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CTurner
06-14-2011, 10:22 AM
I want to share my trip experiences as I visited uke shops on both the Big Island and on Oahu last month.

My wife (who helped a lot on this search) and I first visited the Big Island, arriving in Kona. The only place I really wanted to visit was a short drive away, the Holualoa Ukulele Gallery (http://www.konaweb.com/ukegallery/). Inside what used to be a post office were a number of custom and vintage instruments hanging on the walls. Some lovely work there. A voice called out a greeting from the back of shop, telling us we could just take off the wall any uke we were interested in. I went after the concerts. As I played a bit, Sam Rosen, the owner, came out and we chatted. He teaches uke building over a two-week span: at the end of a series, you leave with your own hand-built uke. The ukes on the wall were very high quality, with lovely variety of woods and luthier styles and build philosophies. There wasn't one I tried that wasn't nice. There was a Ken Joesting tenor that was amazing and if I had not been look for a concert, I would have seriously considered buying it. It was made of koa and milo, wood from both "mountain and sea," a concept I found compelling. It had a great sound as well, and so easy to play.

Over the next few days we visited two other shops near Kona, but I found little beyond low to middle price range--lots of Lanikai, Kala and Mele.

A few days later we were in Hilo and my only target was Hilo Guitars (http://www.hiloguitars.com/). Brian Padilla was behind the counter, a very friendly, relaxed guy who let me play whatever I wanted. He took out two additional Kamaka concerts from their boxes, just so I could compare three. For an hour I played and liked what I heard, but nothing said "I'm the one." There were beautiful Kanile'as on the wall, quite a variety of sizes, but since I already have a Kanile'a concert there wasn't too much pull that way. : ) The store is more targeted at guitar players (some Fender guitar reps showed up while I was there and were setting up for a demo presentation that evening at the store). But this is a good choice to try out ukes and the atmosphere is very relaxed. I bought a Hilo Guitars and Ukes hat.

Most of my experience looking for ukes was on Oahu. Some good experiences, but also some that were less pleasant.

The first shop I happened into was Hawaiian Ukulele Co. at Aloha Tower Marketplace. It's a very nice looking shop with a number of high quality ukes hanging on the walls. Inside, I saw that each uke was padlocked to its hanger and the woman behind the counter didn't bother to look up when we came in. I touched a Kamaka concert, looked at her and asked if I could play it. With a sigh and bored look, she came over, unlocked the padlock, and stood there while I tried a few chords. No conversation, no grace, no interest. I asked to play a second uke, and when she seemed even more uncomfortable I asked, "Is there a problem?" she finally said, "No." I felt the temp of the place crater about ten more degrees and so I said thanks and we left.

We stopped by the Kamaka factory after that (http://www.kamakahawaii.com/), where in the front office we saw a few items and a price list for each model. Everyone was friendly and there was no problem trying a demo from the wall. By now I knew the Kamaka sound and there wasn't more to learn at that moment. We thought we might come back the next day for the free factory tour, but we didn't get back there.

Next day was a visit to Hawaii Music Supply, Wahiawa. I had been checking out their website (http://www.theukulelesite.com/) for months as well as watching all the great tutorial and review videos they upload. I was psyched to go into a place that sounded like a wide variety of K brands could be compared; it was definitely at the top of my to-visit list. Unfortunately, the day I was there, their ukulele wall was rather bare. One Kamaka, one Kanile'a, a lot of Kalas and Leolanis. I played the Kamaka, but that was it. I had so hoped to hear a Ko'olau or two, but nothing was available. No store can promise exactly what will be in stock on any day, but this was a disappointment for me. The clerk was friendly and helpful, but he seemed to know more about guitars than ukes. As an online shop, I wouldn't hesitate to call for prices on their models, but the storefront experience that day was forgettable. From there, we drove into Honolulu.

There are some uke shops along Waikiki shopping area (tourist sales, anyone?). We parked in a hotel lot. In the shopping arcade of Pacific Beach Hotel, we saw the Ukebox (http://www.theukebox.com/#!), which I was told is owned by Jake S.'s brother, but in early afternoon it was closed. Next we headed to Bob's Ukulele in the Marriott Hotel shopping arcade (http://www.bobsukulele.com/index.htm), but it was closed. The sign said it was open from 9-12 AM and then 5-9 PM!! Looked very nice, though small, and half the space was allotted to jewelry.

