The Ukulele is a symbol of the Hawaiian culture. Although it is based on a Portuguese instrument the Braguinha, it became a Hawaiian instrument when strung with gut strings instead of metal ones, tuned similarly to the guitar, and made out of Hawaiian koa wood (at that time known as “Hawaiian Mahogany”). We at Mele Ukulele are very conscious of the cultural significance of the ukulele and its importance in Hawaiian society and Hawaiian music.
When we first started our company 30 years ago, we had already connected with many of Maui and Hawaii’s best ukulele players and were repairing and maintaining many of their instruments. We found it sad and ironic that a new professional-quality ukulele was beyond the price that a working musician could afford. We set out to find ways to make and sell quality instruments at reasonable prices.
We found a luthiery establishment in the Philippines and Mexico that had been building quality fretted instruments, including Spanish-style guitars, for many years. We contracted with them to do partial assembly (including detailed inlay work of high quality) of ukuleles; they were able, with effort, to come up to our demanding standards of precision and tone quality. They sent us partially-assembled ukuleles upon which we did the finish work, final assembly, and quality control. These were the legendary Braddah solid mahogany ukes and Kalia ukes, which were sold all over Hawaii and the Mainland for a third to a half the price of the “boutique” ukuleles and played and sounded just as good. Next we started using genuine Hawaiian koa wood in the same process: these were the first Mele ukuleles.
Today, we’ve come full-circle, and are once again building our top-of-the-line Mele ukuleles entirely on Maui, from the finest and most beautiful tone woods available. These compare very favorably to the finest big-name and “Boutique” models on the market, but we have also continued to build our mid-priced professional-quality Mele ukes with partial assembly overseas, so that almost every uke player can afford a Mele. We also have other overseas facilities where we build our beginner and student models, (Hula Ukes, Maui Ukulele Co, etc.) at highly affordable prices starting in the sixty-dollar range.
Today, with 3 retail stores, some 100,000 satisfied customers, and a worldwide following, we feel that we are accomplishing that mission. Many professional musicians worldwide are playing Mele ukuleles, for which they have gladly paid full price. By not giving away instruments, we are able to keep the prices down for everybody. We want every ukulele player, but especially those who play for a living, to be able to have the quality instrument that they deserve. We also want to spread the “Joy of Uke” to everybody, from youngsters to elders and everybody in between. With over 300 models in many different brands and every price range, we are now in a position to do so.