View Full Version : My Kamaka Factory Tour

04-26-2011, 06:03 PM
As I mentioned in an earlier thread (http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?45154-My-great-ukulele-shopping-adventure), during my Great Ukulele Shopping Adventure on Oahu and Kaua'i, I took the Kamaka factory tour. Here are some photos.

Tour Part 1

This is the fiirst thing I saw when I went into the Kamaka storefront. Kamaka models are on the wall (left to right, deluxe concert, deluxe soprano, pineapple, soprano, concert, tenor, 6-string tenor, 8-string tenor, baritone). The counter in the foreground is the top of a display case that houses some vintage Kamaka ukuleles, including one of the first pineapples.


There were two of us on the tour. Coincidentally, my tourmate (I didn't get a photo of him) was from San Jose, CA, just down the peninsula from San Francisco. We were greeted by Fred Kamaka (one of Sam Kamaka's sons), who showed us some of the vintage ukuleles while giving us a comprehensive history of Kamaka and the Kamaka family, including some great stories about Sam Sr.


Fred displays a very pretty block of koa while talking about the properties of koa wood.


Fred enjoyed showing us this photo of the original Kamaka factory. I think he said the photo was taken in the late 1920s. On the far right in the photo is Sam Sr. That's Fred standing next to his dad holding an ukulele.


04-26-2011, 06:04 PM
Tour Part 2

Fred then took us around to the back of the factory, where the koa wood is stored. The koa is stacked so it can dry, a process that can take several years. He said that they rotate the wood weekly so that the oldest wood is always used first.


Here's a stack of mahogany wood blocks. Each block produces two necks. You can see the profile of the necks penciled in on the surface of the blocks.


This is what the necks look like after they've been cut from the mahogany blocks.


04-26-2011, 06:13 PM
Very cool! Thanks for sharing. Love those trips you can incorporate a visit to where something you love is made. I went to Bologna a few years ago to see my Ducati Monster come off the assembly line. Their museum was amazing!

Ronnie Aloha
04-26-2011, 06:14 PM
Keep em coming!

04-26-2011, 06:15 PM
Tour Part 3

Fred demonstrates where the bracing goes on the soundboard. Fred explained that on bigger soundboards, the soundhole becomes more vulnerable. Notice how the concert soundboard on the left is braced the same way as the pineapple on the right but also has an additional brace. Tenors have two additional vertical braces below the soundhole.


These devices are used to mold the sides of an ukulele. The wood that's going to be used for the sides is wet and then placed on the metal plates, which I believe are heated.


These are the machines that are going to replace the devices now being used to mold the sides. Fred said that the new machines can mold sides much more quickly than the old devices. Each machine takes one matched set of sides. You can see the curve form the machines use on the machine to the right.


The older devices don't know what to make of the new machines.


04-26-2011, 06:24 PM
Tour Part 4

After the sides are run through the molding machine, they're placed in these static wood vice molds so the sides can settle into the curved shape.


Before the soundboards and backs are glued onto the sides, the infamous Kamaka red tag is placed on the inside where the neck attaches to the body. The first two digits represent the year, and the remaining digits are assigned in order, so an ukulele with the number "111000" is the 1,000th ukulele made in 2011.


When the sides have been removed from the vice molds, the soundboard and back are glued on. Notice the little tabs at the waist of the ukulele in the foreground. Those tabs are used to vice the body while the glue dries.


After the soundboard and back are glued to the sides, the body is placed in a vice while the glue dries.


04-26-2011, 06:33 PM
Tour Part 5

Meanwhile, fretboards and headstocks have been glued to the necks, and the necks have been placed on these shelves, where they wait to be assigned to bodies. Fred said that great care is taken to match the grain of the headstock to the grain of the body.


When the bodies are ready, the necks are glued on, and the instruments are placed in a vice while the glue dries. They're beginning to look like ukuleles!


After the necks are attached, the bodies are sanded and polished many times. These two ukuleles are in different stages of the sanding process. The beautiful grain of the koa is beginning to emerge.


