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How to buy an ukulele from Hawaii

ukulele_hawaii_how_to_buyA HAWAII magazine reader asked us for some tips on buying one of Hawaii’s most iconic instruments:

Where can we find ukuleles and banjo ukuleles (new & used) being produced or sold in Kauai?

You ask, we answer. And we answered the question for all the Islands, not just Kaua‘i.

Standard ukuleles are far easier to find than “banjo ukuleles.” A banjo ukulele, or banjolele, has the small scale, tuning, and playing style of a ukulele but, not surprisingly given the name, is constructed like a banjo. Banjo ukes are not commonly used in Hawaiian music, so most music stores here would have to special order one.

We found one Hawaii crafter who builds both banjo ukuleles and standard ukuleles. Bonus? He’s on Kauai—Thomas Owen of Kapaa, Kauai-based Wailua Instruments. Click here for his contact info.   

Unlike the banjo uke, the standard ukulele is synonymous with Hawaiian music and culture. You’ll find the instruments for sale on all of the major Hawaiian Islands, not just Kaua‘i, in places ranging from music stores to department stores to Waikiki convenience stores.

As with most musical instruments, you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for an inexpensive music-making memento of your Hawaii trip, for less than $20, you can find ukuleles at most local flea markets and retailers specializing in Hawaii souvenirs. 

Most music stores in Hawaii carry quality new and used ukuleles from reputable crafters. Things can get a bit trickier for consumers hoping to buy an authentic “made in Hawaii” instrument, though.
The price of a quality Hawaii-made ukulele is usually based on the type of wood. An ukulele made of Hawaii koa—a highly prized wood endemic to the Islands—will cost you upwards of $650. A Hawaii-crafted ukulele made of mahogany, on the other hand, can cost between $50 to $80.

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