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The Oldest Surviving Ukulele Brand

Which Current Uke Brand Is Really the Oldest? Find out now!

by Kevin Rossi
ukulele brand

Are you wondering which ukulele brand is the oldest? There are hundreds of brands out there that make ukes of all shapes and sizes, but which of those brands still around today were doing it first? Which brand has been making ukes the longest? Is this brand the best?

While it may seem like these questions should have pretty straightforward answers, there is actually some debate among uke faithful as to what ukulele brand is truly the oldest. What is generally agreed upon is that there are two brands in contention for this prestigious title. The first is Martin & Co, an American company known predominantly for its guitars). The second is Kamaka, one of the four fabled and fantastic “K” brands from the Hawaiian islands (Kamaka, Kanile’a, Ko’olau, and KoAloha).

So what is the hold-up? Why the confusion? Let’s try and settle this debate once and for all!

Martin & Co’s Claim to earn the Throne of the oldest Ukulele brand

Martin & Co has been around for a long, long, loooooong time. No, seriously, one of their claims to fame on their website is that civil war soldiers played their guitars. Founded in 1833, Martin & Co guitars is just eleven years away from celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary. Wow! To put things in perspective, Martin was making guitars 60 years before the toaster was invented. Surely that will toast the competition, right? It wasn’t until 1935 (102 years later) that nylon was invented, the material most uke strings are made of nowadays.

1950s Martin & Co. Soprano Ukulele W/ Original Case – Ebay.

However, it must be noted that Martin did not start making ukuleles (thus becoming a ukulele brand), until the 1910’s, according to their website. After doing a little further research, it appears the specific year is 1915. That is still over 100 years of uke making – 107 to be exact – and again, according to their website, this makes them “the world’s oldest surviving uke builders.” Quite the claim.

But what about Kamaka? Let’s take a look at their claim next…

Kamaka’s Claim to the Throne

Here is an undisputed fact; Kamaka is the maker of the world’s first Pineapple Uke! At least that is what they claim (and I’ve found nothing disputing this claim). The pineapple-shaped uke remains incredibly popular to this day and is one of many unique body shapes you can find ukuleles in – one of the things that makes the instrument stand out amongst its peers in my opinion.

Vintage Kamaka pineapple ukulele w/ case.- Ebay.

But the origin of fruit-shaped ukes is not what we are here to debate, is it? We are here to figure out which brand is the oldest! Well, according to their website, Kamaka began making and selling ukes 106 years ago, in 1916. For those of you who are keeping score, that makes Kamaka 1 year younger than Martin (at least when it comes to uke building). So that settles it, doesn’t it?

The Argument Against Martin

When you simply look at the dates each of these esteemed companies officially started building ukuleles, the math adds up in Martin’s favor. But there is an argument out there against Martin, a bit of a technicality maybe, but a fact some people believe disqualifies Martin from making the claim as the oldest surviving ukulele brand.

The fact is that Martin & Co ceased production of their ukuleles in the 1990s (around 1995 more specifically) and has only just brought them back in the last decade or so. There are some who argue that during this hiatus, Martin did continue to take custom orders for ukes, but these are hard to substantiate.

Read more: Ukulele history, where it all began

So the question is, while Martin was technically first by a year, should they count as the oldest surviving ukulele brand since they have not continuously built ukes?

So… Which one is the oldest Ukulele Brand?

In the end, everyone will have to decide for themselves based on the evidence presented above. There are many technicalities you can pick at on either side of the argument, but does it really matter? Both brands are great and are known for making some of the highest quality ukes available. They have been the favored brands of ukulele artists like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Martin) and Jake Shimabukuro (Kamaka) for a long time.

So who do you think should be crowned The Oldest Ukulele Brand? Let us know in the comments below!

For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs, 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 (perhaps to one day become the oldest surviving online ukulele community!)

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5 comments

JoAn Damron July 26, 2022 - 6:01 pm

I vote Martin as the oldest ukulele maker. My husband swears by the Martin guitar brand, so that settles it! 🙂

Reply
Wilson Manders July 26, 2022 - 6:04 pm

My thoughts are not who is the oldest but who makes the best sounding ukulele

Reply
Jack Dorphy July 26, 2022 - 11:32 pm

Both are excellent. I have 6 Martin ukes, but no Kamakas. I also have numerous Martin guitars. While Martin has diversified their instrument line, it appears Kamaka only makes ukuleles. The year earlier for Martin, and their brief suspension of production doesn’t really matter. Kamaka can be proud of their Hawaiian heritage and family traditions. The question is moot IMO.

Reply
Jack Dorphy July 26, 2022 - 11:34 pm

Both are excellent. I have 6 Martin ukes, but no Kamakas. I also have numerous Martin guitars. While Martin has diversified their instrument line, it appears Kamaka only makes ukuleles. The year earlier for Martin, and their brief suspension of production doesn’t really matter. Kamaka can be proud of their Hawaiian heritage and family traditions. The question is moot IMO.

Edit: I meant to add that this was a great and informative article. Thanks!

Reply
Kenneth Wagner July 27, 2022 - 11:21 pm

I always start with Kamaka, KoAloha, Kanileʻa, and Koʻolau then work my way down.

Reply

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