The ukulele manufacturers that first began producing ukuleles for the public in Hawaii were Kumulae, Nunes and Kamaka. Of these three, Kamaka remains as the king. However, even their survival was threatened when the music became so popular that other mainland companies tried to take over the market.
Now, the ukulele industry is experiencing a rebirth, and more and more companies and individuals are coming on the scene to continue the Hawaiian tradition on the islands themselves.
It's hard to imagine a ukulele company that isn't located in the islands, but they do exist. Around 1915, mainland companies tried to capitalize on the fanatical love of the ukulele at the time by manufacturing their own version and stamping them with the words: made in Hawaii. This was done deliberately to fool people into buying ukuleles made outside Hawaii.
In a way, this very act helped to protect the legacy of the ukulele by forcing the Hawaiians to act to preserve their heritage. They trademarked the phrase, made in Hawaii, U.S.A, and petitioned to make the sale of merchandise with this stamp a misdemeanor if they were, in fact, manufactured outside the islands of Hawaii. This successfully resolved the issue of fake Hawaiian ukuleles infringing on the Hawaiian markets.
Eventually, the demand for ukulele music fell significantly at the end of the 1960's. With that demise, the number of manufacturers decreased, leaving Kamaka struggling but still alive. It wasn't until the sound of the ukulele was rediscovered and brought back through the works of people like Jumpin' Jim Beloff and his Flea Market music, that the industry went into a rebirth.
Now, the islands have many notable ukulele manufacturers. Kamaka remains as the highest-quality and oldest manufacturer of fine ukuleles. Along with them, you can also find KoAloha, who is also in a similar quality and price range. Other manufacturers on the islands include Maui Music, Ko'olau, Pono, Island and G String Ukuleles, and more.
Every now and then you even see individuals who are taking up the manufacture of ukuleles to continue this fine tradition with newer types: the fluke ukulele, for one.
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