Instrument maker donates to scholarship funds

KAPA’A – Masami Kouchi is getting ready to donate a pair of his hand-made

ukuleles for the benefit of Kaua`i students’ education.

The first of the two donations will be made to Nathan Kalama and the Mokihana

Festival Committee, while the second one will be heading out to Hanalei and the

Taro Festival Committee.

Kouchi says it’s his way of giving back because these, and some of the other

beneficiaries of his hand-made instruments, promote higher education by

offering scholarships. Kouchi hopes the donations will help the committees

raise the funds needed to perpetuate the scholarships.

A discarded ukulele that he plucked out of a rubbish can at his friend’s house

started Kouchi on his journey to creating the popular musical instruments.

That was four years ago.

“I don’t even know how to play it. When I get through with one (uke), I call

them (the students) to tune it. But, I know how to work the wood,” he


The relationship that developed between Kouchi, the ukulele and students that

patronize his workshop to learn the craft under his tutelege is unique.

“All of them are players,” Kouchi says. “They all have ideas that I listen to.

Someone wanted one with a bigger sound box, so we worked on that. “

One of Kouchi’s instruments, a baritone uke, was recently acquired by

entertainer Bill Kaiwa of the Big Island, who, according to Kouchi, is also

making his own ukes.

“Bill has about 10 tenor ukes,” Kouchi says, “and he’s working on a couple


Kouchi also credits Kaiwa with establishing a source for the koa wood that is

used in almost all of the Kouchi ukes.

“Oh, yes. I need the address,” said student Tweety Juarez, referring to

Kouchi’s assignment to each of his students that they write personal thank-you

letters to the source of the koa.

In his spacious garage/workshop in Wailua, three of Kouchi’s students worked on

various stages of ukulele development. Two students took advantage of a long

holiday weekend to come down from O`ahu to work on their instruments, Hawaiian

music playing softly in the background.

Danny DeFries was working on his second instrument, checking the alignment of

braces sandwiched in a jig that anchors the bracing of the instrument’s


“I have more fun making the jigs that are used in the making of the ukes,”

Kouchi says.

Juarez, attending school at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa, gingerly

fingered the fretboard of her instrument while a single-edged razor removed

some of the burs from the recently-installed metal frets.

“There’s still a lot more work before it’s done,” Kouchi explained as Juarez

continued to work the fretboard.

Liloa Nakamatsu’s fingers carefully applied the wood glue to the base and top

before sandwiching the sides that were fasihoned from another home-made jig

that sits at the front of the workshop.

Juarez interrupted her work to help Nakamatsu with this portion of the

instrument assembly.

As they put the clamped body assembly aside to dry, they checked on DeFries’

bracing assembly as Kouchi made a final inspection on the setup before starting

to take off the individual braces.

Kouchi explained that a uke takes about three weeks to complete, but for some

of the students who work on it when they have time, it takes longer, sometimes

beyond four months.

A lot of the work involves waiting. Most of the drying takes over 24


Over the years, Kouchi has also donated an instrument to the Kaua`i Museum, as

well as to Kaua`i Community College for raising funds for their respective

scholarship programs.

For the students who remember the glue-stained fingers and painstaking

precision of aligning the various components of the instruments, the

instrument’s value is measured by the smiles of accomplishment when the first

note is plucked. Each member of the “class” savors that first resonance

together in harmony.

Staff photographer Dennis Fujimoto can be reached

at 245-3681 (ext. 253); [



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