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Century-Old Kamaka Hawaii Celebrates Four Generations of Ukulele Making

Honolulu-based instrument maker Kamaka Hawaii is wrapping up a year of celebrations commemorating its 100th anniversary of making Kamaka ‘Ukulele.

Samuel Kamaka Sr holding a pineapple ukulele. Courtesy Kamaka Archive

Founded in 1916 by Samuel Kaialiilii Kamaka, Sr. as Kamaka ‘Ukulele and Guitar Works in what was then the Territory of Hawaii, Kamaka Hawaii is a family-owned business known for creating koa ‘ukulele, as well as for inventing the distinctive oval-shaped “pineapple ‘ukulele” in the 1920s, according to the company.

“The heritage of ‘ukulele making at Kamaka Hawaii is preserved by second, third, and now fourth generation Hawaiian luthiers, as well as the many talented craftsmen at the Kakaako factory in Honolulu,” a Kamaka Hawaii spokesperson told NBC News.

“Four generations of Kamaka luthiers have developed ‘ukulele-making techniques that create durable, exquisite koa instruments that improve with age," they added.

The year of celebration launched in January 2016 at the National Association of Music Merchants Show in Anaheim, California, where the 2016 Kamaka Ukulele models were unveiled and a concert was held featuring ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and other noted performers, the company said.

Later in the year, a two-disc compilation CD of music played on Kamaka ‘Ukulele by noted Hawaiian and Japanese artists was released, two styles of Reyn Spooner limited edition Kamaka Hawaii aloha shirts were created, author Jocelyn Fujii began working on a new history about the company and the family, a Maui ‘Ukulele Guild exhibition was held, a 100th anniversary concert was held in Japan, and a 100th anniversary concert was held in Honolulu. Every 2016 Kamaka ‘Ukulele will also bear a special commemorative label and banner, “1916-2016.”

The second Reyn Spooner aloha shirt and a collection of women’s scarves are expected to be released before Christmas, according to the company.

Company president Sam Kamaka, Jr. and vice president Fred Kamaka, Sr., who have been running the company since 1954, are both now in their nineties, but they and their children and grandchildren continue to be guided by founder Sam Kamaka Sr.’s motto: “If you make instruments and use the family name, don't make junk."

Three generations of the Kamaka ukulele family. Photo by Julie Bach

"The value of a koa Kamaka ‘ukulele comes not only from its fine quality craftsmanship, but from its heritage," a Kamaka Hawaii spokesperson said. "Obtaining a Kamaka ‘ukulele means acquiring a legacy, a cherished family heirloom that can be passed on from one generation to the next. We are proud to be 100% Hawaii-owned, 100% Hawaii-managed, and 100% made in Hawaii.”

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