So on to PuaPua (http://ukulele.pua2.com/), a few blocks down Kalakaua Ave., which has loads of tourists and beach visitors walking on the street. The store seems to have quite a bit of traffic looking at beginners' ukes. I saw some nice concert ukes on the wall, took down one (I think an Oscar Schmidt) and began playing--something from Jazz Masters, I think--and a young man holding a uke stepped up to me and said, "Hey, you like Herb Ohta and Lyle Ritz, eh? I think you might like this one for that style..." and took down an I'iwi. Neal Chin was the salesman and we had a lively chat for 45 minutes as I tried out a number of concert ukes. Neal was the most engaging and attentive sales person I'd encountered in my uke search and I enjoyed my interaction with him. Frustrated about not being able to try a variety of higher-end ukes next to each other, I had finally found the situation I wanted. A Miele concert pineapple with low G had a richness to it, but the I'iwi classic kept calling me—I Ioved the action and the sound, which was softer and quite different from my Kanile'a concert at home. It was not inexpensive, and it was hard for me to decide. Another clerk called the owner about the price, but it was pretty firm. I couldn't commit to it and reluctantly, we left the shop...but I left my cell number.

The next morning we were back on Kalakaua Ave. but further down in the Ala Moana Shopping Center, an enormous three-level shopping mall. I found a second Bob's Ukulele—much larger with a bigger selection than his other, closed shop of yesterday. When we first approached, the door sign said closed, but a man inside was opening up the store. The walls were covered with lots of really nice ukes in different sizes--the K brands, plus GString, SonnyD, Tangi, Koaloha, Kamaka, Kanile'a, Valley Made, Island, and others. I was excited and chose one and began playing. The man behind the counter didn't look up. I played a second uke. Still no response. A third, fourth and fifth uke (I was playing lots of chords and fingerpicked songs, up and down the neck, listening intently and judging the action) and finally the guy came over (from 3 feet away) and said, "Are you interested in ukuleles?" Duh. He then returned to the counter and polished his phone. My wife asked if he had a business card; he said no. I loved the selection, but thought the service was not only sad, but very puzzling. Just then a man the clerk knew stepped into the store and the clerk brightened, smiled and called out "Hi!" They shook hands and started laughing and chatting vigorously. That did it for me: this man did not want my business. I called out "Thanks" and he barely looked my way. I also called out, "I was ready to buy!" and there was no reaction at all. He didn't care.

At the end of that sour experience, I got a call from Neal at PuaPua who wanted to know what they could do to get me to look at the I'iwi concert one more time! He hinted at giving me me a slightly better deal, and we returned to PuaPua, about a quarter mile down the avenue. I played the I'iwi more and admired her unusual shape and the pretty i'iwi songbird inlaid on the headstock. (It's pronounced "ih-evie.")
Neal didn't pressure me to buy, but was very attentive to my questions. (He didn't know that I had dreamed about this uke all night!) The small price reduction they offered sealed my decision, and I now own a gorgeous I'iwi classic series concert uke. I'd not known anything about this brand when I headed to Hawaii (review to come soon), but I'm in love with my I'iwi!

The experience taught me something about uke shopping in Hawaii. The variety and quality of ukes in all of Hawaii is amazing. But—and it's a big but—you will not find all your options in one or even two stores. You have to be willing to shop at a lot of places. What's in a shop at any one time may be a lot or only a little. Online shopping spoils us with the total selection of ukes, but it doesn't compare to playing them side by side. No one store can give you a complete range of uke experience. Additionally, if you are interested in medium to higher-end ukes (over $500) you may have to be more selective in your store choices.

The other point is that not every shop will be as excited to see you as you are to see it. Some uke shops I visited seemed to treat the ukes more as a commodity than anything else. You may not get a lot of eager reinforcement in playing and trying out ukes. But there are some terrifically nice guys in some of the shops and those are the ones I remember.

This is long, but I thought the story of my uke trip might give some insight to those of you considering doing the same.
24658 At Hilo Guitar
24659 At PuaPua
24660 The I'iwi bird (uke to come in review)

hopkid
06-14-2011, 11:16 AM
Very thoughtful and honest report. Thanks for posting!

mm stan
06-14-2011, 11:18 AM
Aloha CTurner,
Sorry to hear some employees can really spoil the whole ukulele buying experience...Glad to hear you found your Holy Grail Uke and Neil was there for you...Thanks for sharing your
buying experience..with us....Happy strummings with you new Concert I 'iwi... have fun and enjoy.... MM Stan...

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
06-14-2011, 11:35 AM
You have found what I have known for some time--PuaPua is the best! They really do have a quality staff there. Congratz on the new uke.

RichM
06-14-2011, 11:39 AM
Wonderful post! Thank you so much for taking the time to write it. In my area, you can only find Kala and Lanikai, so I've never had the luxury of shopping for a high-end uke in person. The notion of having a wall full of top-notch ukes sounds awesome, but as you rightly point out, the service really matters. Congrats on your new uke, and can't wait to read your review.

Uncle Rod Higuchi
06-14-2011, 12:00 PM
Don't apologize about your experiences. I just hope some of the stores will be able to read this very
open and insightful review and perhaps tweak or overhaul their business practices!

It is unfortunate that some of the stores with the best inventory sometimes has the worst demeanor.
Maybe that's why there are so many ukes there! The stores that are empty must be selling them to
very happy and appreciative customers!

I'm so glad your review had a happy ending! Now you'll be our UU resident expert on both the I'iwi
ukulele and bird!

Keep uke'in', (and looking forward to your ukulele review),

mds725
06-14-2011, 12:20 PM
Thanks for the detailed post. I had my own ukulele safari in April (O'ahu and Kaua'i) and ended up in a few of the same shops on O'ahu that you did. I'm wondering if the second Bob's Ukulele you went to was in the Royal Hawaiian Center, which is a few blocks from Ukulele PuaPua, and not in the Ala Moana Center, which is actually at least a mile or so from Ukulele PuaPua). I was at the Bob's Ukulele at the Royal Hawaiian Center and the guy was pretty nice (probably not the same guy) and even chatty. I also had a great experience with PuaPua -- I was looking for a Kamaka and they didn't have any, but the guy I spoke with offered to email me photos and play them over the phone when they came in -- and, as you said, they had some interesting ukuleles there that I'd never heard the brand names of before. One place I went at the suggestion of mm stan (Aloha, Stan) was Dan's Guitars in Honolulu. Like the place you went in Hilo, it's oriented more toward guitars than ukuleles, but it was the only place I went to on my trip that happened to have Kamaka, KoAloha and Kanile'a ukuleles at the same time. It even had a couple of used ukuleles that looked like really good values (unfortunately, by then, though, I'd already bought a Kamaka tenor).

I look forward to photos and a review of your I'iwi ukulele.

Lori
06-14-2011, 01:24 PM
Nice diary of your explorations in uke shopping. I am glad PuaPua was a good experience. I met Tyler and Ken at the New York Ukulele Festival, and they were very nice and real ukulele enthusiasts. Their booth was backing up right next to ours, and they were very nice and had a good collection of high end ukes. They even bought a group of Uke Leashes to take back to Hawaii.

–Lori

PhilUSAFRet
06-14-2011, 01:44 PM
Thanks for your wonderful description of your uke buying adventure. I could imagine myself in your shoes. I've always been iffy about a trip to Hawaii (long flight/expensive) but now I'm really into ukes and the whole pig luaus, I may just have to do it.

rem50
06-14-2011, 01:56 PM
Great post. I too hope that the businesses with a less then stellar staff read this. If I ever get to Hi. I have to go to some of those places you liked!

ItsAMeCasey
06-14-2011, 02:55 PM
So sad how some of the stores treat their customers, but glad you found a great Hawaiian made uke :D Congratz!

DeVineGuitars
06-14-2011, 06:10 PM
Congrats on your new uke!
Three cheers for Puapua! They really are the best.

