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View Full Version : My Oahu Uke Adventure - ukelog Part 1



bdukes
06-20-2011, 07:30 PM
Aloha UU,

Consider this part travelog and part retail shop review…

I'll post a more in depth review of the ukuleles acquired in the Review sections shortly.

Returned from Hawaii recently and have been sitting on sharing my experience because, quite frankly, it turned out to be such a positively emotional trip that I needed a few weeks just to pull together the story.

Having moved from Los Angeles a several years ago and now living on the East Coast island paradise of Rhode Island, it's definitely a little more difficult to get to Hawaii. I was taking the entire family, wife, 10 year and 10 month old daughters. Even managed to get our baby sitter (I call her my eldest daughter) out for free for half of our two week trip. Airline reward miles are awesome. Two flights and 12 hours later we landed in Honolulu. We stayed at the Outrigger Reef Hotel in Waikiki. Great hotel, service and location. In the past, I've stayed at the Moana Surfrider and recommend that hotel as well. Drinks under the banyan tree and ukulele music. Nothing better. This trip we needed something a little more kid friendly so opted for the Outrigger this time.

Ok, ok, I know, what about the ukuleles? Well, needless to say ukulele hunting was on the agenda. I've been reading about several members not wanting the temptation of a new uke while traveling but I can't escape it. I tend to find ukes a new home whenever I travel, so there is no way I was returning without one this trip. Specifically a Hawaiian made ukulele. Now it was no surprise when my wife asked which factories we were going to tour, because she has a keen understanding of the obsession this community shares for this little instrument. Yep, she's cool. Naturally, I put Koaloha and Kamaka on the list. Had my sights on a Koaloha Concert and already have a Kamaka tenor as my main player. Done. Thursday Koaloha, Friday Kamaka. But what about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday? I don't have a uke to play in the meantime. Time to check out the nearby shops and hopefully quell the withdrawal symptoms. This page (http://www.hawaiianmusichistory.com/ukulele/shops-waikiki.htm) had a nice listing of local shops and you can expand your search to other areas. Maybe not totally complete or up-to-date, but helpful nonetheless.

http://www.hawaiianmusichistory.com/ukulele/shops-waikiki.htm

Within walking distance were several shops. I found many excuses to go run an "errand" and checked out some of shops.

First stop, conveniently located in the lobby of the Outrigger Reef, Skye's Koa & Ukulele. Good selection of Koa souvenirs and pretty good selection of ukuleles. Mostly, Koaloha, Kelii, Kamaka, Leolani, Kala, and 1 Kanile'a tenor. Prices were expected, not great but not horrible. Some had even been marked down. They offered me a 10% discount on any of the koa models, which is available to all and assuming you could bargain as well if they had "the one". The three different staff I interacted with were very helpful every time I was in the store (which was a lot.) Different levels of knowledge with what I'm guessing was the manager or owner really knowing his stuff and super accommodating. I got to play several of the same models unchaperoned and as mmstan continues to advise, play them in person because each one is different. Pick the good one.

Shop 2: Bob's Ukulele in Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Good selection. Usual suspects but to be honest, I didn't stay because the vibe sucked. The gentleman behind the counter didn't seem interested in selling me anything. He seemed put out when I asked to play a Kamaka Concert that he needed to get down for me. Never mind. Life's too short. Onward.

Now I get that not every body is going to share the same passion or enthusiasm we do, but for gosh sake, they're musical instruments, many cost a pretty penny and you're in retail! People will come in, they'll want to touch product, and lastly and most importantly, they want to feel good about their experience. It's universal, I want that whether I'm purchasing a set of tires, candy bar or work of art. I don't have any patience for poor service so I don't even tend to say anything about it because in many cases it doesn't matter. Why get worked up? It seems to work for them, they're paying the rent and the lights are on, so let karma do its thing.

