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Home Articles What Ukulele Did IZ Play?

What Ukulele Did IZ Play?

Find Out On What Ukulele Israel Kamakawiwo'ole Played Somewhere Over The Rainbow!

by Kevin Rossi
Can You Play Any Song on the Ukulele?

Have you ever wondered what ukulele did Iz play? If I asked you to name the first song that comes to mind when you think of the ukulele, you might choose something like Vance Joy’s Riptide, or Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips, but chances are pretty good that Somewhere Over the Rainbow would actually be the first tune to pop into your head.

Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, sung in part to the tune of What a Wonderful World, is one of (if not the) best-known ukulele songs out there.

So it’s no wonder many people, like yourself, are curious to know what kind of ukulele the Hawaiian native used, specifically when performing his iconic song.

The Martin Tenor

A brand mostly known for guitars, IZ’s ukulele was made by Martin & Co, a very, very old company. To put it in perspective, Martin was originally founded in 1833 and claims on their website that Civil War soldiers played their guitars!

If you – as an ukulele player – aren’t familiar with the brand, don’t be surprised. While Martin started producing ukuleles around 1910 (and some people argue it has a claim as the oldest maker of ukuleles still in business), it’s not necessarily the most recognizable brand out there. This is in part because, as mentioned above, they are more well-known for their guitars, and partly because they don’t make any entry level ukes. In other words, their ukuleles are all high quality, but expensive, and you aren’t going to find them in your average music shop that only carries affordable ukes by well-known uke specific brands like Kala, Ohana or Lanikai.

The ukulele IZ played was a Martin Tenor, to be specific, an instrument the company started producing around 1929. At a height of 6’ 2” tall you can understand why IZ needed something bigger than a soprano!

Read more: The Best Martin Ukuleles

Martin generally only uses two types of wood in the construction of their ukuleles, mahogany and koa, and it might surprise some to know that IZ’s uke was of the mahogany variety, not koa, the most common option for Hawaiian instruments.

Due to the iconic nature of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere over the Rainbow, you can now even buy the 1T IZ Tenor Uke. This version of the classic Martin tenor is made of all solid mahogany, and it has a special inlaid “IZ” and a hibiscus flower on the headstock. How cool is that?

If you are looking to get yourself a Martin like IZ’s, but aren’t sure you can swing that price, they do make a slightly more affordable model of the 1T called the Streetmaster.

The Song

Regardless of what it was played on, IZ’s classic remains one of the most recognizable – and easy! – songs to play on the ukulele, so no matter what kind of ukulele you play (or how old the manufacturer is), it’s worth learning. If you want to be a part of keeping IZ’s legacy alive in the ukulele community and beyond, check out this article on how to play it!

For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site 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.

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1 comment

Ray DeBiasa July 10, 2023 - 4:41 am

Just got home from Maui. Most spiritual place I’ve been to in my life. The earth, moon, sky, trees, sand and water give off the most soothing and calming aura. IZ exemplified all that I described and more and his voice and song. God less you IZ and Mahalo for giving us your music.


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