Fred then led us upstairs, where finishing work is performed. Here's a view of the lower level from the steps, with the wood storage area on the left. Most of the lower level work area is out of view to the right.


04-26-2011, 06:42 PM
Tour Part 6

Upstairs, the ukuleles get bridges, tuners and strings. The ukuleles on the lower shelf are waiting for their tuners. The ukuleles on the middle shelf already have theirs. The tuners are made in Germany.


Ukuleles that have already gotten their tuners.


Across from the shelves where ukuleles wait for their tuners is the bridge work area. Bridges are attached before the tuners are attached. These concert ukuleles have had their bridges glued on and have been placed in vices while the glue dries.


Next to the work area where ukuleles sit while the glue on the bridges dries is the infirmary. These ukuleles are waiting to be repaired.


04-26-2011, 06:50 PM
Tour Part 7

Around the corner (to the left) from the shelves in some of the previous photos is an area where custom work is done. Here, Fred shows off a just-finished Jake Shimabukuro custom ukuleles. Kamaka is making only 100 of these, and the right to buy one was distributed through a lottery.


The back. The custom work area is behind Fred.


And a close-up of the body.


Uke porn.


04-26-2011, 06:53 PM
This is a great pictorial travelogue. Great photography too!

04-26-2011, 07:03 PM
Tour Part 8

Work on these ukulele has been completed. so they've been placed on these shelves, where they await inspection by a member of the Kamaka family. I believe the top shelf is for repaired ukuleles and the remaining shelves are for new ukuleles. No ukulele leaves the factory until it's been approved by a Kamaka family member.


When the tour was over, we went back to the storefront, where Fred allowed me to pose for a photo with him and the original Kamaka pineapple.


I hope you enjoyed this Kamaka factory tour. Everyone there was very friendly. Fred is a delightful tour guide and an ukulele and Kamaka encyclopedia. Someone should interview him for a book on the history of Kamaka Ukuleles.

Mahalo for taking the tour with me. Aloha!

04-26-2011, 07:09 PM
Thank you, sah, for the travelogue of somewhere that very much resembles heaven to me! *grin*

04-26-2011, 07:34 PM
Seriously awesome pictures and break down- saving up to go to Hawaii now. I agree with the Unk- that's heaven to me (wait- Gene Vincent tune on a Uke...off to go figure it out) :)

04-26-2011, 08:01 PM
Thank you for having taken the trouble to put this all together for everyone to see. Amazing how the Hawaians have carved out a sustainable business for themselves and their community. Photos were very clear and informative, especially these new benders next to the old ones.

04-26-2011, 08:29 PM
Thank you for posting these pics, looks like a great tour!

04-26-2011, 09:41 PM
Those are some nice pics, and nice ukes. Wish I could have myself one of them :) Thanks for the tour!

04-26-2011, 09:41 PM
Thanks for bringing back a lot of great memories for me. I enjoyed my Kamaka factory tour immensely and it was nice to relive it through your posts and photos.

04-26-2011, 11:09 PM
Loved the pics. Thanks for sharing! Love Kamakas.:)

04-27-2011, 12:14 AM
Fantastic. This looks so simple. No special bracing patterns, no unusual body shape. Looks like anybody could build a Kamaka.

04-27-2011, 12:39 AM
Thank you for a wonderful tour and photos. I feel like I was there with you!

04-27-2011, 01:23 AM
Thank you and great photos. I love seeing pics of these tours. Don't know when or if I'll get back to Hawaii, but thanks for taking me on the tour with you.

04-27-2011, 03:08 AM
Thanks for giving us all the "vicarious" tour. I was looking closely at the "infirmary" are to see if my vintage pineapple was there. Didn't see it so perhaps it is in someone's hands getting worked on.

I will definitely be doing this tour the next time I get to the islands. Its been WAY too long!

04-27-2011, 03:08 AM
Great tour photos - thanks!