Next stop - Ukulele Puapua at the Surfrider. So I walked the beach down to Surfrider and into the store. Upon entering I could see there was a nice selection of beautiful higher end models and some builders I've never experienced. I'm in a candy store. A gentleman came over and introduced himself as Tyler and said feel free to play anything you want. Tyler Gilman was incredibly knowledgeable, super nice and accommodating. He asked about what ukes I had, what music I liked to play, budget, etc. Clearly, he got it. Soon I was feeling like I was being fitted for a ukulele. Cool. He left me alone to noodle around (another important part of the experience for me). I like the space to explore each instrument without someone hovering. He'd check in every once in a while and make the occasional recommendation. "Have you tried an Ana'ole before?" Nope. He pulled down an absolutely gorgeous uke with the Hawaiian Islands as the soundhole. Crap. I just saw the price, not sure I want to play it. What if I like it? A little out of my budget comfort zone for this trip but what the heck, I played it. Sounded great. Low G tuned. Deep tone, excellent sustain. And totally unique looking. Tyler had nailed most of my checklist with a single uke… except the budget part. Let's try some others in my swing zone. How about Kanile'a custom tenor? Check. K-3 model had the wood inlay rosette that I'm a sucker for. Never played one before. Loved it. Just didn't seem to be "the one" and still a little pricey for me. "You gotta try a I'iwi." OK. Again, wow! My head is spinning, I again imagined the conversation with my wife.

Me: Hey, look what Daddy got!
Her: It's beautiful. Is it the one you wanted?
Me: Umm, yeah, I guess. I mean yep. Well I got to go down to the restaurant.
Her: Why? It's 3:30.
Me: My shift starts in 5 minutes. Don't worry, I'll see you guys back in Rhode Island in the fall.
Her: ??
Me: I sold my return flight. But I got "the one." I'll need to do odd jobs around the hotel for only a couple of months. Besides, it'll give you and the girls a chance to paint the bedrooms any color you want. Love you.
<end scene>

Get a grip. You haven't even been to the Koaloha factory yet. Time to move on. I had a great time at Ukulele Puapua. Tyler is awesome. He gave me a card and said if I ever want a uke, give him a call. I plan to. I want to be a customer of theirs.

Next on the list, let's maybe try a traditional guitar or music shop. So the next day, I head to Easy Music Center on King Street in Honolulu. I had read some good reviews about selection. I arrive at the store and try to open the door. Closed. Huh? Oh wait, I've been up for 4 hours still on East Coast time so maybe I'm excited and just a tad early. It's 8:15, sheesh, my bad. They open at 10:30. Welcome to the islands. And music stores. I should have remembered from my band days, musicians don't get up until noon most days anyway. So I went for a cup of joe and came back when they were open. Pull the door open and bam! Straight ahead are two guys doing their best dueling basses imitation, except they're not together. Or even aware of each other. To the left, John Bonham's ghost is pounding out the Immigrant Song. Loudly. I push past the basses and the electric guitars where Charlie Van Halen is working out the final flourishes to his solo. You know Charlie Van Halen, right? Eddie's less talented distant cousin, thrice removed on his mother's pool guys's side. We all know him. Any Guitar Center on Saturday will have at least a half dozen Charlie's playing away a full volume. In fact, if you shut your eyes, you could be in any mainland GC based on the sound alone. OK, almost there. End of the room on the left, I can see the wall. Big wall. Lot's of ukes. Can't hear them. Few in tune. But they're there. Good selection though. Kamaka, Kanile’a, Koaloha, Big Island, G-String, Kala, Island Ukulele and Lanikai from what I remember. No knock on the store, the staff was pleasant, full service musical supplier, just not my kind of shop. They're serving a broader music market. Glad I stopped by though.

Let's get back to the hotel and continue to canvas the immediate area by foot. Still high from Ukulele Puapua the day before, I decide to check out their second store in the Sheraton Waikiki. It's right next door. Nice little shop. They're setting up for free ukulele lessons. Same as the day before, very nice staff and great selection. The girl setting up for and conducting the lesson was Jenny (?). She said she played for or was sponsored by Koaloha. Sorry but I can't find the card she gave me, so please correct me if that's not her name. Regardless, she was super cool. She was going to teach the class Wipeout. We talked about strings and upcoming performances (Hers, not mine. I'm not that good.) among other things. They were starting the lesson so I said I'd leave now and the other woman working said to just go sit over in the corner and keep playing whatever you like. Not one for confrontation… I agreed. So Ukulele Puapua is 2 for 2. I can't say enough good things about the folks there. Definitely worth a visit if you're in Waikiki. On the way out Jenny (?) said to say hello to Brian at Koaloha. Will do.

End Part 1

hopkid
06-21-2011, 05:56 AM
The girl setting up for and conducting the lesson was Jenny (?). She said she played for or was sponsored by Koaloha. Sorry but I can't find the card she gave me, so please correct me if that's not her name.

That would be Gina Sunada. And yes, from my experience, she is super cool.

Great report BTW. On to read Part 2!

bdukes
06-21-2011, 06:14 AM
Yes! Gina. Thank you. Really nice girl.