GKK
06-14-2011, 09:31 PM
Thanks, for your shopping review!

My wife and I are planning a trip to Oahu this September for our 25th Anniversary and I'm glad I know where to visit and not visit. I usually won't touch a ukulele unless I'm thinking of buying it. The shops must get a lot of people who just play around with the ukes with no intention of buying and get annoyed by it.

Usually if I enter a store and it doesn't feel right, I'll just leave.

Oahu sure has changed from when I first visited in 1985. Back in 1985, All the people and shop owners were very nice and almost went out of their way to greet, talk and help you. On my last visit to Oahu in 2006, I learned to try and stay near the tourist beach area's because we drove to a local beach and got a very unfriendly welcome feeling by some of the locals. Out of respect, we left and drove back to Waikiki.

We still Love Oahu and can't wait to go back!...

Thanks again for your honest review!

lafleurdelion
06-15-2011, 12:34 AM
This is a pretty detailed and honest review! I appreciate it so much. I recently posted a question about uke shopping/searching on Oahu and this helps answers some of my questions about what shops to check out. I've been to Hawaiian Music Supply. I went there yesterday actually... you are right about the selection. But the staff was so nice and inquisitive about myself and my goals, etc. They certainly weren't shy about taking anything down for me and thrusting it into my arms like a proud parent with a newborn. Ultimately, I didnt buy anything but I did teeter on buying a uke even though I didnt fall for anything, just because they were so keen to help me. I also checked out the Aloha Tower ukulele store but they were closed. Glad they were now! I really liked the Uke Shop in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Sweet Guy in there and he was so eager to show me ukes and talk to me. He even taught me a few things. I went to Ala Moana but couldn't find Bob's Ukes... Maybe I'll try again. My friends went to the Flea Market at the stadium and said there were lots of ukes and those who made them by hand there. Any good? Im trying to find something that is unique to the island. Something I wont find anywhere else or online even? Am I asking to much?

Thanks again for the review!

CTurner
06-15-2011, 02:30 AM
To the posters who commented on Bob's Ukulele address: my notes were incorrect, the Bob's that had the nice selection was in the Royal Hawaiian, not the Alamoana shopping center. It's right next door to PF Changs. Thanks for that correction!

johntz
06-15-2011, 04:33 AM
Great post. Brought back memories of my adventure on the big island. I got my first Uke from Sam Rosen. He is such a character and good guy. Sounds like you had a great time. Congrats on your new Uke.

BadLands Bart
06-15-2011, 06:40 AM
Thanks for the indepth review of shopping for a uke in Hawaii. LOL...I was expecting all stores to ooze that Hawaiian Aloha spirit!?!?! Guess I was wrong. Anyway, very glad you got what you liked and from a store whose people appreciate you stopping in and buying from them!!!

mds725
06-15-2011, 07:20 AM
To the posters who commented on Bob's Ukulele address: my notes were incorrect, the Bob's that had the nice selection was in the Royal Hawaiian, not the Alamoana shopping center. It's right next door to PF Changs. Thanks for that correction!

I wonder if the Bob's Ukulele in the Royal Hawaiian Center still has this cowboy Fluke in the window ...


http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=23092&d=1303856596

mm stan
06-15-2011, 07:30 AM
This is a pretty detailed and honest review! I appreciate it so much. I recently posted a question about uke shopping/searching on Oahu and this helps answers some of my questions about what shops to check out. I've been to Hawaiian Music Supply. I went there yesterday actually... you are right about the selection. But the staff was so nice and inquisitive about myself and my goals, etc. They certainly weren't shy about taking anything down for me and thrusting it into my arms like a proud parent with a newborn. Ultimately, I didnt buy anything but I did teeter on buying a uke even though I didnt fall for anything, just because they were so keen to help me. I also checked out the Aloha Tower ukulele store but they were closed. Glad they were now! I really liked the Uke Shop in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Sweet Guy in there and he was so eager to show me ukes and talk to me. He even taught me a few things. I went to Ala Moana but couldn't find Bob's Ukes... Maybe I'll try again. My friends went to the Flea Market at the stadium and said there were lots of ukes and those who made them by hand there. Any good? Im trying to find something that is unique to the island. Something I wont find anywhere else or online even? Am I asking to much?

