Saturday, April 11, 2009

The KoAloha Ukulele Story - Internet Premiere on Ukulele Underground!

The internet premiere of The KoAloha Ukulele Story will be shown on the Ukulele Underground today (Saturday, April 11th) at 3pm Hawaii Time. Please check it out and you could win some prizes from KoAloha!! Check it out at this link!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tracking a piece of wood, milling, part one

I will be doing a series of posts, tracking different pieces of koa, as they make their way to ukulele stardom. This is milling, part one.

Here we have an ordinary plank of koa. Unless you love wood, pretty boring, huh? I do have the saw in the back drop for ambiance, but how exciting can a piece of wood be? Well, good thing you asked. Before we can even start to work with the lumber, we need to dry it. Almost all of our lumber is bought green, which is a wood working term for freshly milled lumber. The relative moisture content can be anywhere from 40-100%, and anything over 12% is not workable. There are two ways to dry lumber. Air dry, or kiln dry. There are pros and cons to each, but I won't go into great detail for now. In short, air drying takes longer and kiln drying is faster. We are primarily a production shop, so the faster method best suits our schedule. Even in a kiln, 4/4"(or 1") koa takes about 6 weeks to dry. I fast forwarded the process and pictured is a dried, ready to grade board of koa.

Next, we come to my main job, which is grading and selecting the part of the ukulele, from the raw lumber. Koa is a very diverse tree, in terms of grain density, grain pattern, and color. While this makes selecting consistent sounding boards a little more difficult, it keeps my day interesting. Half of lumber grading is objective, using the forementioned qualities to predetermine what the uke will look and sound like. However, wood is a natural medium and there are always surprises. That is where the feel aspect comes in. There is no way to really qualify exactly what it means to feel it, so I will say that nothing short of experience will help you to do so. This particular billet will become a book matched face, or top for a concert sized ukulele. The directional arrow is to help me keep track of what side to reference off of.

In this picture, the rough sawn billet is awaiting pre-dimensioning on my tablesaw. When a tree is alive, it moves water from it's roots to leaves, to stay alive. Because of this, wood very easily absorbs and releases moisture to the air. This constant process of absorbtion and release is what is called wood movement. Nothing can stop it, short of encasing the wood in a block of resin. As a result, anything made of wood will always be in the process of contracting or expanding. The pre-dimensioning, takes the billets to a uniform size, which makes it easier to keep track of the individual part, as well as minimize sawing and sanding time. However, there is enough over size to account for the wood's movement, as we continue through the milling stages.

The last picture is the concert face billet, pre-dimensioned, surfaced, and jointed. Before we can start to resaw, the wood needs to have one large surface flat, as well as the two adjoining lengthwise edges. Flattening the wide face is called surfacing, or facing, while trimming the edges is called jointing. Both processes are done on a jointer.

Well, that's it for today. The next installment will feature our newest employee, Dustin. He's the new guy, so he resaws and sands a lot. When he's done with that, he resaws and sands some more. Once in a while we let him eat and sleep, but not until he's done resawing and sanding.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The KoAloha Ukulele Story - Hawaii Premiere 2009

The Hawaii premiere of The KoAloha Ukulele Story was a great success! Many thanks to the Arts at Mark's Garage for letting us use their place, as well as The Willows for catering. Also thanks to Herb Ohta Jr., Tony Conjugacion and Gordon Mark for their performances. The place was jam packed and everyone had a great time. Special thanks to Gary San Angel and Rocky Kev for making this incredible and inspiring film! Mahalo Lui Noa!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The KoAloha Ukulele Story - Hawaii Premiere

The KoAloha Ukulele Story will be shown at a special private screening at the Arts at Marks Garage. Creator Gary San Angel will be there to present it, and KoAloha creator and founder Alvin "Papa KoAloha" Okami will be there to perform after the screening. Herb Ohta Jr. will also be there to perform with Alvin. This is a historic event for KoAloha Ukulele, as the film has won the Honolulu International Film Festival's Gold Kahuna Award 2009. We would like to congratulate Gary San Angel and Rocky Kev for all their work in making this film a success!