ItsAMeCasey
06-21-2011, 06:31 AM
Hey man, I know what you mean about Bob's Ukulele. I just went there two days ago and the vibe truly does suck. I wanted to try a Kamaka and the guy behind the counter acted the exact way you described. Thumbs down!

Gillian
06-21-2011, 07:09 AM
Two times I went into Bob's Ukulele, I had a good experience. The salesman was wearing a Panama hat, flowered shirt and a lei. He was friendly and full of information, not only about ukes but about Hawaiian culture and was eager to share his knowledge. He sang a couple of songs (great voice) while playing his Kala travel tenor. No pressure to buy a uke.

The third time I went in, I met the surly salesman you are talking about. He was pushy and not at all friendly.

If you go to Bob's Ukulele, go in when the guy wearing the Panama hat is working there. You might get a free lesson in Hawaiian, too.

bdukes
06-21-2011, 07:23 AM
Two times I went into Bob's Ukulele, I had a good experience. The salesman was wearing a Panama hat, flowered shirt and a lei. He was friendly and full of information, not only about ukes but about Hawaiian culture and was eager to share his knowledge. He sang a couple of songs (great voice) while playing his Kala travel tenor. No pressure to buy a uke.

The third time I went in, I met the surly salesman you are talking about. He was pushy and not at all friendly.

If you go to Bob's Ukulele, go in when the guy wearing the Panama hat is working there. You might get a free lesson in Hawaiian, too.

Good advice. That is the way I try handle those circumstances, go back later. I would not want to impune someone's entire business based on one person's demeanor. That was just my observation. I have heard others describe positive Bob's experiences otherwise.

mds725
06-21-2011, 09:53 AM
Two times I went into Bob's Ukulele, I had a good experience. The salesman was wearing a Panama hat, flowered shirt and a lei. He was friendly and full of information, not only about ukes but about Hawaiian culture and was eager to share his knowledge. He sang a couple of songs (great voice) while playing his Kala travel tenor. No pressure to buy a uke.

I also met the guy with the hat and the Kala travel ukulele (which he showed me was signed by Darryl Hall of Hall & Oates). He was friendly and chatty and he invited me to play any ukulele I wanted to. He was also very nice to the family that came in to shop for an ukulele for the teenager son.

janeray1940
06-21-2011, 09:59 AM
Two times I went into Bob's Ukulele, I had a good experience. The salesman was wearing a Panama hat, flowered shirt and a lei. He was friendly and full of information, not only about ukes but about Hawaiian culture and was eager to share his knowledge. He sang a couple of songs (great voice) while playing his Kala travel tenor. No pressure to buy a uke.

The third time I went in, I met the surly salesman you are talking about. He was pushy and not at all friendly.

If you go to Bob's Ukulele, go in when the guy wearing the Panama hat is working there. You might get a free lesson in Hawaiian, too.

The guy with the hat and lei is super cool. I think his name is Vel. It's as if he's on a mission to spread Hawaiian culture! Love that.

The other guy though - I've never had the displeasure of meeting him but have heard about him from others who have.

So weird how Bob's, and Aloha Ukulele, both have one surly grouch on staff. I would think there are plenty of people who would be happy to be spending their time selling ukuleles!

Gillian
06-22-2011, 11:25 AM
I wonder if Bob's salespeople work on commission. If so, buy a uke from the nice guy (Vel, is it?). Their prices are comparable to those at PuaPua, which reminds me...

When I went into PuaPua, I was sooo close to buying a Sceptre, until I saw an inch long dent in the back. I pointed this out to the salesman, who took it off the wall and was obviously pissed at the damage. He said he would take $30.00 off the price. I said no thanks. The next day I went in and there it was, hanging on the wall again for full price. No doubt some naive tourist will buy it for full price. Oh, well, caveat emptor....

ED747-400DRVR
01-22-2012, 10:33 PM
I am a Boeing747 Pilot for a cargo company. I am right in the middle of my shift and finding myself in Waikiki alot. About 5 years ago my grandfather passed and left me with interesting Ukulele's. One is a Tenor, the only identifying marks on it is a decal on top of the neck that says "Californian". I took it to Skye's last week. It was 7pm and there was a young man working the shop, and several other people there. He was very happy to look at it and we had a great time talking about it. He couldn't ID the manfacturer, but gave me several leads to who could. I went to Ukulele Puapua at the Surfrider, These people were tripping over themselves trying to help me. Very cordual and very helpful. Although, the people that could probably have helped me were on the mainland at the convention. I went Bob's and they have very funny hours, I.E. no one was there. Oh well, I had a great time walking, but did not find out about the tenor.

