The ‘Ukulele has been around for many years.  However sadly, for most of those years it was not respected as a professional stringed instrument.  It was fun, everyone (at least in Hawaii) had one, and lessons were mandatory in elementary schools.

But it still could not compete with guitars.  And thus most were cheap, both in quality and cost.  And they had to be…. because no one would pay nearly the price of a guitar…..  it was perceived as a “toy”

Even famous guitar makers who had been making ‘ukuleles for many years simply used cheap left over woods from their guitar production. Which indicated that they too, other than cashing in on the latest, did not hold the ‘ukulele in high esteem. 

But about 30 years ago things started to change. A few ‘ukulele makers decided it was time to make a high quality ‘ukulele, regardless of the cost.  Musicians that we worked with in Hawaii were thrilled, and immediately said “it’s about time.”

Further back in our history, Ko’olau had been making guitars, a few mandolins, and repairing thousands of guitars, ‘ukuleles, violins, acoustic and electric bass, zithers, and every other imagineable stringed instrument. And then one day, since we are in Hawaii, we decided it was time to gamble on making a high end, respectable, professional ‘ukulele.  Except for a few customers, it didn’t go over well.  They were too expensive.  But we did it anyway. 

What helped was that three of our initial customers happened to be the three most respectable jazz ‘ukulele players in the world.  Big band jazz, Hawaiian jazz, and ‘ukulele education.  Lyle Ritz, Benny Chong, and Roy Sakuma.

Then others came on board.  Led Kaapana, Ned Kaapana, Trey Terada, China Montero, Mike Keale, Abe Lagrimas, Craig Brandau, Paul Hemmings, Kimo Hussey, Ernie Cruz, John Cruz,  Tevana, and many more.

Long story short, they were happy, and we were happy.  And the ball continued rolling.  One obvious problem was that we could not figure out how to make a high quality ‘ukulele cheap.  We still haven’t figured that one out. And to this day we refuse to compromise.  We introduced them to more musicians, and then to music stores.  It was slow.  It required a change in the mind set perception of an ‘ukulele.  Many thought “it’s a little instrument, it should be inexpensive.”  How can you charge so much? 

What’s interesting is that making an ‘ukulele is actually more difficult and costly than making a guitar. For a high quality ‘ukulele, there’s only about $5 to $10 savings on less wood.  Otherwise, again, it’s actually harder to make. 

Most major guitar makers the past few years have decided to “cash in” on the new craze,  (living in Hawaii we knew it was not a passing fad).   So it’s fun and satisfying to hear guitar makers complain, saying “man, this little instrument is harder to make than a guitar”  … or,  “I can’t even get my hand in the sound hole.”  We agree.   We wish them well, and hope they all succeed. 

Ko’olau models are now our exclusive high end custom shop.  Our customers can pick and choose many different options.  Pricing adds up, but in the end they have an heirloom to be treasured for many generations. 

And now we no longer need to apologize for the price of our instruments.  And we are proud to have taken the lead.  The world needs good quality ‘ukuleles. It’s one of the few things that makes people happy, and forget their problems.

As the demand grew, we eventually we needed to expand our Ko’olau production.  However, after some experimentation in “mass” production, we decided instead to add a different line of ‘ukuleles.  And we named them Pono, because Pono in Hawaiian is defined as excellence and the correct way of doing things, and we thought that was the right name.  Pono models are less expensive, but still very high quality. They are made from similar designs and molds, all solid wood construction and adornment, and the same professional attention to detail. And of course, we oversee all phases of production. 

Please click on this link www.ponoguitar&

We want to express our sincere appreciation to all have purchased and play one of our instruments. We can confidently say that we have achieved our goal.   

Although we humbly admit that each day is a new learning experience, we can confidently say that we have achieved our goal.  We will always listen to your suggestions.  And we promise to guarantee satisfaction.  Never perfection, but we will continue to try. 

“The methods we use are time consuming and costly …. but make a very  big difference!”          Noa Bonk

There is no weak link at Ko’olau. Production is kept small to retain their standard of excellence.

Shop Tour Videos