Well, as forecasted before, I ended up getting a Kamaka tenor during a trip to Maui last week. I looked up the Kamaka website and found a dealer in Lahaina, called Lahaina Music, close to where I stayed during the trip. I really didn't seek out ukuleles during this trip as I did last year, and Maui really had a lot less ukuleles anyway. Lahaina Music and a couple of other shops that sold ukuleles in Lahaina were the only ukulele shops I visited, and each visit was very brief except for the last trip to Lahaina Music where I picked up the Kamaka tenor pictured.
Going into Lahaina music, I saw four Kamaka tenors hung behind the counter. One was strung high-G, one low-G, and two had factory installed pickups, one active and one passive. I talked to the guy tending the shop about getting a Kamaka tenor and he told me they had many in the back and would be happy to show them all to me. I played the high-G one hung behind the counter and then the guy went in the back and brought out several cases, each with a Kamaka tenor in it. I lost track but I played at least nine Kamaka tenors at Lahaina Music, not including the low-G tuned and the two with pickups behind the counter. It was definitely a very interesting experience.
Each of those tenors looked different. A few had curly koa headstock veneers with plain bodies. There were a couple with some light curls on the soundboard and straight grained headstock veneer. There was one with some nice curls, maybe 3A, that I was hoping to get. But playing through all of those Kamakas, that one with the curly koa soundboard unfortunately was one of the least impressive sounding, so I took a pass on that one. After playing all of those Kamaka tenors, it came down to the one behind the counter (the guy told me they put that one out because it looked the best), and one that had some light curl on both the headstock and body, but fairly plain looking grains. The plainer looking one sounded better to me. It seemed to be a little more resonant and had a little more volume. The better looking one also sounded very nice, and in the end, I decided that I would sacrifice some sound for looks, since I already had some great sounding ukes at home. So I took the one behind the counter. The pictures you see here is that ukulele.
This experience told me that perhaps it is not correct to generalize how one brand of ukulele sounds compared with another brand. I think that several of the nine or ten Kamaka tenors I played on this trip had a unique sound. They definitely didn't all sound the same. I think the sound has a lot to do with the particular piece of wood used on the ukulele. Dark and light koa would sound different, as well as ones with different grains and patterns. Playing so many examples of the same model was definitely an eye opening experience.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to get a Kamaka. I've owned all other Hawaiian brands (Kelii, Kanile'a, KoAloha, G-String) except for Kamaka for some reason. I guess as popular as Kamaka is, there hasn't been a lot of buzz about them on the internet forums. Also, they usually command a premium over the other brands and in the past I haven't been in position to pull the trigger on one. Now that I have one, I really like it. There's just something mystical about that pearl "kk" inlay on the headstock. Now I can pretend that I'm Jake Shimabukuro or Aldrine Guerrero while playing the Kamaka tenor!...or not. :p
Front of Kamaka tenor. Notice the curly koa headstock and striped body:
Back of Kamaka tenor. The back is nicely matched to the front:
In Maui with Kamaka tenor: