Kanile’a — Ukulele Innovators

It’s a fun, happy instrument that players know and treasure.

Can it be made happier and more fun???

Kanile’a ‘Ukulele think so.

Kanile’a Ohana

I was introduced to Kanile’a by chance, and discovered an Ohana of passionate Hawaiians continuously pushing the bar for better instruments.

Ohana means family, and is used to represent immediate family, extended family and often a larger collection of friends and their families that share common views and values.

In this context, it refers to the Souza family, numerous employees who are cousins, and the artist community around the world.

Souza family performance in Portugal

Family performance at Madeira in Portugal – Joe and Kristen Souza and their boys. Kanile’a ‘Ukulele was honored to represent Hawaiʻi in Madeira, Portugal at the Xarabanda Musical and Cultural Association’s Festival, honoring 140 years since the creation of the `ukulele based on the madeiran braguinha.

BUMS member Vic Kena is a member of the Kanile’a Ohana as an endorsed artist. His profile is found on their web pages.

But, before you read further, understand one essential thing. It is not how flashy the ukulele is, how sophisticated it might be, what strings it has, or who says it’s a fantastic uke … it is ONLY how it feels, plays and sounds to you!

My first

My first ukulele was a Kanile’a K1 Tenor. I loved the high gloss straight grained Koa finish, was impressed by its light weight and the gentle radius of the back. But I couldn’t play it!!

Sound board innovation

Since then, I’ve acquired Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome … and several other ukuleles.

One 70-year-old Mahogany Arthur Godfrey baritone has a 3.76mm top.

Why is this even of interest?

We know with certainty that the ability of the top to vibrate when excited by the strings is a major influence on the volume, sustain and tone of the ukulele. My K1 has a 1.75mm top – that is thin!!

I had a pickup fitted by Joe Souza, and learned it was an early model. But it has “TRU bracing”, where profiled braces touch the sound board (top) at only a few locations to allow free vibration of the top.

My Kanile’a baritone is slightly thicker — it’s bigger — at about 2mm.

Innovation in the DNA

So, what’s the big deal with Kanile’a? They continually innovate! It’s in their “DNA”!!

Visit the factory (post-COVID) , or check YouTube  or the Kanile’a website to see their state-of-the-art CNC machinery cutting components. These are hand assembled and fitted in Hawaii.

Kanile’a also passionately embraces the environment with its farm on Hawaii Island, and personally planting thousands of Koa trees for perpetuity.

 Continuing innovations

2021 – A year where Kanile’a is again blending tradition, music, science and lutherie skills, and pushing the bar for ukulele design where no one has gone before.

Kanile’a “Nene” in Koa forest showing wedge and rolled top armrest.

You might have seen ukuleles appearing with a bevel replacing the typical cut-out for the fretting hand — that’s a Kanile’a innovation. You’ve probably also seen the appearance of the rolled top edge providing an armrest — also an innovation by Kanile’a, first seen on Willie K’s custom Super Tenor.  Then there was the mid-year introduction of coloured stain, and intricate fret board inlays.

Kanile’a introduced beautiful ukulele incorporating endangered Hawaiian species on the fretboard.

The first (I‘iwi) was played by Willie K (RIL) for a year before being put to auction to raise funds for Reforest Hawaii. It HAS planted a forest!! Currently Kelly Boy De Lima, of Kapana, is playing the “Nene” ukulele before it is also offered for auction soon.

Innovation options

Kanile'a Tru Rest arm rest

Kanile’a 2021 Platinum Ukulele

Some of the 2021 innovation options are:

  • unique front and side sound ports,
  • repositioned “D” sound holes allowing the top to vibrate more freely,
  • Koa or sinker redwood tops, and
  • entirely new bracing.

Kanile’a 2021 platinum – showing the Koa Leaf sound ports.

The 2021 platinum features Koa leaf ports on top and side AND presents a curved wedge profile (“Tru-Relief”).

Kanile’a Tru-Relief contour

Kanile’a Tru-Relief contour

It’s a slim ukulele beneath the players forearm, which grows to slightly deeper than normal to provide sufficient volume inside. (Armrest not required).

Because the Koa leaf sound holes limit internal access there is an invisible magnetic access panel on the radiused back.

And finally, as top and bottom are curved and hence more rigid, the underside of the top is now milled to reduce the instrument mass and improve vibration response.

Kanile’a Platinum – the engine room!

See for yourself

You can search for more amazing innovations, and the variety of ukuleles on Kanile’a ‘Ukulele’s Facebook site. I recommend that you watch Ukulele Showcase 2021   for the details AND great performances and to meet the family (or catch up if you were at SPRUKE 2015).

Kanile’a have three basic product line with different price points.  At Kanile’a ‘Ukulele online check out the Islander by Kanile’a and the OHA series # of Kanile’a ukulele, and the variety of ukulele in the other Kanile’a series. But wait! Then there is the custom shop, where you can let your imagination flow freely!!!

Talk with Binary Music at Cleveland (07 3488 2230), Hawaii Music Supply in Hawaii, or direct to Kanile’a if you are excited.

Is there a cure for UAS??

Jim Bills
January 2021


  • OHA as well as the product range means affection or fondness (and to love)
  • I‘iwi and Nene are both endangered Hawaiian native birds. The I‘iwi (Eewee) is a 15cm scarlet honeycreeper with black wings and a hooked bill that has almost disappeared from the Hawaiian archipelago. It is Hawaii’s rarest bird and classed as a threatened species. The Nene (Neh-neh) is the Hawaiian state bird. It is a goose that has evolved with shorter wings and webbed feet for walking on the lava. With a population of barely 2,500 it is the world’s rarest goose and was almost extinct in the 1950s.
  • Willie K (William Kahaialihi) passed two years ago after diagnosis with cancer. He continued to perform until 2 weeks prior to passing. Multi-award winner, singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, actor, promoter, sponsor, benefactor, and known across the world, his passing saw personal tributes from Alice Cooper, Stephen Tyler, Mick Fleetwood and countless others in a 6 hour “private” on-line memorial concert. He is a greatly loved Hawaiian Son.
  • The term RIL is customary Hawaiian meaning Rest in Love.