a combination of "Kamaka" and "Lai." The name was later changed to "Ka-Lae" because it sounded more Hawaiian. Lai's ukuleles were made of monkeypod wood, a less expensive alternative to Kamaka koa ukuleles.
While attending Washington State University, Sam Jr. and Fred Sr. played ukulele as "the Kamaka Brothers" to earn extra money.
Sam Kamaka Jr. earned a degree in entomology at WSU in 1950, then completed a master's degree at Oregon State University and began a doctorate. Fred Kamaka Sr., a 1951 political science graduate, received an ROTC commission at WSU. He served 25 years in the Army before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Fred Sr.'s favorite ukulele is a Pineapple made by his father that he kept with him while serving as a U.S. Army infantryman during the Korean War. Fred Sr. said he kept the Pineapple strung on his back while in Korea, and it even bears the burn marks it received from ammunition casing. The precious Pineapple symbolized home for him, and gave him hope amidst the chaos and uncertainty of war.
One of Sam Jr.'s favorite ukuleles is the sweet-sounding, melodic 6-string he made for himself. According to reliable sources at a recent Washington State reunion, Sam refused to share his ukulele with anyone.
The "KK" (double k) symbol first used on Kamaka headstocks in 1958 was designed by Sam Jr. after he took over his father's business. According to Sam Jr., when he stacked the words "Kamaka Ukulele" on top of each other and the two K's lined up one on top of the other, he interpreted the letters as representing him and his brother, Fred Sr.
From 1963 to 1970, to compete against unscrupulous ukulele manufacturers who tried to sell fake "Kamaka" ukuleles in Japan, Kamaka & Sons Enterprises collaborated with Tokyo Stringed Manufacturing Co., Ltd. to produce ukuleles for sale in Japan. Called "Keiki Kamaka," the ukuleles were made of mahogany, and were only available in the standard (soprano) size. "Keiki" means "child" in Hawaiian, a fitting name for the lowest-priced, beginner's model.
George Gilmore, classical guitar teacher at Punahou School, and Sam Kamaka Jr. started the Lute Society and taught evening sessions in guitar and lute construction from 1966 to 1970. Gilmore learned lutherie in Spain and influenced some of the techniques still used today at the factory.
In 1970, Sam Kamaka Jr. designed a custom ukulele for astronaut Scott Carpenter. It was a long-neck tenor 10-string (tiple).
The peg tuners used on Kamaka instruments are made by Schaller Electronic in Germany. Helmut Schaller and his engineers custom designed them for Kamaka Hawaii in 1974 at the request of Fred Kamaka Sr. Mr. Schaller did not know what an ukulele was before Fred Sr. visited him to ask for his help. Fred brought a Kamaka Pineapple to Germany to show Mr. Schaller. Because Schaller's first language was German, Fred's German-born wife, Elisabeth, provided the translation.
In February 1989, Kamaka Hawaii was part of the "Good Morning, America" program. The factory was featured on a tour by Joel Siegel, who ended the segment by playing ukulele and singing "Ukulele Lady" with Chris Kamaka.
In January 1996, as a manufacturer of fine ukuleles for 80 years, Kamaka Hawaii was featured on Fox Cable 2 from New York City, transmitted live from Hawaii via satellite.
Kamaka ukuleles are made from the finest koa wood. Only koa lumber that meets the highest standards is purchased. Since 1916, Kamaka has continued its practice of allowing the koa wood to age for four years, rather than kiln dry. According to Sam, Jr. naturally aged wood dramatically improves sound quality and avoids warping.
At the Kamaka factory, every ukulele built is touched by the hands of at least 20 craftsmen in the building process.
Ukulele extraordinaire Jake Shimabukuro began playing a Kamaka standard when he was 4. He later progressed to a Kamaka concert, and then a Kamaka 6-string. He settled with a Kamaka tenor, which he plays today.
George Harrison played a range of Kamakas including the concert, the tenor 6-string, and the tenor 8-string. According to one music store on Maui, Harrison would buy out all the available Kamakas in stock to give as gifts to friends.
George Harrison played a Kamaka tenor 6-string (the Liliu) on "Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," a bonus feature on the “Brainwashed” DVD.
In the Special Features of the Beatles "Anthology" DVD, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr share happy memories ("Recollections - June 1994"), while Harrison strums a Kamaka concert ukulele.
Tom Selleck called Kamaka Hawaii in 2001 to order a tenor 4-string which he used in his performance as Murray Burns in the Broadway play, "A Thousand Clowns."
Adam Sandler played an ukulele in the movie "Fifty First Dates." The ukulele was a custom 6-string Kamaka designed to Sandler's specifications. It appears in the movie's official poster and on the cover of the DVD and soundtrack, although the ukulele was digitally modified to resemble a 4-string.
In 2005, Reyn Spooner introduced its "Kamaka Story" line of aloha wear. Reyn Spooner is the only authorized manufacturer of apparel bearing the Kamaka name.
Think you can match the Kamaka Ukulele with the Celebrity?
|Adam Sandler||Custom longneck tenor 6-String||"Not of this world" custom tenor|
|Custom longneck tenor 6-string|
|Jake Shimabukuro||"Not of this world" custom tenor||Tenor 4-String|