Shout out to Victoria Vox and TJ Mayeshiro

This year has been a crazy year so far, and yet it's only March!

I'd like to say that all our supported artists are working as hard as ever, and I'd like to make sure everyone checks out Victoria Vox! Her myspace page is da bomb! Check it out here:

We'd also like to shout out to TJ Mayeshiro who is now supported by us! He has a new web page here (still under construction):

TJ is a great new talent and we're very happy to have on board!

Thanks to Victoria, TJ and all our supported artists!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The KoAloha Ukulele Story - a short film by Gary San Angel

World Premiere Screening of

The KoAloha Ukulele Story

At the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

When: October 10th at 3:30PM
Where: Asian Arts Initiative
1219 Vine St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107

For more on the Philadelphia screening:

For more about the film and future screenings:


About the Film:

The KoAloha Ukulele Story is an animated documentary film based on the true to life events of Alvin Okami, the famous Oahu based entertainer turned inventor, who finds his true calling as one of the most innovative ukulele makers in Hawaii today. Alvin “Talk’s Story” sharing his unbelievable journey from his days using Plexiglas to the fateful day when KoAloha Ukulele first began.
Director’s Notes:
The KoAloha Ukulele Story is an animated short film based on my oral interview with Alvin Okami in September of 2007 almost a year ago where I captured a few of his life stories and music on film. Initially, I was going to do a straight documentary film based on his stories but when I got back to Philadelphia I played my camera footage and all I could see was static. I was so disappointed. Fortunately, I had a backup sound recorder which recorded all his stories in their entirety but it was just the sound no picture. I was pretty upset about the camera footage being lost but would listen to Alvin’s stories over and over in my headphones.
There was one story that just popped out at me and made me say, “Wow! That’s amazing!” and that was the story of how KoAloha first began. Hearing the story in my head I could see pictures. To me the story was like a real movie. I thought, “I wonder if I could animate the story? Have Alvin tell the story but show pictures as he’s talking almost like a children’s book. I could create magic from pictures.” But reality set in, I knew it couldn’t work because I could not really draw and I would need an animator to help me. So I gave up. And I thought, “Oh, well. I’ll just have to go back to Hawaii and reshoot everything.”
About a month later, I ran into Rocky Kev, one of my former students from the Asian Arts Initiative where I work. He’s a talented animator and I’ve always admired his drawings. I mentioned to him in passing, “Hey, Rocky if I play you this story will you listen to it? I lost my camera footage and have no way to tell this amazing story about this ukulele maker in Hawaii. Maybe, you can help me animate it.” Rocky is a Cambodian American youth who grew up in South Philadelphia and has never been to Hawaii or even knew what a ukulele was but when he heard the story for the first time he immediately called me the next day and said, “I loved it! I want to animate Alvin’s story.”
So for almost a year we have been working together to create the visual pictures for telling Alvin’s story of how KoAloha Ukulele first began. Me as an editor, director, and Rocky as an animator, we worked many countless hours to research and to imagine what happened on those eventful days leading up to when KoAloha started. Because Rocky and I are from the U.S. mainland we knew we could never be completely authentic to local Hawaii-isms or to every single detail that actually happened in the story. We knew if we created an animation for authenticity sake we would fail miserably. So we knew we had to use the strength of the power of our creativity and imagination to create simple, powerful, and entertaining images that would help bring the KoAloha story to life in our own way.
In many ways, we’ve created our own animated storybook version of Alvin’s story. And now that we are nearing the finish line and wrapping up the film I can proudly say this brings to life the KoAloha story in a way that would never have been captured on film. For me, this journey to create the film has been as amazing as the story itself and I feel absolutely honored and blessed to have the privilege to bring this story to the screen. I feel very fortunate to share in the magic of the story of KoAloha and to be able to bring this film to ukulele lovers all around the world or simply anyone who has ever felt that some things happen for a very special reason. This story is all that and more.
Gary San Angel

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Our crazy guys!!

Gotta give a big shout out to our crazy guys - they do a lot of work at KoAloha Ukulele. They worked real hard at our booth at Ukulele Festival 2008. But work hard, play hard! Thanks - Rogemar, Ben, Glenn, Davin, Grizz, and Brian!!