Wondering what the best Hawaiian ukulele brands are? Look no further! We’ve put together this list of five of Hawaii’s top ukulele makers just for you.
While the ukulele originally comes from Portugal (it’s a descendant of a family of instruments that include the machete, cavaquinho, and braguinha), there is no denying that, since its arrival in the late 1800s, it has become a distinctly Hawaiian instrument. It’s even the official state instrument of Hawaii.
And for the most part, Hawaii is where the best of the best are made!
Fun fact: Did you know that in the Hawaiian language, the word ukulele roughly translates to “jumping flea,” which is thought to be in reference to the way people’s fingers move around the fretboard while playing? Well, you do now!
But enough about that, you came here for a list of the best Hawaiian uke manufacturers, not the origin story of the ukulele… So let’s get to it!
The Four K’s
Any serious conversation about Hawaiian ukulele brands has to start with The Four K’s, a group of Hawaii’s best ukulele manufacturers that all happen to start with the same letter (a great letter for names to start with, if I do say so myself). These four companies are, in no particular order:
Those are some pretty nice-sounding names!
Let’s Get to Know The Top Five Hawaiian Ukulele Makers
Considered by many to be the oldest surviving ukulele maker, Kamaka has been making ukuleles since 1916. Not long after opening his shop, the company’s founder, Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka, designed a new ukulele with an oval body which bore a striking resemblance to a certain tropical fruit. After a friend pointed this out to him, a pineapple was painted on the front of one of his creations and just like that, the pineapple uke was born!
As the years have passed, the brand became Kamaka and sons, and their guiding principles to this day can be best summarized in Sam Kaialiilii Kamaka’s famous advice to his sons, “if you make instruments and use the family name, don’t make junk.”
KoAloha ukuleles are perhaps the most recognizable of the Four K’s, at least to me. Their five-pointed crown headstock with the mirrored “K” ukulele inlay in the center is iconic. Combine that with a soundhole that looks a bit like a guitar pick with the end broken off, and you can see why KoAloha ukuleles are so easy to recognize.
Fun fact: KoAloha offers weekly tours of their factory for free. If you are lucky enough to be on the island, make sure to check their schedule and stop by for one!
Founded by Joe Souza, the descendant of Portuguese immigrants (who were known to play the previously mentioned Braguinha), the Kanile’a brand started out in a garage in 1998. By 2006 it had outgrown the garage and the shop was moved to its current location.
It feels pretty fitting that at least one of these famous Hawaiian brands was actually started by a descendant of Portuguese immigrants.
Fun fact: According to their website, Kanile’a is the only ukulele manufacturer in Hawaii that processes all their own wood in house.
Probably the least known of the Four K’s, Ko’olau differs from the first 3 in that they make both ukulele and guitars. They also make some really cool solid body electric ukuleles.
In doing research for this article, I also learned that the Ko’olau Guitar and Ukulele Company are also responsible for Pono ukuleles, a brand/line of ukuleles I was already more familiar with.
Fun fact: Multi-instrumentalist and eventual famed jazz ukulele player Lyle Ritz endorsed Ko’olau ukuleles.
Our fifth and final brand is aNueNue. Founded in 2008, aNueNue offers some seriously cool looking ukuleles.
Although it’s based in Hawaii, aNueNue uses a wide variety of woods from around the world (such as cedar and spruce) when building their ukuleles, something that sets them apart from the Four K’s who primarily use koa, mango, and sometimes mahogany.
So there you have it, a quick overview of Hawaii’s top ukulele brands!
For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site www.ukelikethepros.com. We offer you a bunch of great ukulele content that comes hand-in-hand with an awesome ukulele community that will support you in this journey.