Updated: May 7
“You guys get koa?”
That is probably the number one questioned I get asked when selling ukulele directly to customers. If I say no, they usually follow up with...
“I get one Koa ukulele at home you know!”
And with a smirk, and the crossing of the arms, they would continue on walking. I would politely smile, nod... and laugh in my head!
It always cracks me up since they are flexing. In reality, Hawaiian Koa was pretty much the only option available to early local builders. Rosewood, ebony, and walnut were hard to get in those days with shipping taking months. The truth is tone-wood choice is subjective. It depends on the type of sound the player prefers. Let me tell you a little secret... koa is sonically not the best sounding tone-wood in the market for ukulele. Don’t get me wrong, koa is amazing! But it ain’t the best. So this is why I chuckle inside when locals flaunt koa all the time.
But maybe there is more to the story. A deeper reason why koa is so prized and sought after. Why all the locals go crazy for it and swear that a true ukulele is one made of koa. Are you curious yet?
Good! Now let’s dig in!
Hawaiian Koa wood, or Acacia Koa, is the Holy Grail of ukulele wood. This endemic Hawaiian species of acacia is prized for it’s stunning beauty and it’s limited supply. Owning a koa ukulele is a badge of honor here in Hawaii. Locals have a hard time accepting that ukulele are now being made with many different species of wood such as mango, spruce, mahogany, and rosewood. Where did this pride over koa wood come from? To truly understand why this wood is special you have to go way back. Back before the ukulele came to our shores from Portugal. Back to ancient Hawaii.
History Of Koa Wood
In ancient times koa was highly revered and sacred. The wood could only be used by the ‘ali’i’ (kings), ruling chiefs, and for their purposes alone. It was considered ‘Kapu’, or forbidden to be used by normal people. The hawaiian people believed that the kings and chiefs were summoned by the gods and were given special powers to rule. The kings and chiefs created the Kapu system and forbade the use of koa. The divine punishment for breaking the Kapu was death!