For many years John Kitakis and Noa Bonk did mostly warranty repair for Martin, Taylor and other guitar companies. Occasionally they built custom guitars and other instruments. Seeing the need for a professional quality ukulele company, John started Ko’olau Ukulele in 1996. The shop was right at foothills of the Ko’olau mountains in Kaneohe. They later relocated to the other side of the mountain, Wahiawa, but for over 20 years now they have been working full time to create the best musical instruments for artists and enthusiasts.

About 10 years ago John started the Pono line in Indonesia and Noa took over the custom building for Ko’olau. Noa’s had small crews in the past but now focuses on the finest quality possible with just him building and Ryan Condon finishing. Together, what they have been offering for the last few years is impeccable craftsmanship and master level voicing. Ko’olau ukuleles are light in weight, full with rich overtones, gorgeous with the best woods, and truly a joy to play. Check out a few models we highlight below. Custom order and see any available at our website HERE.

Deluxe Spruce Top Myrtle Sides & Back

Kalei gives us a “raw” sound sample with a low G fluorocarbon set.
Noa made this tenor with a European spruce top which has been described as “blending the power and headroom of Adirondack spruce with a touch of cedar’s warmth.” It’s coupled with a beautiful back and sides made from Oregon myrtle wood. This wood is known for being clear and bright, but with a bottom end much like rosewood. Together these woods make for a very rich, yet articulate tenor. Ebony is used for the fingerboard and bridge. The slotted headstock, faceplate, and binding are a beautiful curly Hawaiian koa. It’s finished in a perfect nitrocellulose gloss finish and the build quality and precision is second to none.

Deluxe Tenor Sinker Redwood Top Koa Back & Sides

Aside from the striking aged sinker redwood and gorgeous Hawaiian koa, this tenor has an ebony faceplate, fingerboard, and bridge.

The fingerboard has the 12″ radius for extra comfort chording. All of the CS models come with it but it’s optional on the Deluxe models. Other optional upgrades include the gloss finish and a slotted headstock.You’ll notice that this one has the Gotoh “Stealth” tuners which are ultra light weight and an impressive 18:1 gear ratio. These are an option with slotted headstocks at no additional uphcarge.

The Deluxe model is the classic Ko’olau model. Used by Lyle Ritz, Benny Chong, Abe Lagrimas Jr., Paul Hemmings and other amazing ukulele players.

Custom Deluxe Tenor

European Spruce Master Grade Koa w/ Bronze & Silver Koi Inlay
Corey samples this Custom Deluxe strung with high G Ko’olau Alohi strings. Aside from the regular options, woods, finish, headstock etc, you can also get a custom inlay from Ko’olau. This one, the two koi fish in different metals, was an idea of Noas, as was this one Aaron reviews. Contact us for more info on custom options like this.

CS Spruce Top Koa Sides & Back

For the first 10 years of Ko’olau they had a 100-400 series all in the classic body shape of the Deluxe. Around 2005 Noa came out with the CS model and it’s been the most ordered model for us in the last 5 years. The CS has a slightly wider and rounder lower bout and is tucked in a bit more in the waist. Noa braces them slightly different and they come standard with a radius fretboard and the CS tapered headstock. Though most I’m showing here right now have the slotted headstock. This one has a European spruce top and beautiful curly koa sides and back with a nitrocellulose gloss finish.

There are some upgrades on this one including Madagascar rosewood for the bridge fretboard and faceplate. This strain of exotic rosewood is extremely light and conductive to tonal vibration. Also you will notice the slotted headstock and Waverlys’ most expensive tuning keys with Ko’olau koa buttons. Stylin’!

CS Sinker Cedar Koa Cutaway

Ko’olau brings the ultimate in craftsmanship and musical quality. It has an “open” voice with beautiful clarity and sustain and is a treat to play with a superb feel. Absolutely perfect nitrocellulose gloss body and satin neck, but with the faceplate gloss. This one features Ko’olau’s Florentine cutaway body style. This is the only style cutaway Noa is doing right now.
Sinker cedar is western red cedar that sank in the river on the way to the mill. After sitting under water for many years the mineral deposits leach into the wood resulting in a streaking “multi-color” top that yields a wonderful tonal quality. Complimenting that is a stunning koa body framed off with a very rare light curly koa wood binding. This was taken from the sap wood of the koa so it is nearly as light as maple.

