Our family history of making and restoring stringed instruments began 40 years ago. In addition to making instruments, we specialized in the repair and restoration of acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, ukuleles, violins, and almost every other imaginable stringed instrument. Then about twenty five years ago we decided to focus more on manufacturing, especially ukuleles. ‘Ukuleles were always popular in Hawaii, and eventually throughout the world. And now there is a demand for higher quality. Our goal from the beginning was to produce the most professional quality stringed instrument possible, regardless of the time and cost required. And so, Ko‘olau guitars and ‘ukuleles were born.
Compared to most other brands, our first Ko‘olau instruments were expensive. We wanted to be proud of what we made, and we wanted them to last forever. And we refused to cut corners. So except for a few realistic musicians who were seeking a high quality ‘ukulele, we had a limited amount of customers. It was ok then, and ok now. One positive motivation was having some of the biggest “hitters” on our side. We were approached and eventually “endorsed” by three of the most respectable jazz ‘ukulele players in the world. (we mention “endorsement” because we have never had what is termed “sponsors” who sign contracts and require them to play our instruments). Jazz ‘ukulele goes back many years, to the 1920’s and 1930’s. Then for the next 50 years it because simply a fun “toy” until the 1990’s.
One of the three we were honored to have playing our ‘ukuleles was Lyle Ritz. Mr. Ritz was respected for over 50 years, going back to the days of the Wrecking Crew. He played LA studio sessions with every famous group on the scene. Lyle Ritz was known for his bass playing, for Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Herb Albert, the Righteous Brother, and many others. But his real musical love and passion was jazz ‘ukulele. And eventually he followed that passion.
Another well respected musician who joined our “hall of fame” was Benny Chong. Mr. Chong is honored for his lifetime contribution to Hawaiian jazz. And it’s interesting that he and Lyle Ritz always had plans to team up to produce jazz ‘ukulele recordings. They lived close to each other on Oahu, and played together often, but the original desire to become a duo never happened. But to this day they still hold the record as the “fathers” of modern jazz ‘ukulele.
The third professional musician to help us “kick off” our dream was Roy Sakuma, the legendary ukulele teacher and ukulele festival promoter. He and his wife Kathy and several of his their teachers play our Ko‘olau and Pono ‘ukuleles.
Eventually other excellent musicians came on board. Lyle and Benny have passed the flame so to speak on to a young man they both respect, Abe Lagrimas. Abe is now considered the newest and youngest jazz master. Other ‘ukulele masters include Led Kaapana, Tracy Terada, Chino Montero, Mike Keale, Paul Hemmings, Kimo Hussey, Ernie Cruz Jr., John Cruz, Blayne Asing, Tevana, and even Jimmy Buffet and Bruno Mars.
We proudly tell people that these musicians play our guitars and ‘ukuleles because they appreciate them, not because we give them out for free.
Back to our Ko‘olau production. One obvious problem was figuring out how to make a high quality ‘ukulele at an affordable price. We still haven’t figured it out. But we refuse to compromise our standards of craftsmanship. As the demand grew, we eventually needed to expand our Ko‘olau production. We tried various experiments in “mass” production, and then decided that we would instead add a different line of guitars and ukuleles, and we named them Pono. They are similar, but less expensive, and still very high quality.
For information on our Pono line of guitars and ukuleles, we invite you to visit our other website, www.ponoukulele.com
We would like to to express our sincere appreciation to all have purchased and play one of our instruments.. Our continual goal is to improve. And so, as always we appreciate your suggestions.