View Full Version : Can someone give me info on a vintage Kamaka?

09-07-2011, 03:37 PM
I friend of mine is off digging through his storage unit and sends me a text with the following picture, since he knows I'm into ukes:



The story is that when my friend was a kid his family visited Hawaii and he somehow ended up with a Kamaka ukulele (this would have been around '86 or so). Well, apparently it's been in storage pretty much ever since (first in California, now Colorado).

I haven't gotten a chance to inspect it yet, but I'm expecting the worst since it hasn't been humidified (it isn't even in a case), it's been baking in a storage unit for decades, and at one point its home was in the Mojave desert. :eek:

Assuming this thing isn't kindling, what can I look for to determine what it's worth? I'm hoping to make a fair offer to my friend to give it a loving home, but he needs money and I want to give him a fair price.

I'll post more pics and info once I have it in my hands.

09-07-2011, 03:55 PM
Would need more detailed pics before someone more qualified than me could probably even offer a ballpark figure. Of course, pics are never as good as a close-up inspection.

But given that one small pic, it looks like it might be in pretty decent shape. :)

Yesterday, just for grins, I searched ebay listings for vintage Gibson mandolins since I have a nice one. I was amazed at how much people are asking for old junk... er, I mean "project" instruments in need of more than just a little TLC.

09-07-2011, 03:59 PM
If it's in decent shape, I'd guess it's worth about $400-$500 - seems to be what I see vintage white label Kamakas going for on eBay and Craigslist. Keeping my fingers crossed for you that it hasn't sustained any damage from the less than perfect conditions its been living in!

09-07-2011, 11:26 PM
That actually looks pretty good! More pics please! :)

09-08-2011, 02:58 AM
Not sure what it is worth. Send it to me and I can check it out - I will return it in a few years.

Anyway - looks good. Good luck.

09-08-2011, 06:49 PM
My friend brought over the uke tonight and is letting me borrow it. It's in surprisingly good condition, although I see a few issues with it. I've got it in a humidified case right now (turns out he had the original case), but I'll take some pics tomorrow and post them.

Dan Uke
09-08-2011, 08:11 PM
Would have been exciting if it was "vintage" I think it would have to be a little older to make the story really exciting.

09-09-2011, 05:33 AM
Check out my site (below) for info on it :)

09-09-2011, 05:46 AM
Eh, it's exciting to me. :)

Anyway, here's some pictures.


It's hard to see, but where the neck joins the body, there's a little step on either side, like this:
Body ---> ___/---| <--- Edge of neck

(continued in next post)

09-09-2011, 05:54 AM
It's a little more visible here:

There's a very slight crack next to the neck on the front:

The seam is separating on the back a bit:

There's a ridge on the very bottom which can be felt with the fingers, but it doesn't look like it's actually come apart:

And finally, there's a VERY slight twist in the neck (maybe not visible in the picture):

I'm amazed the thing isn't kindling after its lack of care—it may as well have been sitting in a car trunk for 20 years!

I have three questions:

Are these things that look like they need to be repaired?
How difficult would these things be to repair (especially the neck)?
What's the value of the instrument without the repairs having been done?

Thanks for everyone's help!

Dan Uke
09-09-2011, 06:25 AM
How's the sound? Is it better than any other uke you'lve played? Things might become better after a week of hydration.

I'm not into "vintage" so I remember reading a thread about buying a vintage for $150 + $250 for repairs and thinking that's a lot of money and there must have been shipping costs. Personally, I would buy a newer one and pass it along to my kids and that would become vintage for them.

However, I am not sure how much it would be for repairs...Do you want to know the price as your friend is going to 1) Keep it and repair it 1) Sell it to you 3) Sell it to you and you flip it? LOL

09-09-2011, 06:29 AM
1 or 2. :)

09-09-2011, 07:55 AM
Hydration should tighten those cracks up considerably. Put that beauty in a hard case for a week with a couple of humidifiers. If the humidifiers are completely dry when you open the case, that means the uke absorbed all the moisture. Repeat until that back crack is tight. There's a great video guide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43sbE9n7zv4&feature=related) to this process using a Taylor guitar as an example.

