At 91 years old, Fred Kamaka, son of the company's founder, keeps tours lively with fun and fascinating stories. // © 2016 Kamaka Ukulele
Feature image (above): During a free factory tour, guests see how ukuleles are made at Kamaka, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary throughout 2016. // © 2016 Kamaka Ukulele
What do broadcaster and entertainer Arthur Godfrey, singer and actress Shirley Temple and George Harrison of The Beatles have in common? They all played ukuleles made by Kamaka Ukulele, a family-run business since 1916. Today, the Kamaka brand continues to wow audiences at the hands of world-famous musicians such as Hawaii’s own Jake Shimabukuro, a multiple award-winning ukulele virtuoso.
As Kamaka celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, clients can find out what makes its products so special during free one-hour tours of its Honolulu factory. Visitors can buy island-style clothing that pays tribute to Kamaka’s centennial, and they can attend free concerts showcasing Hawaii’s trademark instrument.
While Kamaka has presented tours of its Honolulu factory for years, the free one-hour sessions are particularly meaningful during 2016, its centennial year. Tours are led by 91-year-old Fred Kamaka — son of the firm’s founder, Sam Kamaka Sr. — although a third generation now oversees the operation of the company.
In a small, modest storefront, the lively Fred regales visitors with stories about the history of the company. He tells the tale of the distinctive oval-shaped pineapple ukulele that Sam designed in 1926. He shows old photos, strums a variety of instruments and describes how island koa wood imbues the company’s signature ukulele with its luscious appearance and sound.
Tour participants will also get a look at the Kamaka workshop, where they can watch craftspeople involved in different stages of production. Before each finished ukulele is handed over to a buyer, it’s carefully inspected by a member of the Kamaka clan, in keeping with Sam’s philosophy: “If you make instruments and use the family name, don’t make junk.”
Limited-Edition Ukulele Clothing
Fashion design company Reyn Spooner — known for its island-inspired apparel — is currently selling a Limited Edition line of aloha wear and accessories honoring Kamaka's 100th anniversary.
Kamaka’s history and heritage are cleverly incorporated into the patterns of the Limited Edition products. The fabric features images of ukuleles, as well as leis, pineapples and the Kamaka logo and storefront.
Reyn Spooner’s Kamaka Centennial Collection consists of aloha shirts for men and boys, sundresses and undies for toddlers, eco bags and aprons.
Upcoming Ukulele Events
On Oahu, the 46th annual Ukulele Festival will enliven Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park on July 17. Throughout the day, the free event will feature music, singing and dancing on the park’s bandstand. A number of Hawaii ukulele stars are scheduled to perform this year, including Herb “Ohta-san” Ohta and Willie K. Also on the docket are national and international groups such as the Bohemian Ukuleles of California, Fulare-Pad of Japan and U-Rock of Korea.
The 11th annual Maui Ukulele Festival will take place on Oct. 2 at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) in Kahului. Clients can spread out on the lawn and hear songs by top entertainers, as well as local elders and kids. Additional highlights include ukulele door prizes, island arts and crafts and food booths. For hands-on instruction, visitors can attend the festival’s free ukulele workshop on the morning of Oct. 1 at MACC.