04-27-2011, 04:02 AM
Dood! Thank you so much for taking the time to post this! I will have to look into a tour some time in the future!

You really took a lot of good shots!
Cheers to you!

04-27-2011, 04:27 AM
NICE! Im hitting that up next time I go to Oahu

04-27-2011, 04:55 AM
Thanks for the great virtual tour! The Kamaka factory is already on my list of places to visit on my next trip to Hawaii in April 2012.

Canoe Lady
04-27-2011, 05:45 AM
Thanks for taking the time to post this. I felt like I was actually on the tour along with you.

04-27-2011, 06:00 AM
Definitely on my list to do now!

04-27-2011, 06:23 AM
Thanks for sharing.....that was quite interesting.

04-27-2011, 06:26 AM

I hope you enjoyed this Kamaka factory tour. Everyone there was very friendly. Fred is a delightful tour guide and an ukulele and Kamaka encyclopedia. Someone should interview him for a book on the history of Kamaka Ukuleles.

Mahalo for taking the tour with me. Aloha!

Whoa. You got to hold the pineapple?! :)

Thanks so much for the details. I've got a couple hundred pics from when I took the tour a couple months back - this should help me if I ever get around to organizing them!

mm stan
04-27-2011, 07:58 AM
Aloha Mark,
Mahalo for the post and pictures, but it's nice to see them as I haven't been there for a while and nice to see the updates too.....Happy Strummings, MM Stan

04-27-2011, 08:17 AM
Thanks for the pictures and the tour details. That was great!!! I will be doing the same tour in August and can't wait!!! In fact, Kamaka is repairing my Kamaka vintage pineapple as we speak and I am going to pick it up at the tour.
Many thanks!!!!! :cool:

04-27-2011, 08:39 AM
Fantastic pictures and write up! Thanks for sharing your tour! I wanna gooooooo!

04-28-2011, 04:39 PM
Very cool. I feel like I was there! Thanks so much!

04-28-2011, 07:47 PM
Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

04-28-2011, 08:10 PM
Mahalo for posting those picture! I need to go there. Makes me want a Kamaka Concert now... :D

04-28-2011, 08:32 PM
Best post ever!!! A pictorial journey to the promised land. Thanks for sharing. That tour was already my #1 Hawaiian destination. Now I guess it'll have to be moved up to #0.


05-05-2011, 05:58 PM
Fred Kamaka mentioned that the factory will be moving someday because (1) they'd like to have a bigger workspace and (2) the factory is now in an area (Honolulu's Civic Center) zoned for "commercial," but Kamaka is considered to be engaged in an "industrial" use because the manufacturing process produces sawdust.

05-05-2011, 05:59 PM
I've got a couple hundred pics from when I took the tour a couple months back - this should help me if I ever get around to organizing them!

Wow! That's a lot of pictures! I'm looking forward to your photo travelogue someday.

05-06-2011, 03:45 AM
Made my day - thanks SO much!



05-07-2011, 05:18 AM
....but Kamaka is considered to be engaged in an "industrial" use because the manufacturing process produces sawdust.

Well, you can smell the place from 2 blocks away... ;)

05-07-2011, 09:03 AM
Well, you can smell the place from 2 blocks away... ;)

I love the smell of koa in the morning. ;)

05-07-2011, 10:26 AM
Great shots. Thanks a lot.

05-07-2011, 10:53 AM
I love the smell of koa in the morning. ;)

Lacquer......not so much... ;)

10-08-2011, 06:50 PM
WOW! Fantastic post on Kamaka manufacture! I've saved that one!!

One day I will go over & get my old 70s kamaka 'rejuvenated' there!

Thanks for the post - it is terrific


09-04-2012, 05:47 PM
How did I miss this thread?! Awesome! Great photos and it sure does look like the same tour as mine. Guess not much has changed since they started doing the tours. I'd do it again. lol

08-17-2014, 04:54 AM
DO you have any pictures of the tour to show us?