Ka Lai Soprano Pineapple
1930's Ka-Lai Pineapple
Gold Label Kamaka Soprano Ukulele Corner
Gold Label Soprano
The Kamaka bell shaped concert ukulele known as the Ohta San
"Ohta San" Concert
Kamaka started in 1916 making it the longest running manufacturer in Hawaii and one of the best. Their founder Sam Kamaka was also the person who invented the "Pineapple" oval shaped Ukulele that has become a standard in a lot of manufacturers catalogues. To add the importance of Kamaka within the history of the Ukulele, his son Sam Kamaka jnr. was the person who invented the Lili'u to celebrate Hawaii's granting of statehood in 1959, (not quite so popular and there were quite a few unnamed precursors, but another standard model in a lot of catalogues). When people talk about the Hawaiian big K's this is one of them. The Website has a history of the people and the business on it that I won't copy here, but I have seen, and it doesn't mention, that Kamaka made some Pineapples for the Aloha Mfct Co in the 20's and these have Aloha on the headstock and Kamaka as the sound hole label. One part I will repeat though is a bit about dating. First from 1916 to 1975 most Kamakas had the date of manufacture written on the label inside, (though I haven't found it on any of the ones I have seen?), after this they moved to serial numbers. Externally The really early ones don't have a headstock logo but have a "cigar box" type label on the base, probably a Tabu mark too), after this they moved to a blue Hawaii crest with Kamaka over it. The Double K logo first appears on the headstock in gold in 1954, this is also when they start to put the gold labels inside. In 1969 the inner label is changed to white. in 2001 the double K on the headstock was changed to white and the inner label has a purple patch added behind the double K logo.

Over the years Kamaka have made all of the usual standard types and scales of Ukulele, usually in koa but they have used other woods for custom orders They also made the early Pineapple Ukuleles that actually had pineapples painted on them, sometimes just a smallish pineapple between the sound hole and the bridge, and sometimes the whole soundboard was painted as a pineapple, (a decorative style that is often copied today). Interestingly for some reason those that had a full painted front didn't have a painted back and those that had a painted back didn't have a painted front? Currently, (2014), as wells a the standard Soprano through to Baritone plus pineapple, Taropatch and Lili'u, Kamaka are making a Deluxe Soprano, a Deluxe Bell Concert and a couple of artist endorsed models, (the JS and the Ota-San), and they will do customisation.

From 1963 to 1970 Kamaka collaborated with Tokyo Stringed Instrument Manufacturing Co., Ltd. to produce Ukuleles for sale in Japan. Called Keiki Kamaka, (apparently Keiki means Child of in Hawaiian), the Ukuleles were made of mahogany, and were only Sopranos. These had a Keiki added to the lower K of the logo and the story is Kamaka did this to counter all of the fake Kamakas that were being sold in Japan, (and I have seen a fake Kamaka of the period with a KK on the headstock but the end of the fretboard and the bridge weren't right and neither was the heel of the neck it looked very similar to the output of Daiichi Gakki)


From the late 1930's to 1946, A range of predominantly Monkeypod Ukuleles were made by Johnny Lai, (who I believe was Sam Kamaka Jnr.'s friend or possibly a relative?), using the factory on evenings and weekends they were branded Ka-Lai, a combination of Kamaka and Lai. The name was later changed to Ka-Lae because it sounded more Hawaiian, (I have seen a transitional Ukulele where the headstock logo was Lai but the soundhole label was Lae).

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