• Cinematic Strumming: 50 First Dates

    50 FIRST DATES (2004)

    Director: Peter Segal

    Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark

    THIS sweet romantic comedy sees funnyman Adam Sandler playing Henry Roth, a Lothario Hawaiian vet who only dates tourists because he doesn’t want to get tied down.

    Everything changes for Henry when he spots a beautiful blonde local named Lucy (Barrymore) at a cafe. The pair flirt and enjoy breakfast together, but when he goes back the next morning, she doesn’t remember him at all. It turns out Lucy was in a terrible car accident and lost her short-term memory. Her brain resets while she sleeps and her dad (Clark) and brother (Astin) go to extraordinary lengths to ensure she believes every day is the day of the crash.

    Henry has the opposite problem. Try as he might, he can’t forget Lucy and sets out to make her fall in love with him every 24 hours. In one scene, he plays her a cute song called Forgetful Lucy on the beach. Oddly, while Sandler’s pictured holding a baritone on the movie poster, he actually strums what looks like a six-string tenor in the film. There are plenty of tutorials online if you’d like to give the song a go.

    The jokes don’t always hit the mark, but 50 First Dates has plenty of laughs and while the premise might be slightly far-fetched, the solid central performances elevate it. Sandler and Barrymore have amazing chemistry.

    This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Colonel Robert Fernandez’s Kamaka

    June 1, 1949 – a young man named Robert Fernandez left the Hawaiian islands for the first time, on his way to New York to accept his appointment at the United States Military Academy West Point. Not yet 19, Robert left with big dreams in his head, love for Hawaii in his heart and a Kamaka ukulele in his hand. Throughout his 30-year military career, Robert carried that little soprano ukulele with him. Upon his retirement in May 1978, Colonel Fernandez could focus on other endeavors, including pursuing a master’s degree, performing in the theater and spending time with his family. Parties, “kanikapila” (impromptu jam sessions) and smiles seemed to follow Robert wherever he went. All the while, his ukulele by his side.

    On June 9, 2018, Col. Robert Nolasco Fernandez passed away surrounded by his loving family, including four children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The precious ukulele was passed down to Col. Fernandez’s son, Robbie, who happens to be my best friend. That’s where I come in.

    Knowing that I’m a luthier, Robbie asked me if I could refurbish his dad’s ukulele, and maybe upgrade it with some inlays as a tribute to his dad. I was honored to be asked to work on this very special instrument. Up until then, I had only seen it in pictures, Robert smiling brightly as he strummed it at a party. As I held the instrument in my hand, I was surprised by just how small this thing actually was. I’m used to making jumbo-bodied acoustic guitars, so a ukulele that tops out at 18” (46cm) long is a bit of a novelty. I also noticed that this instrument was well loved. The years of playing had worn the koa top thin, the constant warmth and sweat had started to separate the top from the sides and the wood was dry and brittle. I could tell I had my work cut out for me.

    I started off with a full disassembly, every part came off. I steamed the top and back to separate it from the sides (the bridge had fallen off some time ago), the neck was removed, all the internal bracing was removed and the tuners and hardware was stripped. For the first time since it was assembled in Hawaii in the ’40s, this ukulele was back to its basic elements. As I carefully removed and catalogued the pieces, I noticed the Kamaka tag was in very bad shape, pieces flaking off at the slightest movement. This was concerning, as I wanted the instrument to remain original. Once I had the uke apart, it was time to clean up and condition the wood. Years of travel and several vastly different climates had taken their toll on every piece.

    As I worked on restoring the core of this instrument, I met with the family to design the tribute aspects of the piece. It was clear that the family wanted to focus on Robert’s distinguished military career. Several meetings later, it was decided: a mother-of-pearl Colonel insignia was to adorn the fretboard, a tribute to his Hawaiian roots on the headstock and a large inlay of the West Point crest on the back. Knowing what this would take, and knowing I was to present this to the family at the memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in a few short months, it was time to dive in and get to it.

    Having already cleaned up and sanded every wooden part, I now had a beautiful hardwood canvas from which to work. I drew up what I wanted to inlay and cut out the pieces, 53 in all. I smiled at that because Col. Fernandez graduated from West Point in 1953. With all my inlay cut, it was time to route and glue the pieces in to the body. Then came the sanding and final detailing, which was the most time consuming and tedious part. I don’t use CNC machines or laser engravers in my shop, all my work is by hand. As I detailed the crest on the back, I began to see what I envisioned from the start: a beautifully restored instrument and inlay tributes that are worthy of the man they honor.