Sinker Redwood Top/ Guatemalan Rosewood Sides & Back

This is a classic example of the type of instrument you will never see come out of a factory. The quality of the woods and materials. The balanced light weight and warm rich sustain. A perfectly shaped neck and effortless play ability. And the attention to detail is astounding, flawless finish work from Ryan and Noa, he builds them looking as clean inside as they are out, it’s a beautiful thing. Contact us for custom exotic wood options like this stunning Guatemalan rosewood.

Other options to notice on this one is the bone bridge pins, which some think adds to the sustain and clarity, and offset fretboard markers, which add to the sleek style.

Adirondack Spruce Top Hawaiian (Cuban) Mahogany Sides & Back

Rare curly Hawaiian grown Cuban mahogany from our island, and it’s accented beautifully with premium curly koa bindings and rosette. This local mahogany is hard to come by but it looks and sounds amazing on Ko’olau. Here’s a custom ordered all Hawaiian Mahogany tenor with inlays.

CS Slimline Spruce/ Rosewood

Noa has been playing with the body depth on CS models for a few years now. This is slim body just over 2″ in depth and also features another option available now, a side sound port. The side sound port can open up the clarity of tone, especially to the player.

This is a video we shot at NAMM 2016 and the first part is featuring a similar instrument to this one but with Koa back and sides.

CS All Koa Tenor

I couldn’t find the pictures for this one but I wanted to show it for two reasons. For some reason all CS models I’ve shown so far have a slotted headstock, but the standard CS has this tapered headstock, or cobra head they sometimes call this shape headstock. Also the all koa CS models we have gotten from Noa all sound amazing! Noa builds to the wood and the voicing is strong and balanced with subtle differences with the various woods.

Click to see more examples at the Ko’olau CS Custom order page.

Ko’olau is most known for their custom tenors, but they make a wonderful concert as well. Super easy to play with sweet warm tone.

C100SP & 20 Yr Anniversary Concert

This is from the 100 series with upgraded koa and a gloss finish. Ko’olau now uses the Gotoh UPT tuners on almost everything smaller than tenor. They are also an option with tenor.

Concert Premium Redwood/ Milo

This is Premium concert features a redwood top that Ko’olau had for over 20 years and the rare Hawaiian tonewood milo for the sides and back. Top of the line abalone is used for the rosette and top purfling, a perfect gloss finish, and a 12′ radius fretboard for extremely comfortable chording. It also has a unique line wood inlay squared out for fretboard markers.

Ko’olau custom concerts like this will be very light in weight and full in sound. The tone, look, and feel are among the absolute best. Kalei samples this superb concert.

These videos are done using transparent recording equipment and we are dedicated to showing true tone, as much as possible, so use quality speakers or headphones for the most accurate listening experience.

Archtop Tenors!

Ryan Condon hand carves out the top and back to these archtop tenors. Je only makes one or two a year but they are always amazing to the eyes and ears.

CE- Chambered Solid Body Electric

The CE is a Ko’olau original creation in partership with LR Baggs. It’s been the perfect solution for many musicians looking for a great, light weight electric tenor with a pro-level acoustic tone that can play loud without feedback. It maintains a natural tone but can also take effects better than your regular acoustic.

The CE-2 comes with upgraded koa and a gloss finish. High G sample.
CE models can also have slotted headstocks! Here’s a low G Sample.
Check out a review here of James Hill’s Ko’olau Baritone CE.

Super Soprano

5 String T100

Share your thoughts and comments below. Aloha!

Lots more to look at and listen to here from Ko’olau Ukulele

Podcast w/ Ko’olau & All the Links to Ko’olau related posts & artists

Comments 7

  1. I love all the possibilities the Ko’olau CE opens up. I had the Pono version and it too was beautiful. I hope to have one again soon.

    1. Agreed. In my opinion the CE is the ultimate plugged in player’s holy grail. The pickups designed by LR Baggs in partnership with Ko’olau produce a better sound then the Five.O/Mi-Si pickups, and a more natural one then say the RMC Acoustic Gold/Graphtech individual piezos(not to mention more durable and can be directly lined in). Best pickup on the market, would like to see these in the Pono TE’s some day, or an improved Five.O element with a 9-volt.

  2. I forgot to comment on how amazing this company is. I emailed them once with a question And John responded within the day. You can’t find customer service like this anywhere else. AMAZING.

  3. I recently bought a Ko’olau CS-O Spruce/Myrtle and I can’t put it down. Looks and sounds amazing. It’s also noticeably easier to play than my other ukes.

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