View Full Version : My great ukulele shopping adventure

04-09-2011, 10:01 PM
So a few months ago I decided to go to Hawai'i in the hopes of upgrading my main ukulele (a Big Island Honu solid koa tenor) to one of the K brands or a similarly handmade-in-Hawai'i ukulele. The plan was to look at lots of ukes with the hope of finding one I loved at Larry's Music on Kauai, mostly because of all the positive things people have said abnout Sam at Larry's and because it seemed like Larry's would have the biggest selection of K brands. My adventure began in Oahu and continues on Kauai. Here's where I've been so far.

Bob's Ukuleles (http://www.bobsukulele.com/), Waikiki. I was staying in Waikiki, so I looked at ukuleles there first. Bob's Ukuleles is in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. The proprieter (I forgot to ask if he was Bob), was friendly, and we bonded over the fact that we both owned a Kala thinline travel tenor. His was signed recently by Darryl Hall (Hall & Oates), who had been in the shop looking at ukes a few weeks earlier. Bob's had a range of ukes from Kalas, Lanikais and Ohanas, to Kamaka, KoAlohas, Kanileas and ukuleles with the letter "A" on the headstock. I played a bunch of them as Bob sold an entyry-level uke to a teenager, a percussionist who wanted to learn to play the ukulele. Then a friend of the proprieter's showed up and they jammed a little. I didn't buy an uke there because it was the first place I'd been, but he was selling a Kamaka HF-3 for $1090, which I believe is the list price at Kamaka.

Ukulele PuaPua (http://ukulele.pua2.com/). This is not the one in the Sheraton but the other one. I talked to a guy named Tyler. He really likes Kanileas, and he let me play a deluxe Kanilea that was selling for close to $2,000. Great sound, beautiful uke, but the neck's a little bigger than I like. He didn't have any Kamakas, but he said he was getting a bunch in soon and offered to email me photos and sound samples. Not sure I want to spend $1,000 on an instrument without playing it first, but maybe seeing and hearing it would be enough.

Kamaka Factory (http://www.kamakahawaii.com/). On Thursday, I took the Kamaka tour (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?46049-My-Kamaka-Factory-Tour). There were two of us on the tour (the other guy was from San Jose, so we talked a bit about the local NorCal uke scene). I'll post more about the tour and post photos in a separate thread when I get home, but for now I'll just say that Fred Kamaka was delightful. He told great stories and provided lots of interesting insight, and he showed off some new machines Kamaka will be using to build its ukes. At least now I know why there are two Ks on the headstock and logo.

After that it was off to Kauai.

Larry's Music. So far, this has been disappointing, especially since I pretty much came to Kauai to come to this shop. I got there on Friday afternoon and the place was closed. There was a sign on the door that said the store was open by appointment only, so I called the number on the sign and Sam graciously agreed to meet me on Saturday at 11:30. Except that he apparently forgot. I called about 15 minutes before my appointment, as he had asked, and got his voicemail. I called again at noon and left a second message. He had explained to me that he was really busy with shipping, and I understand that he might have forgotten to come to the shop, but I'm diisappointed that he hasn't returned my messages (9 hours later). Maybe he'll call on Sunday; I told him I'd be willing to come to his shop whenever was convenient for him, but I leave on Monday afternoon, and I may end up not being able to try any of the K brand ukes I can see on the wall throiugh the window of his store. He also has those Kamoa hard cases, and I wanted to look at them too.

Strings and Things (http://www.knitmap.com/locations/strings-and-things). This is a little shop in Hanalea that sells ukuleles, guitars and yarn. The proprietor, Will, is enthusiastic about Island Ukes, built on Kauai by a luthier named Rapozo. I hadn't heard of these ukuleles before. I tried two of the three tenors he had (cedar soundboard with mahogany sides and back, and koa; the one I didn't try was curly koa), and I was impressed. The koa one, which had a dolphin MOP inlay at the 2-4 frets, sells for a little more han $1,000.

Scotty's Music (http://www.yelp.com/biz/scottys-music-kalaheo). Because I wanted to see Larry's Music on Friday (I'm staying about a mile away from Larry's), by the time I'd finished dealing with Sam and with picking up my registration stuff for a 5K race in Puipo on Sunday, it was too late to go to Scotty's (which closes at 4:00 p.m.) I'm planning to be on that part of the island on Sunday, but Scotty's is closed on Sunday. I may go on Monday morning if I don't hear back from Sam or if I can go to Larry's on Sunday.