I'm no pricing authority, but I'll gladly share my ideas: With just a couple light cracks, I wouldn't be surprised by any asking price between $200 and $400. I'd hope for a sale price of $250 or so if I were the buyer. I'd hope for $350 or so if I were the seller. If the ukulele sounds terrific and has great intonation, you can add $50 (or $100) to any of those numbers.

09-09-2011, 08:25 AM
The intonation currently stinks, but I attribute that to the fact that the strings are 25 years old. I'm going to restring it soon.

Dan Uke
09-09-2011, 08:26 AM
The intonation currently stinks, but I attribute that to the fact that the strings are 25 years old. I'm going to restring it soon.

Be careful w/ string as it might cause more tension..you should get it checked first by a luthier

09-09-2011, 09:42 AM
Be careful w/ string as it might cause more tension..you should get it checked first by a luthier

What is your concern nongdam? Nothing looks unstable, cracks likely have to do with dryness rather than the low tension of a uke.

If it were in my hands, I would string it up and see how it plays/sounds. Check intonation with the twist in the neck. If you like it, and it plays and sounds good, I think $300 or so would be a good price. The repairs don't look like too big of a deal and may not need to be addressed much if they are stable.

09-09-2011, 10:52 AM
There's a great video guide (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43sbE9n7zv4&feature=related) to this process using a Taylor guitar as an example.

Thanks, that was really interesting. I've got the uke in a case with a humidifier now, but I think I'll toss in an Oasis sound hole humidifier as well to help speed up the process. This poor little uke is drier than a Texas well. :(

09-11-2011, 08:33 AM
I restrung the uke (and put some lemon oil on it while I was at it), and it's starting to look a lot better. I also noticed that at some point it's had a fret job, and it looks like the nut has been lowered a lot. It appears to be black plastic or something. I'm starting to suspect this uke may have been bought used, which would mean it's older than the mid-80s. Is there any way I can date it more accurately? I can't find a serial number or anything, just the white label.

09-11-2011, 09:17 AM
Look inside the sound hole and up at the neck block. There may be a manufacture date stamped there.

09-21-2011, 01:41 PM
Considering it's age and it's storage, it's in remarkably good shape. It hasn't been played very much by the appearance of the back of the neck, Kamakas that have long history of active play are almost crystal shiny on the back where hands have buffed it over the years. This one is shiny, but from original finish apparently. If you were to buy it, Kamaka offers a set rate of 200 dollars for nominal repairs such as these. I had a 58 soprano refurbished just last year, luckily, I'm local so there's no shipping, but what I took in looked far worse and it's actual condition was much further worse, they returned me an absolute gem. look inside the soundhole around the neck block, SOMETIMES in the past Kamakas would put the serial number on a white little sticky there.

09-21-2011, 02:26 PM
On the 'unofficial Kamaka ukulele' site there is a description about how to date a Kamaka ukulele.

Dating a Kamaka depends upon the specific label inside the soundhole and the double K on the head stock.
A yellow label was used from 1954 until 1969. A white label was used from 1969 until 2001. I can't tell from the pictures whether your label is yellow or white. A completely different label has been used from 2001 until the present.

The headstock decal like yours was used until 2001 when the current mother of pearl was used. So your uke is at least that old.

I agree with Ryan--play it and see if it is a uke you want to play often. If so, take it to a luthier and ask for a recommendation about whether the cracks should be stabilized.

09-21-2011, 03:01 PM
It doesn't have a date code, but it does have a white label. I'm now confident the uke was purchased used, although I can't pin it down more than ~1969-1985 (when it was purchased). I really like the sound of it, although the G string has gone a bit flat since I restrung it. I think it needs a new nut, and could stand to be re-fretted I think.

09-22-2011, 01:02 PM
You can also get information on dating an ukulele directly from Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. Just email photos of the ukulele, including label, keys, front and back to sales@kamakahawaii.com. Other factors will help the Kamakas narrow the years. Kamaka Hawaii, Inc. also does repairs on its own ukuleles. Major epairs take anywhere from 3-6 months. Minor repairs (gluing, changing strings, etc.) take a few days to a couple of months.