Kanile'a Ukulele

By Teri Okita – bio | email

KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than 100 years after Portuguese field workers brought their tiny homemade guitars to the islands, the instrument now known as the ukulele is more popular than ever. And where there's music, there's money to be made.  So, we checked out a Kaneohe company who's hitting all the right notes.

One thing you realize on a tour of Kanile'a Ukulele in Kaneohe - it takes plenty of work to make a beautifully-crafted instrument.

A Kanile'a ukulele starts in milling - where they use woods from Hawaii and all over the world. Even the smallest flaw could send a piece to the scrap heap. Company owner Joe Souza has been playing ukulele since he was in fourth grade and began building his own in 1995.

"I got a saw, sander, some of the key tools, built my own jigs, basically, that's where it started," says Souza. "16 years ago?" I ask.  Souza replies, "Yeah, from Joe's garage!"

That garage has now turned into a business with 16 employees, and Kanile'a - which means "Joyful Sound" in Hawaiian - has expanded more than 400 percent in the last five years. Souza chalks success up to his team, quality, and uniqueness.  The shape and the bracing inside are significantly different from others, and they're the only ones in the world to use a polyester-based, UV finish.

Also, timing could not be better. Performers like Train, Eddie Vedder, and local boy Jake Shimabukuro have made the instrument more popular and hip than ever. "We have a whole new generation of ukulele players. Who would have thought of playing Lady Gaga on the ukulele - other than a modern day ukulele player?" Souza says.

It's more accepted around the world now, not just in Hawaii, as a serious instrument- something builder, Bill Griffin, has known all along. "We take chunks of wood, and we turn them into something that gives people, hopefully, a lifetime of enjoyment and something that they'll actually pass on - and what could be better than that?"

Kanile'a ukulele is one small business who's success is set to its own sweet music.

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