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Thread: The Kamaka Jake Shimabukuro Tenor (Jake Blue) Has Arrived - Thoughts and Comparisons

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Honolulu, HI

    Default The Kamaka Jake Shimabukuro Tenor (Jake Blue) Has Arrived - Thoughts and Comparisons

    Note: Instrument does not come in the Ameritage case

    Coming to Purchase the Kamaka Jake Blue

    Growing up in Hawaii, Jake Shimabukuro was a local celebrity. It’s crazy to know he’s 42 now, and still king of the instrument—although many outstanding ukulele artists have also come up in the years since Pure Heart. Despite following Aldrine’s online instruction since the UU team’s IamHawaii days, I never had the talent nor patience to be one of those artists—so the closest I might ever get would be owning an instrument similar to his.

    In fact, when I started playing ukulele over 10 years ago, I dreamt two grail instruments: a copy of Jake Shimabukuro’s slotted headstock tenor from Kamaka, and a KoAloha Tenor Sceptre. To my knowledge, Kamaka didn’t take custom orders back then unless you were genuinely talented, so that was out of the question. Thankfully, Sceptres are more accessible and Alan at KoAloha hooked me up with one which I love dearly.

    But, when the Jake Blue was announced at NAMM 2017 (more accurately, I saw it in the corner of someone’s YouTube booth review), I knew that I had to have one and immediately emailed Andrew at I probably bothered him every three months after that until the instruments finally shipped from the factory this month. One random morning this April, I woke up to an email from Andrew with pictures and sound samples from the HMS team of the two in-stock instruments. I normally snooze for about 30 minutes, but that morning, I leaped out of bed, turned on my computer, examined the pics, brought out the Sennheiser headphones, listened to the clips half-awake, and immediately pulled trigger on an example that had the lighter honey-colored wood. (In the end, it was purely an aesthetic preference because both sounded wonderful.)

    The shopping experience with TheUkuleleSite was seamless. Also, the ukulele came with no tax, free 2 day shipping (immaculately packaged), and free setup—pretty great!

    Aesthetics, Style, and Fit and Finish

    This is certainly a grail-level instrument.

    Immediately, the silvery-green abalone inlays surrounding the body and soundhole draw your eye when opening the case. The blue accents that give the instrument its name really do make the instrument and differentiate it from others which have “only” an abalone purfling. The one element that I had never seen anywhere before was the outlined logo. I imagine that this was quite difficult to achieve with two organic materials and required very fine workmanship—but the result is impressive and makes the headstock look much higher-end. Other accoutrements are quite subtle; for example, I didn’t notice the ebony trim around the soundhole for the first few days. The end strip is also so casual that I didn’t pay attention to it until I read the specs.

    Overall, the fit and finish of the instrument is spectacular. Certainly in the upper echelons of the most refined of any instruments I’ve experienced. There’s no random glue anywhere and the inlays and bindings are flush and flawless as far as my eyes can tell. The Gilbert tuners which help to give Jake’s instrument its signature chunky headstock style are 100% necessary here and really complete the look. Also, I’m not sure if this is a recent production feature, but I thought the laser etching where the neck connects to the body was a nice touch.

    As for the wood itself, preferences in appearance of koa is a personal matter, and I’ve historically found that Kamaka tended to use more wood that tended to be more on the subtle side. On my Jake Blue, the curl is definitely there throughout the instrument as you can see in the pictures; however, in person, under regular indoor lighting, it’s far more subtle—sometimes I almost have to look for it at the right angles. When I first opened the case, I had imagined something more obviously punchy and flashy, but after getting used to it, I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

    Pricing and Value

    You cannot talk about this instrument without acknowledging the price. The ~$5,000 price tag probably puts off a lot of buyers—especially for an instrument that has someone else’s name on the fretboard. I haven’t inquired with Paul at KoAloha what one of his masterworks cost (or how many years I’d have to wait to even be considered), but whoever you choose as your maker, you’d have quite a bit of choice and could get your own name on the fretboard if looking to spend in this neighborhood on an instrument. That said, there’s something to be said about chasing heroes….

    Also, the “value” (separate concept from “price”) for this ukulele is not absurd. If memory serves, the first run of 100 Kamaka-JS collaboration ukuleles sold for ~$5,500 (~$6,800 today adjusted for inflation) via a lottery system in 2006/2007 and then were trading in the secondary market for in the neighborhood of $10k when I had been looking—far out of reach. It didn’t even have a slotted headstock! It did come with an Ameritage case and [I believe] a Fishman Matrix pickup. But aside from a fancier case and a free pickup, with today’s production model, you’re still getting an instrument made by Casey Kamaka with top-of-the-line appointments. To be clear, because the Jake Blue is a production instrument, I do not expect it to appreciate in value the same way the original limited run instruments did—but all the better because then I’ll never be tempted to sell.

    Tone and Playability

    As for the way the Jake Blue sounds, I was admittedly unimpressed when I took it out of the case and tuned it up—sounded a bit dull and lifeless dead versus what I had heard in the HMS clips. But I figured that this might just be the strings and instrument needing to settle into its new home again after shipping. Indeed, after a few days of re-tuning, that seems to have been the case.

