We’ve been watching stuff get made, lately. We are a regular, uh, what’s that show called where you get to watch stuff get made? I can’t remember, but we’re like them. We visited an olive oil press and a coffee roaster in Oregon and today, we went to the birthplace of the KoAloha Ukulele.
The shop is a tiny place, when we were there four or five guys were working in the production area while from upstairs, the sound of melodic strumming spilled down the stairs. “That’s the stringing area,” said Brian Benavente. “That tuning sounds better than any of my full on playing,” I joked, not really joking.
Brian walked us through the process of creating a uke, showing us where they mill the koa — an increasingly rare and expensive wood found only in Hawaii — how they bend the sides, brace the face, and lovingly finish each instrument. I noodled with every single ukulele hanging on the showroom wall.
“They’re factory seconds, it’s a great way to pick up a nice uke for much less than you’d pay retail for.” “Seconds? Really?” I handed over the tenor I’d been messing with for way too long. “What’s wrong with this one?” Brian turned it over in his hands, finally pointing out a fingernail width black mark on the back at the bottom of the uke. “That’s IT?! Really?!” “You know, they’re expensive. That’s a 1500 dollar instrument when it’s new, it should be perfect.”
In addition to talking about the history of business, Brian talked about the power of our four stringed friend. Long time readers will know that I love the social mojo the uke packs; Brian mentioned that too. “You get these clubs springing up all over the place, we’re sending ukes to Germany and Belgium and all over the world… you just don’t get that kind of connections with a guitar.” Hallelujah, of course.
I confess. I didn’t lose my heart to the KoAloha ukes, though I let that “second” tenor make a play for me. I did, however, really appreciate the chance to see how the instrument I love so much gets made. It’s clear that the folks at KoAloha love their work and take endless pride in their ukes.
Cool and easy practical thing: The Waikiki Trolley Red Line now stops at the KoAloha workshop so you can get out there without a car. My heart and wallet are still intact, but if you’re looking to give yours away to a beautiful new ukulele, you should drop in. I won’t look at their ukes the same way again.
Pictured: The worlds smallest playable ukulele. It really is playable, I tried it.