Thanks again for the review!
One of the venders at the stadium..sells Nice brand ukes...made in the phillipines and finishes the assembly with tuners and strings here in hawaii... I would buy a uke from a uke shop though,

janeray1940
06-15-2011, 07:41 AM
It's interesting, the different attitudes different people get in the Oahu uke shops. I was in Honolulu in February with 4 friends. At the Bob's at the Royal Hawaiian, 3 of us had a great experience browsing and chatting with the guy who worked there - he could not have been friendlier, and he let us mess around with as many ukes as we wanted. The other 2 in our group went at a different time, and were faced with a grumpy guy who ignored them and, if I recall the story correctly, was belching the whole time. Very strange.

I had been warned that the service in the uke store in the Hilton Hawaiian Village would be off-putting, but when we were there, the man who was working knew that my friend and I were just browsing. Still, he let us play the ukes we wanted, and played a nice chord of "Star Dust" for us.

Tyler at PuaPua was friendly to us too. Again, we were clear that we were in browsing mode, but still allowed to play any uke we asked about.

And I think the longest time spent by us in any uke shop was at Good Guys on Kapahulu, which, for the record, had amazingly good prices. Five of us, twice in one day, grabbing stuff off the walls and playing, and they weren't bothered by that at all. Until I started up a conversation with one of the guys working there, we were completely ignored - which I guess to some might be perceived as unfriendly, but I actually like it when salespeople wait for me to approach them first.

Dan Uke
06-15-2011, 08:08 AM
I thought you ended up with a cheaper uke but quite the opposite. This just shows that there are many high quality ukes besides the "K" Brand.

molokinirum
06-15-2011, 08:33 AM
Great Hawaiian uke shopping review!!! Glad you took one for the team!! Also, I have had a similiar bad experience with the Ukulele store located at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. There is a nast, evil looking older woman who works there and she looked at me like I was only there to steal a uke!! Left and on the way out told her I was there to buy a Kamaka uke but it is their loss.
To this day, I still can not believe it!!!
Congrats on getting your new uke!!!!

jimd
06-17-2011, 10:11 AM
Thank you for your great review of your experience.

I am extremely lucky to be going to Hawaii twice this year. Once in a couple weeks on business to Oahu and once in the fall to the Big Island. I hope to pick up a uke while I am there. I am a guitar player with no uke experience at all. This thread is great info. It sounds like I am better off doing my shopping on my Oahu trip. I am staying at the Sheraton on Waikiki and it sounds like there is a great store right there.

wickedwahine11
06-17-2011, 10:24 AM
I had been warned that the service in the uke store in the Hilton Hawaiian Village would be off-putting, but when we were there, the man who was working knew that my friend and I were just browsing. Still, he let us play the ukes we wanted, and played a nice chord of "Star Dust" for us.


Great Hawaiian uke shopping review!!! Glad you took one for the team!! Also, I have had a similiar bad experience with the Ukulele store located at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. There is a nast, evil looking older woman who works there and she looked at me like I was only there to steal a uke!! Left and on the way out told her I was there to buy a Kamaka uke but it is their loss.
To this day, I still can not believe it!!!Congrats on getting your new uke!!!!

Molokinirum beat me to it...I was going to say, that is because you had the guy. I have been to that store a ton of times. Each time I had the older man or young guy, they were great. Unfortunately, at least 75% of the time it is the older woman, who glares at you as you even walk by. I stay in that hotel (usually that tower) each time I go to Oahu, and she is evil and nasty every time I go. It is even a joke amongst my friends and family now, did you go by Aloha Ukulele, was the evil woman working or did you actually go into the store this time. The funny thing is, they have chairs right outside and I have often sat there playing my Kamaka ukulele, or my KoAloha. So clearly I'm not foreign to the idea of buying a uke...unless she thought I stole those and now I want a Ko'olau for my collection. I remember once I saw a group of people go in at the same time and she was freaking out as she couldn't "evil eye mad dog" all of them into not stealing from her. I don't hate many people, but I really REALLY REALLY dislike that woman.