It's Sunday Jan 22, I just got in from Anchorage, and I swapped out Uku's when I went home. I am now carrying a Martin, Soprano. Got to the hotel at about 7:30, changed out of my uniform and met the rest of my crew for dinner. We went to the Outrigger, and stopped by Skye's again. (Now remember, I am just trying to find out the history of these 2 Uku's, They are not and will never be for sale!!) I walked into the store, and the older fellow that was there was actually rude about the fact that I had come into his shop with this Uku. I explained that my grandfather had died, and before I could get another word out he said "We don't buy used Uku's here!" I told him I was trying to figgure out what it was, and he just glared at me. I figgured that if I was going to buy new strings here, I would have to buy a new Uku to go with them. Like you folks have said before, "The Vibe Sucked". The feeling I got was that if you were not there to buy one of their new Uku's, they didn't want you in the store. I will think twice before going into any of their shops in that hotel.

Tomorrow I will go to Ukulele Puapua, I liked their Vibe, and I need to restring this Soprano.

Ed

ukuraleigh
01-23-2012, 03:24 AM
The PuaPua store at the Sheraton is where I first succumbed to UAS.

This was when Bruce Shimabukuro was working there. One private lesson with him, was all it took to be putty in his hands. He picked out a couple of KoAloha super sopranos and I was blown away by the beautiful sound and projection. He actually spent the time to test each one and picked out the one that sounded the best.

I bought it, but they would not let me take it right away. They wanted to "set it up" for me. Back then, I had no idea what that meant, and assumed it just needed the fingerprints removed. ;)

I was so excited about picking it up, that we clear forgot we had to check out of our hotel room that day. We had to tip the maid pretty heavy because we were so late packing up.

Bruce has moved on, but I'm sure PuaPua (and Ukebox) will both be on my visit list when I head back there in 3 weeks.

Trinimon
01-23-2012, 03:45 AM
Awesome review/trip report. I feel like I'm there while I was reading.

Thanks for the heads up on Bob's. The time I went in, I wasn't into ukes so I didn't care to speak to anyone. :p

Got the same friendly service from the Ukulele Puapua staff. That's where I ended up picking up a souvenir uke only to find out that that was the catalyst for a whole new world/love.

AKuker
01-23-2012, 07:45 AM
Great "uklog"! It's fun to learn about other's impressions and experiences. I've always been a bit intimidated in music stores. I think I've been to Bob's. That didn't help. Must have been the grumpy guiy when I as there.

bdukes
01-23-2012, 08:16 AM
We went to the Outrigger, and stopped by Skye's again. (Now remember, I am just trying to find out the history of these 2 Uku's, They are not and will never be for sale!!)...

...Tomorrow I will go to Ukulele Puapua, I liked their Vibe, and I need to restring this Soprano.

Ed

Aloha Ed! Welcome to UU and good luck on your history search. I usually try to stay at the Outrigger Reef and although it's nice to have ukes for sale in the lobby, I don't view the shop as a ukulele store. Too many other souvenirs etc that it seems ukes are an after-thought. Glad you found PuaPua, nice shop(s). If you get a chance and can get up to Hawaii Music Supply and their new store in Haleiwa. If you're lucky, Music Guy Mike (MGM) may be there and he seems to be wealth of info on ukes and their origins. Also maybe post some pics here on the board given the vast knowledge and resources here.


The PuaPua store at the Sheraton is where I first succumbed to UAS.

...but I'm sure PuaPua (and Ukebox) will both be on my visit list when I head back there in 3 weeks.

Lucky you, Ukuraleigh! After spending the better part of the weekend shoveling my driveway, I'm ready for the islands. My evenings are now almost exclusively spent planning the next trip... targeting July for the Ukulele Festival. How's the Triangle these days? I went to school at UNC and lived in Chapel Hill for about 15 years. Have fun in HI and be sure to report back.


Awesome review/trip report. I feel like I'm there while I was reading...

...Got the same friendly service from the Ukulele Puapua staff. That's where I ended up picking up a souvenir uke only to find out that that was the catalyst for a whole new world/love.

Hey Carlton, I've just got to say how much I enjoyed your 2011 Hawaii video and pics. Talk about stirring some memories! Nice stuff.

