Hawaiian 21st c. small importers/distributors click for more

hilo bay koa tenor ukulele
Hilo Bay Tenor
There are a number of Hawaiian based importers and retailers who have a range of Ukuleles they import, usually from China, and then usually brand with some kind of Hawaii based motif for sale to tourists. Most of these are very poor quality and I have a page to talk about them! Some however are properly made instruments, available to tourists and locals alike from retailers who are willing to put their own branding on. These are usually better than the budget end, (though may include a budget end model), and some can be quite good quality

Hilo Bay

This is, or was, (they don't appear on the website any more), the house brand of Hilo Guitars and Ukuleles a large music shop in Hilo on the big Island. the Ukuleles themselves were all Tenor scale, came with a solid koa top and padauk back and sides, and were made in Cebu in the Philippines. The shop itself is quite respected as a Ukulele and Guitar reseller, employing Dennis Lake one day a week to do instrument repairs, so I assume these can't have been that bad (at least to start with - there is probably a reason why they stopped selling them?)
This has nothing to do with the longstanding Hawaiian distributor Hilo

Kau Wela

A small importer of Ukuleles into Hawaii with an address in Kailua. They reputedly had some custom Ukuleles made in Hawaii built using this brand name but mainly it was an import line of mahogany zebrawood and spruce top models for sale over the Internet or in swap meets, flea markets and places like that, (where the made in Hawaii claim was often exaggerated). It appears to have ceased distribution by 2010 having started sometime before 2006 there was a website but that no longer works.

Kumu

This is one of those entries where I could be lumping two entirely separate Ukulele brands together just be because they have the same name however...
Kumu as a brand has been on sale in Thailand, Vietnam and that sort of area for a while now though I believe the actual Ukuleles were made in China. Up until 2014 I couldn't find any information on the brand apart from seeing it on sale in these places, (with all of my usual translation difficulties). In 2014 there was a big display at NAMM and the launch of a new brand Na Leo by Kumu Ukuleles which they claim is made in Hawaii and along with this launch, a new website. The website gives a Honolulu address but the fractured English used and the vagueness of the "about us" section makes me think it is probably an Asian company that is behind the enterprise? (I also don't think the Ukuleles are made in Hawaii, at best they have the bare minimum done to allow for a "made in Hawaii" tag to be used?) The old Asian models had Kuku on the headstock and a flower motif on the lower right bout; the ones I have seen have all been Sopranos and fairly basic models. The new ones have a kind of V (underlined v), on the headstock and are trying to look much posher. This may be because this is the Na Leo brand Ukuleles and the Na Leo logo but the website doesn't make this clear? Anyway they come in SuperSoprano Concert and Tenor with a number of matte to glossy finishes, mainly in laminate koa but with a top end solid range.

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