    After making itself at home, the tone on this instrument is spectacular. Particularly on the C, there well-rounded bass response, and strumming down to the A really lets chords sparkle. Sustain is excellent, and I expect the instrument to open up more with time and age. However, even today, it’s well-balanced, full, and frankly, if the tone is good enough for the guys on the HMS team who have the chance to play a ton of nice instruments, and good enough for Jake to play on stage, it’s certainly good enough for me.

    Playability is what you’d expect. The action is straight down the fairway—not as low as it could go, but somewhere in-between on the more conservative side to avoid any potential buzz. Weight distribution and balance when holding the instrument is also great despite having what I’d expect to be a heavier headstock. And I didn’t appreciate it at first, but the subtle bound ebony fretboard is buttery smooth to slide along. Finally, I haven’t had the best of luck with pickups…and frankly, no legitimate use for them…so I opted to keep this one fully acoustic figuring that this would help to optimize the tone with no extra holes or wiring or batteries in the body.

    Questions for the Experts

    I do have a few questions about this instrument that maybe someone on UU can answer:
    • What strings did it come with? D’Addario J71s?
    • How do they make the signature blue outline? It almost looks like a dyed streak in the ebony under a loupe, but I really can’t tell.
    • Was Jake involved in the making of these instruments in any way?

    Appendix: Kamaka HF3-D4I (Jake Blue Edition) Specs

    • Body Size: Tenor
    • Overall Length: 27.5”
    • Scale Length: 17”
    • Frets: 18, 14 to Body
    • Headstock: Geometrically Slotted Flat Top
    • Headplate: Ebony
    • Logo: Green Abalone Heart with Agoya Shell Outline
    • Tuners: Gilbert with Abalone Dots and Snakewood Buttons
    • Neck: Mahogany
    • Fingerboard: Ebony with Jake's Signature in Mother of Pearl at 12th Fret
    • Body Wood: Premium, Full Curly Koa
    • Bridge: Ebony with Bone Tie Block Strips
    • Saddle: Compensated Bone
    • End Strip: Ebony
    • Soundhole Binding: Ebony
    • Rosette: Green Abalone Heart with Blue Accent
    • Top & Back Binding: Ebony with Blue Accent
    • Purfling: Green Abalone Heart with Blue Accent
    • Finish: Gloss
    • Case: Kamaka Logo Hardshell

    Link to TheUkuleleSite Pictures and Video

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Honolulu, HI


    Comparison of the Kamaka Jake Blue to the Kanilea Aldrine Guerrero ProSeries Model

    When Kanilea announced the Aldrine Guerrero model for production, it was certainly an exciting product launch for its similarities to Jake’s instrument (Gilbert tuners, flat top slotted headstock, beautiful wood). However, there are a few interesting differences worth noting:
    • Neck: The Jake Blue neck feels thicker than the Aldrine model—and is gloss finished rather than satin, which gives it a different feel.
    • Headstock: The shapes are slightly different, but both are attractive. However, on the back, where the headstock joins the neck, the Kamaka forms a very cool “v” which I thought was a very stylish touch—not sure if it does anything for balance or playability, but I love the way it looks. The Kanilea uses ebony Giblerts tuners with ebony dots; the Kamaka has snakewood buttons with MOP dots—each choice fits its respective instrument.
    • Fretboard: The Kanilea doesn’t have a bound fretboard—but I really hadn’t noticed in the years I’ve owned it—it’s one of those nice-to-haves that you don’t really miss when it’s not there. I personally do like the Aldrine doodle sand inlay, but the Jake signature in mother of pearl does have its own timeless elegance.
    • Body: The one thing that is immediately apparent when playing the two is that the Kanilea has a more shallow body but still manages to put out incredible tone. I think that the shallower depth of the Kanilea body makes it one of the most comfortable ukuleles to play.
    • Wood: The wood on the Kanilea is also certainly more dramatic. Anecdotally, I think that the wood in the AG model has gotten more “normal” over time since the Log 50 models in the beginning, but I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with the wood here.
    • Details: The one thing I needed to swap out on the Kanilea were the plastic bridge buttons for Taylor ebony buttons which also fit (not perfectly, but it makes a world of difference to the look). You’ll find no plastic on the Kamaka.

    Overall, the Kanilea Aldrine Model is an outstanding value. You get all of the build/tonal features that matter (slightly different, but still great), a ton of premium aesthetic options and a significantly lower price. Any enthusiast would be happy with either instrument.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Honolulu, HI


    Comparison of the Kamaka Jake Blue (HF3-D4I) to the production Kamaka Tenor (HF-3L)

    The Kamaka Tenor has long-been the standard against which other Hawaiian-made tenors were measured. I currently only own the long-neck version (thinking I’d want something different from a regular tenor), but most of the comparisons to the regular HF-3 will still hold. The key difference I’ve found is that the long-neck version has more high-end sparkle and treble which is quite nice. However, the differences—obvious and non-obvious are as follows:
    • Aesthetic appointments: While these have nothing to do with the playability of the instrument, it is clear that the bulk of the price difference went into its appearance. The looks of an instrument certainly contribute to one’s enjoyment of it, and the Jake Blue delivers. However, the standard production Kamakas are flag-bearers, bringing owners 100% of that traditional Hawaiian look.
    • Fit and Finish: A very careful eye might spot that there is some visible glue along the internal kerfing in the production HF-3L, whereas the Jake Blue is visually flawless here—which is a testament to the greater attention to detail on the higher-end instrument. However, that is only a small quibble, and very slight amounts of excess glue is not uncommon on any of the K-brands. The one item that is different is the gloss finish on the Jake Blue. I don’t know if it’s just more layers or a higher polish, but the Jake Blue almost seems to have the greater luster of the Kanilea UV finished models whereas the HF-3L I own seems to have a more thinner satiny finish where you can feel some of the wood grain.
    • Tone: I have different strings on both instruments (Worth Low G on the HF-3L), the scale lengths are different, and the HF-3L I have has seasoned for a few more years. So the direct comparison is difficult. That said, the HF-3L has outstanding resonance and sustain and I’ve always thought that it sounded outstanding. I know that Casey is one of Hawaii’s top luthiers, but the standard production model has never been slouch.
    • Playability: My HF-3L actually came with lower action than the Jake Blue which makes it slightly easier to play. The fretboard isn’t bound, but you won’t notice with the fret finishing on the production Kamaka. On the Jake, because there are no fretboard dots, you get side dots in all the normal positions, which I prefer. Meanwhile, the regular HF-3 only has a side dot at 7—which I always thought was an interesting choice.
    • Tuners: There’s a lot of mystique around Gilberts. I remember Aldrine saying how excited he was for these $400 tuners on his pre-production Kanilea custom and the fact that Jake used them. Yes, they’re great. But I can’t say they’re any more accurate than the German made Schallers on the HF-3.
    • Neck: I could be imagining it, and don’t have calipers here, but the Jake Blue seems to have a thicker neck than the standard production model.
    • Case: This is a factor of a newer versus an older Kamaka. The case is the same, but I do think the new logo pops more.
    • Soundhole label: This is also a newer-versus-older difference, but we are now on what I believe is the 4th-gen of Kamaka labels (gold, white, beige, 100th anniversary). Looks great to me.

    I will be selling my HF-3L now that I have the Jake tenor due to the overlap in tonal similarities. Ultimately, if you’re looking for 95%+ of the tone and playability of the Jake Blue at a fraction of the price, you’ll be very happy with the standard HF-3.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Tampa Bay, FL


    Wow, how beautiful!
    Thanks for the review.
    You're very lucky...
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2014


    Thanks for the in-depth review. Very informative.
    The Jake model is beautiful. Good thing I don't play tenor, or I'd be wanting one. :-)
    I hope you enjoy your fantastic new ukulele.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2014


    Just listened to the sound sample on HMS, and the ukulele sounds fantastic. Enjoy!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2019


    Nice review and amazing instruments! I'm jealous!

    I think Kamaka does take custom orders now. One of my students walked into their South Street shop and ordered one last year. And darned if ain't a near clone of Jake's model. The main difference is no 12th fret logo and he had position markers installed on the fingerboard. Oh, and $4000 instead of 5 bills...

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2018


    Beautiful instrument!

    Thank you for the in-depth review and comparisons. I learned a lot from reading your comments.

    I hope you enjoy your new ukulele "to da max!"

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2018
    Sparta, Wisconsin, USA


    Both are lovely instruments. The Kamaka Jake Blue is just a slight step up in looks from the Aldrine Kanile'a. You're right the "V" at the base of the headstock is very classy and unique.

    Your review is excellent. Thanks for for putting it together. Appreciate the effort.

    Wonderful sounding instruments from the HMS videos.

    Enjoy your treasures. They are heirloom quality instruments.

    I don't know if it holds true with your Jake Blue, but when I have had HMS do the full setup for me, the strings they sent on the uke were not the same as what originally came on the instrument. That's in part because I asked for a Low-G setup. The most recent time they were using the Ko'olau brand strings. Before that, my Kamaka HF-3 came with Low-G Worth Clears.

    The only way to know for sure is to ask HMS. Just send an email to Joel and he'll get back to you. it may take a week, but he always got back to me when I asked what strings were on the ukes they sent me, if it wasn't written on the setup card they sometimes included in the case.
    Last edited by Kenn2018; 05-04-2019 at 01:08 PM.
    There is a subtle yet profound difference between the learning of something and the knowing of that thing.
    You can learn by reading, but you don’t begin to know until you begin to try to do.

    —Lou Churchill, Plane & Pilot Magazine

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Mission Viejo, CA


    Beautiful ukes! Is it my imagination or is the sound hole on the JS Blue a larger diameter than the standard HF-3. Not that it matters, but I never noticed, or even thought to look, if Jake's personal custom Kamaka was made with a larger diameter sound hole.


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