What’s the difference between a Lanikai and a Kala ukulele? Well, the short answer is…not much, but there are differences that I will fill you in on. Let’s first go back in time to the year 2003 and see how this story starts. Mike Upton worked for the Hohner company and was heading the design and production of a new line of ukulele’- Lanikai. At that time I still worked for my dad at Ko’olau doing finish and final assembly for some amazing instruments my brother, Noa, was making. We also had started to warehouse Lanikai ukes in the upstairs of our shop in Kaneohe and the stores would come pick up from us. My dad helped Mike tweak the construction a bit giving him pointers and the Lanikai’s started sounding better and better. At some point along the way, around 2005 Hohner made some changes that left Mike “out in the cold”. … since Mike was the one with the business relationships, in China and the USA, he set out to do his own line, Kala, with the same factory. At that same time, my wife and I started Hawaii Music Supply. That is my condensed recollection of that period. I was fairly close to the situation, but not in a position to really know exact details. What I do know is that all of us dealers liked Mike. So now we had a chance to support his new endeavor. Mike has what all successful people have, – a drive to do cool things. What makes Kala different than Lanikai is the models they have developed. Their Acacia series, U-Bass, the Archtop’s, and Travel thin bodies are some of the original creations that put Kala at the top of the uke game. And they keep going with the solid U-Bass, Ukedelic, the Cedar/Koa series…..
With that said, last year was the first year in history that the Hohner company sold more in ukulele’s than in harmonica’s. And Hohner completely dominates the entire Harmonica market. So they are selling more ukes than ever, and also have their own models that differ from Kala. Mostly the same stuff though. I do not dislike Lanikai or Hohner. Gary Porter, the Hohner rep is the coolest. In fact, he gave me a PSD Lanikai had of the simple and most common ukulele chords. I thought I would share it. If this helps you say thanks to the guys at Lanikai, Germany via China, California. Where they made the computer I’m typing on. The truth is a lot of these companies share factories. They have different specs and often different crews, but it is all in the same building, Luna’s, Ibanez, etc…. Makai’s and Ohana often come from the same factory as do Fender and Oscar Schmidt. Pono and Leolani are the only ones I know of that are small dedicated shops not building for others. In deciding which to buy though, I would care more about the quality control and set up that the store you buy from does for you. We are stepping it up in this realm, because in this price range, stores are just “moving boxes”, and a lot of ukes out there are nowhere near their potential in feel and sound. And that’s not good. Please comment if you have an opinion or insight. Aloha~