Island Address Book 3-21-2005

Slack Key Guitar Legend George Kahumoku Jr. On Buying a Ukelele

By: Karla Aronson

Master slack key guitarist George Kahumoku Jr. has been performing slack key guitar and “talking story” with his audiences for more than four decades.

He has played twice at Carnegie Hall in New York, and now plays at a place he dubs “the Carnegie Hall of Hawaii.” Every Tuesday for the past two years he has hosted the Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Concert Series, held at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on Maui.

While Kahumoku only performs on the 12-string guitar, he says the ukulele can be a good place to start for those interested in playing Hawaiian music.

To purchase instruments in Hawaii, Kahumoku points to Mele Ukulele on Maui as offering the “best starting prices” for ukuleles. “They are the cheapest. Its a brand name for ukuleles, but they have the retail store,” he says.

A beginner ukulele starts at $40. The store mostly sells good quality ukuleles in the $150 to $450 range, while top-end ukuleles, with all the electronics, can reach $1,200.

One of Kahumoku’s favorite music stores on Maui is Lahaina Music. Aside from its ukuleles, the store specializes in guitars, particularly electric guitars. The company custom-makes them.

Another Kahumoku favorite is Bounty Music. The store opened on Maui some 25 years ago and has since expanded to Kauai. The Kauai store features a broad inventory of ukuleles, from introductory ukes starting at $29.99, to top of the line. In addition to keyboards, drums and guitars, customers can purchase hula-dancing instruments, including hula sticks, stone castanets, feather gourd rattles and bamboo rattles.

On the Big Island, where Kahumoku grew up, he recommends both Mele Kai Music and the Music Exchange, taking the lead from his Grammy Award-winning son Keoki, who resides there now.

“He likes those stores,” Kahumoku says.

Mele Kai Music in Kailua-Kona has an excellent inventory of guitars, bass guitars and ukuleles. They are also a great source for local Hawaiian music recordings and a major ticket outlet for local music shows.

The two Music Exchange shops, in Hilo and Kamuela, offer a complete inventory of ukuleles at competitive prices.
The Hilo shop has long been on the scene and features the prized brands of Martin, Gibbons and Fender.

On Oahu, Kahumoku points to Kamaka Ukulele.

“I played Kamakas all my life,” he says.

The small manufacturer sells made-to-order ukuleles. The standard model starts at $500, with a 10 percent factory-order discount available. The pineapple model, also $500, comes in the shape of an oval pineapple rather than in the standard figure-8 shape.


Mele Ukulele

Lahaina Music

Bounty Music
808-871-1141 (Maui)
808-823-8000 (Kauai)

Mele Kai Music

Music Exchange
808-961-3362 (Hilo)
808-885-8900 (Kamuela)

Kamaka Ukulele