The upshot so far is that I may end up not buying a K brand uke or any uke at all. I could order a Kamaka from the factory or through Ukulele PuaPua, but as I mentioned, I'm not sure I want to spend upward s of $1,000 on an ukulele I haven't actually played myself, and other stores have few, if any, Kamakas or KoAlohas in stock right now. I may take the KoAloha factory tour on Tuesday, but KoAloha seems to require a minimum of 4 for a tour and I'm only one, so I'd have to be added to people already scheduled to take the tour.

Sorry the post was so long, but I thought my experiences with different ukulele sellers on Oahu and Kauai might be interesting and possibly helpful. Aloha from Kapa'a!

04-09-2011, 10:02 PM
Oops. Forgot to spellcheck my heading.

04-09-2011, 11:24 PM
That was an interesting read, and also very informative for anyone who wants to check out Uke shops in Oahu or Kauai.
Sorry that you did not manage to secure a 'K' brand uke though. Keep your heads up, something good's bound to come your way!

mm stan
04-10-2011, 12:21 AM
Aloha Mds725,
Sounds like you had a wonderful time brother....so when you coming back???? Thanks for sharing, was nice to hear about your vacation and Ukulele adventure...Keep Strumming them Strings...MM Stan

04-10-2011, 01:26 AM
Sounds like an adventure of a lifetime! It's unfortunate that you were unable to visit Larry's shop. Hopefully you may get another chance to visit his shop in the near future. Perhaps a look into Craigslist Honolulu would've turned up some fantastic deals on the K brands you were searching for.

04-10-2011, 03:23 AM
Sorry you are having a hard time tracking down Sam at Larry's Music. I like Sam (and the shop) a lot, but it seems tough to get in there lately. I used to always be able to find it open. The last time I visited, I found the shop closed, and called his voicemail -- I left a couple of messages and he did call me back. He did agree to meet me there and did so.

My advice to you, they have another store in Koloa town -- near Poipu. It has a sign "Ukulele Store" and it located near Crazy Shirts. I think Joe is the guy that works at that location. They also have Kamakas and KoAlohas and Kanile'as -- just not as big a selection. If Sam now has the Kamoa cases in stock (he didn't when I was last there), they should have them at that location too. Try it -- you might find the uke of your dreams. And they did have some Kamoa case samples when I was there last, so you should be able to see a case in person. Good luck and keep us posted.

Ukulele Dude
04-10-2011, 04:38 AM
mds, have you checked out Gryphon Strings (http://www.gryphonstrings.com/inventory/instrument_page.php?Instrument=Ukulele&Query=Ukuleles)in Palo Alto? I bought my Kamaka there. They usually have one of each Kamaka model, in addition to a bunch of other cool ukes.

04-10-2011, 05:45 AM
Wow, what an adventure! Thanks for the story, and good luck on finding that uke.

04-10-2011, 05:51 AM
I had similar experiences on Oahu last summer. I did get "royal" treatment by John Kitakis and staff at his Ko'olau shops, and ordered a concert pineapple which turned out great. My best experience, by far, at a retail shop, was with the staff at Gryphon. These folks just set aside a spot to sit in play in one of their display rooms, and invited me to play any uke in the store and assemble several at a time for comparison. I eventually bought a beautiful Kamaka HF3 at a price a little lower that any quote I received in Hawaii. Check it out!

Ronnie Aloha
04-15-2011, 03:29 PM
You could have just stopped by Stan's house and tried out every K brand around! : )

04-16-2011, 02:05 PM
You're Uke-lyses!

mm stan
04-16-2011, 03:07 PM
You could have just stopped by Stan's house and tried out every K brand around! : )
Aloha Ronnie,
I'd let Mark try our secret tenor ukulele...Leolani..shhh...no tell anybody...okay....

04-16-2011, 03:26 PM
Bruddah Stan,
Let ME try the Leolani, I'll be there May 3rd, I'll bring lunch................................BO........... ............

mm stan
04-16-2011, 03:33 PM
Bruddah Stan,
Let ME try the Leolani, I'll be there May 3rd, I'll bring lunch................................BO........... ............
Aloha Bruddah Bo,
You welcome anytime brah...

Viola Harpstrings
04-16-2011, 04:24 PM
I've never been to Hawaii, would love to go. But if I went and couldn't find a uke to buy, I think I'd be bummed out in a major way!