Since moving to Honolulu, there are two things that I’ve been obsessed with doing.  One of those is snorkeling which I haven’t had the chance to do a lot of so far because of work and rain.  (It’s the winter down here and that means rainy season)  Sure, I’ve done a lot of sightseeing.  Stuff like visiting the Dole Plantation and hiking to Waimea Falls .  Those things were a lot of fun but they were primarily family activities. 

I needed to find something that I could really dive into (snorkeling pun intended) and that would take allUkulele PlayersCredit: of my concentration.  Basically, I wanted something that I could use as an excuse to ignore the family and concentrate on me for a few hours a week.  That’s where the ukulele comes in.

I’ve been online (mostly YouTube) for the better part of two weeks really gaining an appreciation of the instrument and those that play it with such precision and grace.  There are a ton of ukulele sites on the internet and more than one eCourse that promises to teach ukulele in 30 days or my money back. 

I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

A Brief History Lesson about the Ukulele

Although considered mainly as a “Hawaiian instrument” the ukulele found its way to Hawaii by way of immigrants from the Portuguese island of Madeira in 1879.  Those people came to Hawaii to work the sugar cane fields.  When the boats they rode on arrived safely, these people celebrated with folksongs played on a small instrument, “a kind of cross between guitar and banjo”[1], called the machete de braga.

History of UkulelelCredit:

The music was loved by the Hawaiian people and soon orders for their own machetes were being made of cabinet makers who arrived on the boat as well.  The demand was so high, in fact, that three cabinet makers were able to open three independent instrument shops by 1886.

The instrument was renamed “ukulele” in the native Hawaiian tongue and, when translated literally, means “jumping flea”.  

Characteristics of Ukulele Players

If there’s one thing that I have found to be common in my list of the world’s best ukulele players it is their respect for music and the small instrument that they play due to the serene and pleasing effect it has on them and the listeners. 

Most ukulele players are of a “laid back” nature.  They respect not only the music they make Ukulele PlayersCredit: http://hawaiitours.combut the world around them in ways that many musicians do not understand.  I think this is mainly due to the underestimation of the ukulele itself. 

When a listener attends an opera or orchestra they are expected to be blown away.  When awaiting an electric guitar or drum solo, listeners are expecting a certain noise, rhythm and beat.  Most people, however, admit to be being astonished at the subtle power by way of the petite sounds that the ukulele bestows.  It is because of this that I think a truly great ukulele player must themselves have certain characteristics.

So, without further adieu…here are my picks for those people that truly embody both great talent with a ukulele and the personality that makes them among (now and forever) the best in the world.

Top 5 Ukulele Players in the World, Then and Now

Jake Shimakaburo

The first YouTube video I saw of Jake playing ukulele he was on tour and he not only had a relaxing nature about him, but he made me laugh as well. 

Jake made a 4 minute video once and soon found himself on Jimmy Kimmel and Conan, as well as being touted by Eddie Vedder, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Perez Hilton (he of blogging fame).  Rolling Stone magazine called Jake a music “hero”.  Watch the video below and try to tell me that a little bit of you doesn’t want to be like Jake.

Eddie Kamae

Eddie is Hawaiian born and is part of the band “Sons of Hawaii”.  He was born in 1927 and currently resides on Oahu. 

Kamae taught himself to play the ukulele when his brother brought one home to him after finding it abandoned on a city bus.  He was inducted in the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 2007. 

If anyone is “old school ukulele” on this list, it’s him.  In my opinion, to truly appreciate what the ukulele means to Hawaiian people and their music then you need to know Eddie’s music.

Israel "Iz" KaÊ»anoÊ»i KamakawiwoÊ»ole  (AKA: “Bruddah Iz”)

Bruddah is another Hawaiian born ukulele player.  His play was not as “old school” as Kamae’s but that doesn’t mean that his music had any less effect on those that listened to it. Iz’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” is the exact one that you’ve heard in so many cinema features, commercials and countless times on television programming.

Iz died in 1997 at the age of 38

Sungha Jun

Jun is new school in a way that Jake Shimakaburo isn’t.  I almost left Jun off this list, but after hearing his play on numerous videos and reading interviews and reviews of this talent I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.

His cover of Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know”, as powerful as the original is, touched me in a way that the original could not.  I don’t care if you like the song or not, watch the video and tell me that Jun doesn’t feel every note he plays and deeply respects the instrument.

Kris Fuchigami

Kris is a young kid with an exceptional talent and natural feel for the ukulele.  Listen and watch his rendition of the classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and you can understand that in many ways. 

Kris is 24 years old, born in Hilo, Hawaii, and learned to play at a young age.  When his family visited Japan he was alone in the house with a busted ukulele.  Give a kid something to do when bored and they can make magic.  Kris has done that.

Thinking About Playing the Ukulele?

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