In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Behind-the-scenes at Kanileʻa ʻUkulele: See how world-class instruments are made

Sponsored by Kanile'a Ukulele

Kanileʻa ʻUkulele is celebrating 20 years of building world-class instruments. From raw wood log to the finished masterpiece, HI Now host Kanoe Gibson got an inside look at the facility in Kāneʻohe where the magic happens.

After eight years of apprenticeship with the late uncle Peter Bermodez, Joe Souza started Kanile`a `Ukulele with the help of his wife Kristen in 1998. Souza built each `ukulele, top to bottom, in the garage of his house. In 2006, he opened a manufacturing facility on Kahuhipa Street in Kāneʻohe where the team and operations have been expanding ever since.

Kanileʻa ʻUkulele sources the most beautiful tonal woods in the world to create its Hawaii handcrafted instruments: cocobolo, granadillo, mahogany, mango, maple, rosewood, walnut, spruce, sequoia redwood, cedar, purple heart, ebony. However, Souza says most of its ukes are built with koa, the wood closest to his heart. Koa is an endemic wood to Hawaii, growing nowhere else in the world but right here in our island home. Souza says it makes a bright, loud tone and is the prized wood ʻukulele enthusiasts tend to go for.

Kanileʻa ʻUkulele created a bracing system that is unique in the industry called TRU, which stands for Total Resonating ʻUkulele. This bracing system is based on an architectural bridge in which a brace piece touches the soundboard at only three spots. Traditional braces lay flat across the soundboard. TRU bracing, with its touch-release-touch set up, allows for more vibration and sustain. In 2017, using the strongest geometric shape in the world – the triangle –  Kanileʻa ʻUkulele redesigned the bracing to be lighter and stronger.

Kanileʻa ʻUkulele uses a UV finish as opposed to the industry standard. Aside from it looking beautiful, Souza says there are three big advantages:

1) It requires only three coats, whereas a traditional finish might require 10-15 coats. Less material on the body means more vibration, sustain and better resonance.

2) Unlike a lacquer finish which is rigid and can crack, the UV polyester finish allows for the wood to expand and contract in different conditions of humidity.

3) Typical finishes release volatile organic compounds into the air and environment. The UV finish doesn’t, so it’s safer for its team and the community.

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