If you have UAS and do any amount of online research about ‘ukuleles you have seen his work. Even if you only spend 10 minutes a year on Youtube looking at ‘ukulele videos, you’ve probably seen his work! Of course, I speak of Andrew Kitakis, the man behind Hawai’i Music Supply and The Ukulele Site. Both are tremendous players in the business and offer much to the ‘ukulele community in the form of video lessons, reviews, and contests.
I met Andrew earlier in the year at the Waikoloa ‘Ukulele Festival all too briefly and have recently been in touch via email. It occurred to me at some point that “Gee, this would be an interesting guy to interview…” What follows is our correspondence via email and, as you can see by the depth of this page, Andrew certainly has much to share.
I’d like to thank Andrew for taking the time to respond to my questions and also commend him and and the crew at HMS for their great work for the ‘ukulele community.
Brad Bordessa: Tell us a little about your background with ‘ukulele.
Andrew Kitakis: Me and my brother Noa worked for my dad at Kitakis Stringed Instrument Repair from the time we were little. This was in North Carolina. In 1996 we moved back to Hawaii and right off the bat started makin’ ukes in Kaneohe at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains. We were really striving for a custom quality and some great players picked them up like Lyle Ritz, Led Kaapana, Chino Montero, and Treacy Terada who was a block over from us running Four Strings Studio. At the time he was teaching Jake and went on to produce all the Pure Heart albums and the first four Jake Shimabukuro albums. This was a big spark towards this ongoing ukulele revolution. Incredible musicians continue to break down previous stereotypes by expressing the music and emotion inside of them on ukulele, whatever that may be, sky is the limit.
For almost a decade I did finishing, fretting, and final assembly for Ko’olau Ukulele. My wife and I lived on the loft above Ko’olau’s workshop and started selling import ukes at the swap meet every weekend. We saved and saved and eventually opened HMS. Photo attached is of our first shop [right]. Here’s your fellow Big Island funny guy Alex Farnham at HMS showing it after we were in Wahiawa and even the music cafe we were doing at that time [Alex is a well-known Youtube comedian in Hawai’i – especially for his video “One Dolla”]:
BB: What prompted you to open The Ukulele Site?
AK: Hmmm, I would say Steve Jobs may have played a role. I was never a computer person till I bought a Mac and made a video in iMovie. I thought wow, I can do this. Then I learned WordPress and made theukulelereview.com. We were a busy music store and I didn’t need to be online but it was a passion. I would come back to work after the kids went to sleep and work until 3 or 4 in the morning every day just struggling to learn and understand photoshop and final cut and other softwares with the goal that I could create something educational and inspirational. Perhaps I would not have been so determined if my friends and coworkers were not such amazing musicians.
BB: What can someone expect from purchasing an ‘ukulele at Hawai’i Music Supply?
AK: Purchasing an ukulele? Well first you will wait a week and think about how you could have ordered from Amazon and been playing already. But this thing called “setup” consumes more time (and payroll) than all that is involved in “sales”.
Beyond getting a uke, expect our support and care. Our goal is to benefit you with our experience and expertise, before and well after a sale is involved.
BB: Hands-down your shop puts out the best demo videos on the ‘ukulele scene. How do you think that Youtube coverage has played into business?
AK: Thanks Brad. It’s a piece of the puzzle and will always be a work in progress. Have you seen that documentary Muscle Shoals? I forgot who said “Rick Hall was an imperfect perfectionist, and that’s what made him great.” I may have a touch of that. Like I said, a touch. Maybe if I had more rejection and heartache I could have been on that level. If you love music you will love that movie. Muscle Shoals… unbelievable greatness. When talent meets determination.
BB: Most music store employees are good players, but your guys are over the top! How did you end up hiring these talented artists? Any stories that stand out?
AK: Mike Love and Samites were long time friends and the first guys on the team. Mike Love is still with us but almost always on tour or gigging and recording which is what he should be doing. But you can catch him at the shop some Fridays because he says he’ll never quit. His upcoming album has the most beautiful and powerful songs he’s ever written.
Another guy on our team, who has been full time for 8 years now is my man Aaron Crowell. Before he worked with us he would just hang at the store and talk gear with guys coming in. He is an encyclopedia of gear knowledge! He would talk story and just by being genuinely passionate, he sold a lot of gear for us before even becoming an employee. Just a sincere victim of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and we just clicked from the beginning. He is like a brother and he soon became the face of HMS with his simple online lessons.
Aaron’s neighbor was Corey Fuijimoto. I remember Aaron telling me how this kid in his building could copy Jake songs by ear and picked up the guitar and within a year was figuring out Yngwie Malmsteen and Al Dimeola. Corey also happened to understand computers so I called him up one day when Aaron saw me pulling out my hair with technology frustration. He said, trust me, you don’t want to be bald. Just call my neighbor. Corey helped me out and started coming by. At the time, we carried Collings guitars, McPherson and custom shop Taylors etc. He was in heaven. And when you see Corey practice you can see what it takes. I remember one time he was sitting in the guitar section trying to master some riff. He was playing it over and over and over. This pretty girl walked up to him with a capo in her hand and asked, “sorry, can you show me how to use this?” Corey looked up and said “oh..I don’t know” and went back to getting that riff down. I was mind blown! But when he came on board with us he learned the way. Our job is to help people and he is really great at that now. Zach and Eli are other great musicians who work at the store now. We are like brothers here. They don’t work for me. We work together for you. We have the same boss, the customer. And the same goal, to do our best.
BB: Do you have plans to expand to new locations? I think we need a HMS on Big Island!
AK: Haha. No, I want to run a good business, not a big business. We’re only working on improving, not expanding.
Thanks Brad, I’m a big fan of your work and want to commend you for making a serious tool here with LiveUkulele.com.
Widely regarded as the best ‘ukulele shop in Hawai’i, if not the world, Hawai’i Music Supply carries all the standard brands plus some specialty ‘ukuleles from Godin, Pepe Romero, Collings, and more. Their online storefront, The Ukulele Site, ships internationally.