View Full Version : Kamaka Gold Soprano- opinions welcomed

11-29-2012, 02:34 AM
Hi all, i'm very new to Ukes but am well and truely hooked. just bought what I believe and hope is a real Kamaka Gold label. First off I have to say the sound is really bright and loud- a lot more than my other new Timberidge Tiki concert which is muted in comparison. However, I have a coupla questions i'm hoping experts will be able to answer...

First off is it the real deal and i've not bought one of those Japanese copies? The colour of this one is a lot darker than all others i've (only seen in pictures). It looks to be the original finish.

Second, theres some wierd glue spots inside partly exposed behind the top of the label, as if the lael has slipped down? Wierd. The decal looks fine and there's no other marks anywhere on it. It also has its old original black blue belvet lined case.

Thirdly, the strings. As I mentioned i'm a complete novice so I tend to drag my fingers changing chords and the effect of this is that theres a distinct rasping sound on the strings- quite loud which i'm actually hoping is a good thing as it means it's amplifying sounds really well. I guess when I get better that will reduce. The strings are also quite grippy, meaning that they're not slippery like a lot of nylon strings.

Fourthly, tuning it is tricky as it's easy to climb over the not or go under with the slightest twist- which is probably just due to not having gears. Also she can go out of tune pretty easily.

In all i'm really happy with this dainty little thing and I hope all's well with it. I wanted to get something that I could keep for a very long time and that my kids will also love. Going on what I have found out so far if it's real it dates anywhere between 1954 to '69 but most likely late 60's?

Here are the shots and please chip in with your thoughts. I have a heap of others but was limited to posting 4 only.


11-29-2012, 03:49 AM
She's a beaut!

mm stan
11-29-2012, 04:38 AM
Nice Gold Label...I have a couple of them...your is a late late 50's -early sixties one....slap on some Martin M600 on it...order from Elderly Music....google them
Nice Score and it is in great condition, better than mine...mine has a deep sweet earthy sound and it sounds really nice too...Happy strummings

Skinny Money McGee
11-29-2012, 04:58 AM
Very nice. I've seen gold label Kamaka's that have the sticker on the back of the headstock that say "Made by Kamaka Japan, Finished Kamaka Hawaii", but don't think that is a bad thing at all. (I believe mine was made in Japan, could be wrong). It has a hand written date of 11-61 and the Luthier's initials on the neck block. Written in pencil and hard to see if your not looking for it.

As for the tuners, I upgraded to Grover 4W tuners with ivoroid buttons, that made it much easier and smoother to tune, strung with worth strings. Just get yourself a hard case and a humidifier for the dry season and your good to go!

Beautiful uke you got there

11-29-2012, 05:09 AM
Welcome to the UU forum! Congrats on finding a lovely, classic Kamaka!! As for your issues:

(1) Looks genuine to me; (2) don't worry about the glue inside.

(3) Those might be Hilo strings---great nylon strings that have some texture. If they sound and feel good, use them until they start to sound dead or stop staying in tune. If you'd like a smooth set, take Stan's suggestion and try Martin strings.

(4) With time, you'll get used to tuning without gears. If it's slipping just a little out of tune often, your strings may still be stretching (if they're new) or they may need replacement (if they're old). If a string is slipping badly out of tune, its tuning peg may need adjustment. You can adjust the screw on its tuning peg (tighten by a sixteenth of a turn at time) until it holds tune. You can always loosen the pegs until they don't hold tension, then slowly tighten them back up until they work well.

Enjoy that great uke!

11-29-2012, 05:37 AM
I think the bridge may have been replaced at some point, and the finish is so nice it makes me wonder if it has been refinished? Doesn't really matter though, you are happy with it and that is what is important. I agree with Stan, put some Martin strings on it and it will sing....and the squeaking should go away.


11-29-2012, 05:55 AM
That's a good looking uke -- congrats!

I could be mistaken, but yours may look darker because it's mahogany and not koa. The double K on the headstock refers to Kamaka Keiki, which was their mahogany model, (partly?) made in Japan.

