Kamaka Hawaii

Take a tour of this family-run business and see how the ukulele is made.

In the early 1900s, Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka began crafting koa ukuleles in the basement of his Kaimuki home. Enjoying the art and confident he could make a living selling his instruments, he opened a one-man shop, “Kamaka Ukulele and Guitar Works,” in 1916.

Today, the Kamaka name is synonymous with high-quality ukuleles favored by top local entertainers including Jake Shimabukuro, Raiatea Helm and Brittni Paiva. Sam invented the “pineapple ukulele,” which, shaped like the golden fruit, produces a mellow, resonant sound that’s different from the ubiquitous figure-eight shaped instrument.

Kamaka Hawaii is still a family-owned-and-operated business, run by Sam’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Fred Kamaka, Sr., Sam’s younger son, now in his 90s, leads a free hour-long factory tour on Tuesday through Friday mornings. Participants see every phase of the ukulele-making process, from raw lumber to gleaming finished instruments; each one receives a final tuning by a member of the Kamaka family. As Fred points out, success has come by following his father’s advice: “If you make instruments and use the family name, don’t make junk.”