    Through the process, I encountered issues with one part or another. The butt joint, where the sides meet, was separating and was a bit unsightly. Also, the top was badly worn away from constant play. If a particular area didn’t meet my standards, I had to come up with a solution, one that not only fixed the problem, but also kept with the original look of the instrument. I was able to inlay some beautiful pāua abalone to fill in where needed. As I previously mentioned, the Kamaka label was in bad shape and I was heartbroken I couldn’t save it. I did, however, come up with an acceptable alternative. I contacted the Kamaka ukulele company in Honolulu, Hawaii and told them about my project and the man it was honoring. I was overwhelmed by their willingness to help, providing me with an original ’40s “gold label”, inscribed with “Col. Robert N. Fernandez” and signed by both Samuel Kamaka and his brother Fred Kamaka, the latter a retired Lt. Col. who also wrote an amazing letter recounting fond memories spent with Robert and his family, playing ukulele on the beach and “sharing aloha”.

    As anybody who knows me will tell you, I don’t do anything halfway. I tend to jump into anything I do with both feet and this was no exception. I already had an authentic 1940s Kamaka label and a wonderful letter from the Kamakas themselves. I wanted to do more. Having obtained permission to use the West Point crest from the Licensing and Trademark office, the ukulele’s story made its way to the office of Hawaii’s governor, David Ige. I was honored by a call from his office and offered a beautifully written memoriam from his office. Add to that a special Congressional Recognition from US Senator Mazie Hirono’s office and I had the makings of a pretty special presentation come October.

    I flew out to Washington DC with the family. I made a special walnut presentation box fashioned after a military ammunition crate and carried it on the flight the whole way. The family hadn’t seen any progress on the instrument, a standard practice for my shop. Nobody sees the instrument until it’s meant to be unveiled. The morning of the memorial, I secured the ukulele in Patton Hall, where we were to gather after the service. It was then that I let my buddy Robbie see the restored ukulele for the first time. I’ve done a few memorable reveals, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. The sheer awe and emotion that Robbie expressed was all I needed to assure me that expectations were exceeded.

    We gathered in the Old Post Chapel for the service, after which we all walked behind the caisson, slowly, making our way to the gravesite. All the while, the United States Army Band, “Pershing’s Own” played out strong. After the beautiful ceremony, we made our way to Patton Hall, where I was pleased to unveil and present the ukulele to the family, all of whom know the instrument well. I was humbled to hear all the compliments and praise for my work and was proud to know I accomplished what I set out to do – honor a great Hawaiian man, a soldier, a family man and a musician. It is my hope that the aloha spirit Robert spread throughout this world will forever live on through this instrument.

    Josh Stotler

    Owner/Luthier

    Oak Creek Guitars

    oakcreekguitars.com

  • IPHONE CASE GIVEAWAY!

    Thanks to our mates at Ukulele Lab in Hawaii, we have TWO beautiful koa iPhone cases to give away! All you need to do to be in the running to win one of these handcrafted beauties is send us a photo of yourself with a copy of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine. The two most creative entries will win. Remember to send us your full name and mailing address, as well as your preference for an iPhone X or iPhone 7/8 case. The competition is now open worldwide and will end on Sunday, September 30 at midnight, Australian Eastern Standard Time. Send your entry to editor@kamuke.com NOW!

     

  • Aloha, KoAloha!

    I FIRST visited the KoAloha Ukulele factory in Honolulu with my brother in 2001. We were welcomed like old friends and just happened to be there when incredible uke player Gordon Mark showed up and gave us an impromptu concert! It was absolutely fantastic and I’ve been mates with the wonderful Okami family ever since.

    In February, I returned to Hawaii for the first time in eight years and made sure to visit the NEW KoAloha factory. Check it out!

    Cameron

    I even got to play a couple of numbers for the guests on the official factory tour!

     

  • CONSTRUCTION ZONE: KAMAKA UKULELE

    ESTABLISHED in 1916 in what was then the Territory of Hawaii, Kamaka is the oldest manufacturer of ukuleles in the world and the name is still synonymous with quality. KAMUKE chats to production manager and third-generation luthier Chris Kamaka.

    What makes a Kamaka ukulele so special?

    Here at Kamaka, we really take pride in our work. We are fast approaching 100 years and I feel special just to be a part of it. Experience helps with anything and we all learn from our mistakes along the road of life. Through the years, there have been ups and downs, but it’s how you handle your journey that makes the difference.

    As a Kamaka, was being involved in the family business your only career option?

    No, I almost joined the US Air Force with aspirations to be a pilot. Now my two younger brothers are captains with Hawaiian Airlines and my son Dustin is a pilot flying with Trans Air, a cargo outfit here. I majored in business and art design with the intention to join the family business.

    What does your role as production manager entail?

    I oversee the production models, primarily to manage the orders and make sure everything is flowing properly. I also look over and check each instrument before we send them out. 

    There are more and more uke builders arriving on the scene all the time. How has Kamaka responded to that challenge?

    The ukulele has grown and the popularity is tremendous. Many builders today look to us to set the standard because we have expectations and we hold our craftsmanship at a high level. We try to continue to set the bar high and maintain a level of excellence which others look up to. I am glad there are more builders and welcome them. I don’t see others as a challenge to what we do.