Regardless, it looks like it's in great shape. Oh -- and if you do change out the strings, check out Southcoasts. I've found they pair up really well with my mahogany soprano.


11-29-2012, 07:01 AM
That's a good looking uke -- congrats!

The double K on the headstock refers to Kamaka Keiki, which was their mahogany model, (partly?) made in Japan.

On a recent factory tour Fred Kamaka said that they went to the double K when he and Sam took over from their father in ~1955 signifying a K for each brother?

Skinny Money McGee
11-29-2012, 07:40 AM
After looking around, yours does look like a Mahogany Gold Label which according to this website http://unofficialkamakaukulele.wordpress.com/rare-kamaka-models/ is a rare and collectable model. Also the site shows your model with the exact same bridge. So it appears the bridge is original too.

***CONGRATULATIONS*** you scored what appears to be a very rare uke. Take good care of it and make sure your Kids realize this is no toy but a fine instrument.

p.s. I'm jealous !!

11-29-2012, 08:36 AM
Nice uke! As for the rasping sound on the strings, try to "lift before you shift" when changing chords. This means lift your fingertips ever-so-slightly off each string before moving your fingers to the next chord. I don't mean pause between chords, but in the nanosecond before you change chords, raise your fingers a bit so they don't drag on the strings. And just barely raise them. You don't want your fingers waving around in the air like octopus tentacles. :)
It may feel awkward at first, but will come more naturally, and it will eliminate a lot of the squeaking from your fretting hand.

11-29-2012, 08:52 AM
I was going to ask about mahogany because I thought that Kamaka made koa ukes. Interesting. Also regarding the KK, I have a 71 white label koa uke with the double K so I don't think that it indicates a mahogany build on white label Kamakas. cheers, g2

11-29-2012, 07:22 PM
Hey thanks for all the great feedback guys, that helps a lot. After looking for shots of something similar and that link to the unofficial site I agree it does look like Mahogany as I think that dark colour really is the timber not a stain. However the only reference i've found to Mahogany Kamakas just refers to the Keikis. The transfer on the head of this one is definitely just a KK and doesn't show any sign of ever having Keiki on it, and there's no sign of any other markings/ stickers ever being on it. So it's a bit of a mystery. Could it be that they made a small run of Mahogany only ukes in Hawaii? As much as I like the idea of it being special it does seem a little unlikely?

Another big mystery is that looking closely inside, it appears it has a second gold label under the main one, plus that top label appears to have the lower section (that ought to have Handmade in Hawaii on it) missing! Any suggestions? Has anyone ever heard of or seen gold labels missing the bottom portion before?

The history that I have on it at this moment was that it was a gift given around 1970 in Hawaii from a Senators wife for supporting an event. Hopefully will get some more....

Thanks for the tips on strings, i'll keep them original as long as possible and will go the Martins when the time comes.

With regard to timber species, does anyone know what the acoustic differences would be between mahogany and koa? Looks like i'll have to buy a koa uke next....:D

As far as the sound is concerned and as far as my limited skills tell, the sound is crisp, full and loud with no buzzes. I'm sure it would sound fantastic in the hands of someone with a bit more talent than me.

Apologies for all the questions, and don't worry, I have a heap of vintage flying gear so my boys know how to care for beautiful old things.

11-29-2012, 11:15 PM
This video may be helpful to you in discerning the differences in tone between mahogany and koa:


MGM compares Koaloha (koa) and Koalana (sapele, a mahogany relative). Essentially the same instrument, same strings, etc., just different wood. My experience with both koa and mahogany is similar to Mike's: mahogany tends to be a bit warmer, koa is a bit brighter. However, individual instruments do vary, so this is a generalization. That said, other factors can impact the tone more significantly when it comes to mahogany vs. koa. I would think a mahogany Kamaka is going to sound more like a koa Kamaka than a mahogany soprano by another manufacturer. In other words, koa and mahogany are quite similar, tonally speaking. You would hear a more profound difference were the top a softer wood, like spruce or cedar. The Kamaka Ohta-san with a spruce top sounds quite different when compared to the same instrument, all in koa (I've played a few of each).