OK, back to Expedia... or can someone recommend a good travel site for putting together vacations? It seems prices have gone up considerably since last year, so any tips on "deal vacation" sites would be appreciated.

efiscella
01-23-2012, 08:27 AM
Last summer I went into Bob's Ukulele on the ground floor of the Marriott Waikiki. The store was empty. The sales person thought he sized me up as a non-buyer and his contempt for me was noticeable. Once he realized that I knew something about Ukulele's, he engaged me a bit. I told him I was interested in Kamaka. He told me that many of the $300 and below ukes were comparable to Kamaka's and he pointed to the bottom shelf that was filled with Makala, Kala, Lanikai, etc. When I told him I did not think they were comparable, he picked up a KoAloha soprano priced at $490 and curtly said, "This is better than any Kamaka." Then he walked away from me- and that was it. I ended up purchasing from from Ukulele PuaPua at the Surfrider. And speaking of Tyler Gillman, I got three instructional Hawaiian ukulele books/CD where Tyler was the singer on the CD. What a great voice-- and fantastic book and cd's. I love them not just for the great instruction but just to listen to. I only wish they had offered to set-up my uke. it is the only uke I have that could use a good set-up. I don't play it as much because of its need for a setup.

Trinimon
01-23-2012, 08:37 AM
Hey Carlton, I've just got to say how much I enjoyed your 2011 Hawaii video and pics. Talk about stirring some memories! Nice stuff.

OK, back to Expedia... or can someone recommend a good travel site for putting together vacations? It seems prices have gone up considerably since last year, so any tips on "deal vacation" sites would be appreciated.

Mahalo Bill. I'm looking forward to part II of your trip report. :)
Maybe I'll do a some videos of a couple uke stores when I'm there in June. I'm really disappointed that I'm missing the 41st Uke Fest in Oahu by a week. :(

bdukes
01-23-2012, 09:03 AM
Mahalo Bill. I'm looking forward to part II of your trip report. :)
Maybe I'll do a some videos of a couple uke stores when I'm there in June. I'm really disappointed that I'm missing the 41st Uke Fest in Oahu by a week. :(

Can't believe it was almost a year since I was last there... HI memories have a way of lingering in my conscience. June is our fall-back time, prices seem to be better too. Maybe we'll be there at then too. Keep that camera rolling...

Part II can be found here...
http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?48937-My-Oahu-Uke-Adventure-ukelog-Part-2&highlight=Oahu+ukelog

808boy
01-23-2012, 09:22 AM
Aloha for this thread. Had the same experiences last May. Puapua is the best as far as service, same feeling at Bob's, went to so many places but don't remember the names. My uke budget was small, so I restrained myself from all temptations. I ended up buying a Nice Ukulele from the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, a Solid Mango Concert for a price I couldn't walk away from. I have since bought 3 more from the same person(gave the original purchase to my nephew) and bought a nicer one. Did go to Koaloha looking for tuners for my very first purchase arranged through ebay and happened to be in Kaneohe when I'll be visiting. Oh, it's a Koalana Concert which I love but hated the ugly tuners. Back to the Koaloha story.....met Brian and explained what I wanted, he wanted to see it but it was at the hotel. He fiddled around a bit behind a small counter, and then he handed me a set of genuine Koaloha tuners. When I tried to pay for them, he smile and said it's free, compliments of Koaloha and they only have tuners in for production (on demand stocking) and don't sell any. The ones he gave me were from a broken neck. Guessing my telling him that I was born and raised in Honolulu and spent many afternoons playing at the Kapalama Canal, hit a soft spot for him. Told him I lived in Cali. for 44 years but MY home is still Hawaii.
Koaloha's customer service is second to none and hope to own one someday...........................BO.............. .......

Shakespeare
01-23-2012, 09:39 AM
Excellent reading. I have been chuckling to myself at this curmudgeon who works at Bob's. The guy sounds like he absolutely detests ukuleles and has somehow found himself in his very own nightmare.

efiscella
01-23-2012, 09:59 AM
Excellent reading. I have been chuckling to myself at this curmudgeon who works at Bob's. The guy sounds like he absolutely detests ukuleles and has somehow found himself in his very own nightmare.

The curmudgeon is probably "Bob" :D

UkueBass23
01-23-2012, 10:32 AM
Love it. Keep the days coming. Am waiting to hear about the KoAloha trip!

Plainsong
01-23-2012, 04:33 PM
That guy sounds like The Dragon Lady receptionist at Pixie's vet. If you get her, look out.

Only in this case, he's the only contact you get, why bother being a Kamaka dealer if you hate them... Or why bother being in business if you don't want to sell. Makes no sense to me, but you have to figure he doesn't know how the internet works.