    Why do you think we’re seeing such a worldwide resurgence of the ukulele now?

    The ukulele has always been a fun instrument. Technology (especially things like YouTube) has helped introduce the ukulele worldwide. There have been many promoters of the ukulele through the years, most recently Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and Jake Shimabukuro.

    How did the famous and often copied Pineapple Ukulele come into being?

    My grandfather Samuel Kamaka Sr invented the pineapple and actually had it copyrighted until a few years ago. He started building pineapple ukuleles in his garage in Kaimuki, experimenting with the sound.

    What’s your bestselling model?

    It’s pretty close, but I would say the HF-3, our four-string tenor model.

    Tell us about Kamaka’s proud history of employing disabled people.

    My dad hired many hearing-impaired workers and they turned out to be some of our best workers. My mom was an occupational therapist and introduced many of these workers back in the day. Their sense of touch was so sensitive that when my dad trained them, they could tell just by tapping on the top of the instrument whether it was correct or not.

    What can a visitor expect from the Kamaka factory tour?

    If you have uncle Fred as your tour guide, you will have one thorough tour, and I’m sure you will enjoy it tremendously.

    Check out the full Kamaka range and find your nearest stockist at kamakahawaii.com

     

    This article first appeared in Issue 7 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store

  • JUMPIN’ JAKE FLASH!

    NO OTHER player in recent decades has popularised the ukulele to the same extent as Jake Shimabukuro. Since shooting to stardom in 2006 with his YouTube cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, the Hawaiian virtuoso has been touring the world and inspiring millions. In our exclusive interview, Jake takes time out from his Uke Nations world tour to chat about his ukulele idols, a brush with royalty and what the instrument means to him.

    Which uke players did you look up to when you were a kid?

    My all-time favourite ukulele player is Eddie Kamae. He is regarded as the first ukulele virtuoso here in Hawaii. Some of my other heroes include Peter Moon, Ohta-San and Troy Fernandez.

    You were already a respected musician in 2006, but how did that YouTube video change your life?

    YouTube opened so many doors for me in 2006. It helped to introduce my ukulele playing to millions of people around the world and allowed me to establish a consistent touring schedule. YouTube is a great vehicle for artists like myself to be heard.

    What advice do you have for the next generation of YouTube hopefuls?

    I think the most important thing is to be yourself. The video that you post will be around for a very long time, so make sure that you post something you’ll still be proud of 20 years later.

    You’re always touring. What’s been your most memorable gig so far?

    By far one of my most memorable moments is a performance with Bette Midler in England, for Queen Elizabeth. I even shook Her Majesty’s hand after the performance.

    Why do you choose to play Kamaka instruments?

    I always wanted to play a Kamaka tenor ukulele – they are the Excalibur of ukes. The tone is what sets it apart from other brands and Kamaka is the world’s leading ukulele manufacturer when it comes to quality, with almost 100 years of experience.

    Where is your favourite place to practice?

    I can practice anywhere. That’s the beauty of the ukulele. I could be at the airport, in a taxi or on a boat strumming away and not have to worry about ruining the instrument.

    What’s your No. 1 tip for intermediate players who are looking to step up?

    I always tell players that the most important thing is your tone. If you can get a good tone out of your instrument, people will want to listen and you will be inspired to play.

    You’ve performed in Australia. What do you think of the uke scene down-under?

    The ukulele scene is growing rapidly in Australia. The last time I toured there, a lot of people brought their ukes for me to sign after the show. I’m looking forward to touring there again next year. I’m sure I’ll meet a lot more uke players.

    If you could record a fantasy duet with any artist, living or dead, who would you choose and why?

    My fantasy duet would have to be with Eddie Kamae. I wouldn’t be playing the ukulele the way I play it today if it weren’t for him and his vision for the instrument.

    What’s on heavy rotation on your iPod right now?

    I’ve been listening to the Rocky IV soundtrack recently. It’s very inspiring and definitely motivates me to work hard and not be lazy!

    In terms of its development, where would you like to see the ukulele movement go in the next five to 10 years?

    I hope that gear manufacturers will start to make quality products specifically for the ukulele. For example, pickups, tube amps and effect pedals that are calibrated for the range of the instrument.

    What can we expect from your 2014 Uke Nations tour?

    I’ve been touring with a bass player this year. That’s been a lot of fun. The bass guitar and ukulele complement each other very well. They don’t get in each other’s way sonically and the low bass notes allows for more harmonic complexity in the ukulele.

    Finally, what has the ukulele given you?

    The ukulele has been a great mentor in my life. I try to think and be like an ukulele – to live simple, be humble, friendly, child-like, positive, and always keep my roots in Hawaii.

    For tour dates and a whole lot more, head to jakeshimabukuro.com

    Photos by Paul McAlpine

    This article first appeared in Issue 8 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store