View Full Version : Meet Ernest Kaai

Scott Tichenor
May-04-2006, 8:56pm
Charles Johnson at Mandolin World Headquarters sent this photo. It came from correspondence he was having with a relative of the individual shown in the photo whose name is Earnest Kaii. More proof we're all just in temporarily possession of these mandolins that are going to outlive us. I don't think they'll mind my reproducing some of the email exchange below, minus their email addresses.

Appears Kaai was a prominent ukelele player of some fame as a Google search turns up quite a bit of information about him.


Hi - thanks for the information - no I don't mind if you send it on - his name is Ernest Kaai, he was a ukulele maestro but an all round good musician. The copyright for the photo belongs to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu which is where I got it from. After I sent the email to you I had another look on your website and saw that Hawaiian slide guitar with the rope inlay, it's very cool isn't it - and that's the same idea as the binding on the mandolin? Was it decorative or structural?

Andrea - {not Andrew}


Charles Johnson wrote:

> Hi Andrew,
> Thats a pretty cool mandolin. Its probably an early F4, around 1903. See:
> http://www.mandolinarchive.com/perl/show_mando.pl?2952
> The dashed line is the inlaid binding on the edge. They were made that way.
> I'd like to send your picture to the Mandolin Cafe. Would you mind? Its
> a very cool picture. Do you have any other pics showing him and his
> mandolin?
> Best regards,
> Charles
> Andrea Low wrote:
>> Hi - just wondering if you've ever come across a mandolin like my
>> grandfather is holding in this picture? Also do you know how the dashed line
>> is made around the edge? I'm just doing some family research on him - I hope
>> you can help.
>> Thanks
>> Andrea Low
>> Auckland
>> New Zealand

May-04-2006, 9:26pm
That is SOOOOOO COOOL! In doing research on Chris Knutsen's instruments for Gregg Miner's Knutsen Archives (http://www.harpguitars.net/knutsen/knutsen_home.htm), I've often found evidence of Hawaiian musicians using mandolins (this is contrary to most modern opinions that mandolins did not play a part in this music). Of course it's still unclear whether they're using them as mandolins or as double-strung ukes (or would that be wire-strung taro patches?). But this pic definitely has him playing with eight (very closely spaced!) strings. His dress certainly suggests a different aesthetic..

Kaai was in LA in Knutsen's time, and also distributed ukes in the islands.. There's a Kaai label inside a Knutsen harp-uke that's very intriguing..

Kaai-Knutsen Harp Uke (http://www.harpguitars.net/knutsen/hu7.htm)

I'd really appreciate it if the original letter writer could contact me, as I'm preparing a large article on the LA Hawaiian music scene for Gregg's site. I have several things on Kaai she might not be aware of.

Darrell Urbien

Scott Tichenor
May-04-2006, 9:47pm
Darrell, I just replied back to her and invited her to join the message board if she wished. I'll wait to hear back. I sent the URL of this page so she can read what transpires and she is aware of your interest. I'm always amazed at the activites and varied interests of our members.

May-05-2006, 2:54am
From what I see there, I think it's roughly serial 2800-4000.. and it is probably an F3 (rope bound top, artist model inlays on fingerboard, peghead plain except for "The gibson"). The top would be black.. the tailpiece pineapple like and an inlaid pickguard. Probably like this one:

3192 (http://www.mandolinarchive.com/perl/show_mando.pl?2952)

May-05-2006, 12:58pm
Thanks Scott. Let me also say that I'm certainly no expert on ukes. The material I have on Kaai is regarding his role in promoting Hawaiian music in Los Angeles (which I only found as I was looking into Knutsen's time here). Kaai is well known amongst the uke community. I'd suggest Ms. Low contact people like John King at NALU (who's literally written "the book" on early uke history), The Ukulele Hall of Fame, Jim Beloff, Chuck Fayne, Joel Eckhaus, etc. She may already know these people - since she's already gone to the Bishop (somewhere I still haven't gone yet - would Mandolincafe would be interested in funding a mando-centric research trip? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif ).

Feb-21-2016, 8:43am
I've often found evidence of Hawaiian musicians using mandolins (this is contrary to most modern opinions that mandolins did not play a part in this music). Of course it's still unclear whether they're using them as mandolins or as double-strung ukes (or would that be wire-strung taro patches?).

Sorry to bump an old thread - but Kaai came up on a new thread and I was surprised to see him posed with a mandolin.

From what I read mandolin was used in Hawai'i BEFORE the invention of the 'ukulele. I assume it was used in normal tuning. If I find the pictures and articles where I saw them used I'll post them.

"Besides being adept at the ukulele, Kaai was also a superb violin, guitar and steel guitar player"

So he did play steel - and no mention of his mandolin work, but if you play violin and guitar you can play mandolin.

"King" Benny Nawahi was born in Honolulu on July 3rd, 1899. By the age of 20 he was a full time ukulele, steel and mandolin player"

Proof of the use of mandolin!

Feb-21-2016, 9:01pm
I own an original copy of the advertisement featuring Mr. Kaai. Here's a link to a short thread where I posted it. http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?116083-Early-Gibson-Advertisment&highlight=gibson+advertisment


KR Strings
Dec-15-2016, 3:31pm
Hello all!

I have the pleasure of living here in Hawaii where I build and repair instruments, I am also working on a research project with the Martin guitar company and Bishop Museum on the history of early Hawaiian string band music and the contributions of several key Hawaiians to the evolution of American instruments including the modern dreadnought guitar. I have started a website where I can share parts of my research as it moves forward, as a mandolinist of course I am keen to delve into the mandolin parts of the story in particular. I recently recorded an album here with Peter RowAn on which I play with them guitar and mandolin and for those interested I would encourage you to look up the song "Pua Lilia" as the melody is almost exactly that of the Kentucky waltz. There is a great version by the one and only Johnny Kameaaloha Almeida.

Aloha, -Kilin Reece


Mark Gunter
Dec-15-2016, 5:47pm
Kilin, there are a number of recordings of Pua Lilia on youtube, couldn't you provide us a link, or embed the video of you and Peter Rowan?

By the way, nice website and interesting feature on the Hawaiian Mandolin Project!

KR Strings
Dec-15-2016, 6:50pm

The song didn't make it onto this project with Peter but hopefully will in the future. Here is Johnny playing from a restored old recording.


Love that tremolo!