hopkid
06-17-2011, 05:05 PM
Molokinirum beat me to it...I was going to say, that is because you had the guy. I have been to that store a ton of times. Each time I had the older man or young guy, they were great. Unfortunately, at least 75% of the time it is the older woman, who glares at you as you even walk by. I stay in that hotel (usually that tower) each time I go to Oahu, and she is evil and nasty every time I go. It is even a joke amongst my friends and family now, did you go by Aloha Ukulele, was the evil woman working or did you actually go into the store this time. The funny thing is, they have chairs right outside and I have often sat there playing my Kamaka ukulele, or my KoAloha. So clearly I'm not foreign to the idea of buying a uke...unless she thought I stole those and now I want a Ko'olau for my collection. I remember once I saw a group of people go in at the same time and she was freaking out as she couldn't "evil eye mad dog" all of them into not stealing from her. I don't hate many people, but I really REALLY REALLY dislike that woman.

Was she an older Asian woman? If so, she was there the first time I stopped by the shop (I was also staying at the hotel but in a different tower). She was very nice and let me handle any of the instruments I asked about. I had been playing for all of 1 week at that point and was an obvious newbie. Plus I'm a lefty so I couldn't really play anything on any of the instruments. She wasn't exactly chatty but I have a hunch she may not be confident in her English skills. Just a guess.

It's a small shop but I would definitely recommend anyone to stop in mainly due to their nice selection of high-end ukes. My profile pic was taken at the shop.

wickedwahine11
06-17-2011, 06:22 PM
Was she an older Asian woman? If so, she was there the first time I stopped by the shop (I was also staying at the hotel but in a different tower). She was very nice and let me handle any of the instruments I asked about. I had been playing for all of 1 week at that point and was an obvious newbie. Plus I'm a lefty so I couldn't really play anything on any of the instruments. She wasn't exactly chatty but I have a hunch she may not be confident in her English skills. Just a guess.

It's a small shop but I would definitely recommend anyone to stop in mainly due to their nice selection of high-end ukes. My profile pic was taken at the shop.

Yep, she is an older Asian lady. Well, I'm glad you had a good experience with her. I never have -- and that is on repeated occasions. I suppose it could be me, but I've had great experiences with the older man and young guy so I don't think that is the case.

I second your recommendation to stop in and drool though, they have some fantastically beautiful high end ukes. And while their prices can be on the high side, I have also seen some sale signs in there as well. I try to make a habit of going in there when it is the older Asian guy or the young guy working...but I now just keep on stepping when it is her (and vow to try again later).

molokinirum
06-18-2011, 06:30 AM
Yep, she is an older Asian lady. Well, I'm glad you had a good experience with her. I never have -- and that is on repeated occasions. I suppose it could be me, but I've had great experiences with the older man and young guy so I don't think that is the case.

I second your recommendation to stop in and drool though, they have some fantastically beautiful high end ukes. And while their prices can be on the high side, I have also seen some sale signs in there as well. I try to make a habit of going in there when it is the older Asian guy or the young guy working...but I now just keep on stepping when it is her (and vow to try again later).

haha...Glad to hear it is not just me!!! I always stay at the Hilton Hawaiian when in Honolulu and stop by this shop. If she is there, I will just keep walking! And yes it is an older Asian Lady!

hopkid
06-18-2011, 08:28 AM
Well, I'm glad you had a good experience with her.


haha...Glad to hear it is not just me!!! I always stay at the Hilton Hawaiian when in Honolulu and stop by this shop. If she is there, I will just keep walking!

Must be my ultra-charming personality. :rolleyes:

Dino
06-18-2011, 09:29 PM
Wow. That was a nicely written review. Sorry to hear about the terrible customer service you received. Coming from someone who lives on Oahu, to tell you the truth, I would not have gone to most of your sites you visited. Kamaka and Hawaii music supply would of been a suggestion, but the first place I would of told you to visit would of been Ko'Aloha Ukulele. The service is top-notched and their instruments are divine. Another site that would of been worth while would of been Kanile'a ukulele. Excelent instruments and friendly people.

The main thing is that you found an ukulele that YOU like. Thats all that matters. Aloha, Dino