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KoAloha: 'Ukuleles Built With Passion.

When I initially began shopping for my first ‘ukulele I had little knowledge of KoAloha 'Ukulele. However, it was during my stop at a uke store in Haleiwa, I was quickly introduced and enamored. The next day, I decided to take their factory tour and learn more. It was during my visit that I developed a deep appreciation for their instruments. These ‘ukuleles not only have incredible craftsmanship (and believe me I asked a lot of questions during the tour), but the tone and projection are amazing. Also, the aloha and ohana vibe is evident when you visit the KoAloha showroom; their entry sign declares it, “enter as a friend…leave as family”. So, what makes them one of the most respected and highly regarded ‘ukulele companies in the world? To learn more about the family-owned business, I spoke with KoAloha’s Vice President of Sales & Distribution, Brian Benavente.

Brian Benavente and I at the KoAloha showroom

Photo credit: Jen Negrete

A little about KoAloha 'Ukulele.

In 2020, KoAloha ‘Ukulele celebrated its 25th anniversary. It was founded in 1995, by Alvin Okami (affectionally called Pops or Papa KoAloha). People may not realize it, but Pops is an innovator, inventor, and accomplished musician. Before KoAloha ‘Ukulele, Pops owned an acrylic company and still incorporates many acrylic tools in the instrument manufacturing process. As a matter of fact, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, Pops’ oldest son, Alan resurrected the acrylic business to manufacture and sell desk shields for schools and businesses. Nonetheless, ‘ukuleles will always be their primary focus, as it brings them great joy to craft a quality instrument that changes the lives of their players.

Koa wood stack at the KoAloha factory

Photo credit: Jen Negrete

Instruments and wood selection.

All KoAloha instruments are handcrafted in small quantities and shipped from Hawaii to authorized dealers. They also have factories in Indonesia and Thailand that manufacture their KoAlana and Opio series, respectively. All ‘ukuleles come with the signature Musubi soundhole and crown headstock. Additionally, each KoAloha and Opio uke comes with KoAloha’s famous uni-brace (which allows for a bigger sound from the instrument) and their “Better than the Weather” warranty.

Detail of KoAloha's internal bracing

Photo credit: Jen Negrete

With only 10% of koa wood available for global consumption, KoAloha works closely with two Big Island mills that understand their high standards and production needs. Some characteristics KoAloha looks for in their wood are straight and consistent grain, clean cuts without imperfections, and quarter sawn which gives the wood better stability, sound, and low movement. Around 70% of the koa wood received from their suppliers can be used for instrument production. But the company realizes how precious of a resource the wood is and sells the remainder to local artisans.

Three tiers of ‘ukuleles.

KoAloha appreciates the fact that when someone buys one of their instruments, it is an investment. The ‘ukulele maker wanted to make certain they provided learners and players options when it came to instrument selection. As I mentioned, the company offers three classes of ‘ukuleles: KoAlana, Opio, and KoAloha. Any of these instruments are an excellent choice. So, let us talk about each series.

To give uke lovers an entry-level instrument that looks much like their KoAloha series, they developed the KoAlana. KoAlana’s are a budget-friendly ‘ukulele that cost between $150-$300. USD. They are made of trembesi at the Indonesia factory and come in three sizes: soprano, concert, and tenor. They are also perfect for beginner players who may be just starting out or a player of any level, who is looking for a quality, inexpensive uke that offers a nice sound.

Bookmatching the sides of a future 'ukulele

Photo credit: Jen Negrete

KoAloha’s mid-price point offering is the Opio, which means ‘junior’ in Hawaiian. Made in Thailand with acacia wood, the Opio’s craftsmanship is equivalent to the ‘ukuleles made at the Hawaii factory. Just like the KoAlana’s they come in three sizes: soprano, concert, and tenor (*sidenote: I did not take into consideration the Opio guitarlele, which is tuned differently than a traditional ‘ukulele). Opio’s are a fantastic value with a price range between $450-$700. USD. They can also be found with a solid spruce top and acacia sides and back. Dependent on the size of the instrument, a spruce top could cost up to $800 USD.

The KoAloha series are handcrafted on the island of Oahu and made of solid koa. Although, there has been a recent run of ukes made in mango wood. The koa and mango-made ‘ukuleles come in three primary sizes: soprano, concert, and tenor. Depending on the size you select, these ‘ukuleles can cost anywhere between $950-$1,500. USD. (this does not include any limited edition, special release, or custom KoAloha ‘ukuleles).

Jonah Davis teaching 'ukulele via Zoom

Photo credit: Jonah Davis

‘Ukulele community involvement.­­­

KoAloha ‘Ukulele continues to be a frontrunner in the uke community with its local and worldwide involvement. From offering recorded jam sessions with local musicians to their contest giveaways and free online ‘ukulele lessons. The jam sessions, called KoAloha Live, can be found highlighted on their website and a full video playlist on YouTube. The live sessions feature different music genres and display the sound and versatility of their ‘ukuleles. The online lessons are currently hosted twice a day on Thursdays and taught by Hawaiian musician and teacher Jonah Davis. For more information about the lessons, click here. Also, be sure to follow KoAloha on their social platforms (Facebook and Instagram) to learn of any upcoming news and stay in touch.

Door at KoAloha

Photo credit: KoAloha 'Ukulele

Closing Words.

When asked what he would want people to know about KoAloha ‘Ukulele, Brian said, “the people who build here (at KoAloha) are definitely passionate about what they do. We are a company that values family and relationships.” When they think about the people who invest in their instruments, it inspires and motivates them to create the best instruments that they can. Additionally, they believe in their product so much, that the company offers a lifetime warranty on their Opio and KoAloha series ‘ukuleles.

If you are interested in learning more about KoAloha ‘Ukulele or finding an authorized dealer, check out their website at Until next time, happy strumming!

Cover photo credit: KoAloha 'Ukulele

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