The Art of Making Handcrafted Guitars & Ukuleles

by David Gomes

With an Introdution by Stuart Yoshida

Introduction: Blue House, Brown Roof, Black Dog

While on a trip to the Big Island in 1999, I was in search of someone to make an ukulele for me. I was determined to find an artisan who would craft an instrument that I could aspire to play. I had no idea who I would find, but I felt that somehow an answer would find me.

That’s when the threads of synchronicity wove their way into my life, and I received the name of a luthier named David Gomes. He was the brother of a friend of a co-worker of my sister. These tenuous connections are always amazing and yet always predictable when you are following your Bliss.

I called Gomes to arrange a meeting. After giving me directions to his shop in the lush Kohala mountains, he ended our conversation with a description that he was certain would help me out: “Blue house, brown roof, black dog. You can’t miss it.”

His words were good and true: I found his shop just as he had described it.

When I met Gomes, his laid-back attitude belied his love and dedication to the art of creating beautiful stringed instruments. As we toured his workshop, I could feel the specialness of this place nestled high above the rugged volcanic coastline.

Even before the tour was over, I had decided that Gomes was the one who should build an ukulele for me. By the time I left, I had put a down-payment on an instrument that would become an incredible work of art.

As part of the mission of “Book ‘em Danno” to promote the music and culture of Hawaii, we bring you the words of David Gomes on the art of creating fine handcrafted guitars and ukuleles.


The Art of Making Handcrafted Guitars & Ukuleles

Twenty odd years ago I was learning the Spanish approach to the art of guitar performance in Madrid, Spain. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend many hours near the workbench of the master, “guitarrero” Paulino Bernabé. I was by no means an apprentice; guitarists naturally congregated at Paulino’s shop to converse and to play music. Nevertheless, the scent of Cuban cedar curls scattered on the centuries old floor, freshly and cleanly cut with a drawknife, the sweet fragrance of Spanish cypress and Brazilian rosewood waiting to be transformed into Flamenco and Classical guitars, and with this, the master’s understanding and deep reverence for wood and what can be created with it, are all impressions that evidently deeply affected my life. Returning to my island home, the tropical beauty of so many shades of green and the rushing warmth of endless tradewinds seemed so far removed from the tradition and formality of where I had been, yet the curious need for my own hands to transform wood into musical instruments was irresistible. From that exquisite inspiration, to the present level of my art were two decades of determined struggle, and always, the ever deepening love and understanding of wood and strings and beautiful music.

For the past twenty three years, in the Kohala district of the Island of Hawaii, I have been producing fretted stringed instruments. I build all sizes of ukuleles from standard, or soprano, to the baritone; and guitars, from the three quarter size, or requinto, to acoustic basses and large bodied steel strings. I consider Classical guitars to be the highest and most demanding form of instrument building. All instruments are assembled from premium aged hardwoods and softwoods in a humidity controlled workshop. All of my production is specifically designed for the musicians who commission it. String lengths, fretboard marking, all dimensions, and choices of woods are worked out for each individual. Virtually any species of woods are available from my inventory, from brilliantly flamed Koa wood of Hawaii, African ebony as black as night, to mahogany from the forests of Central America. Selecting suitable quartersawn material, whether it be from a dimly lit and dusty warehouse, or under the windswept and cool upland skies, or the stifling heat of the coastal Kiawe forests, is an art in itself as difficult to master as any. The joy of sensing the brilliantly flamed grain of a wood under its grass covered, cracked and gray exterior is a sublime experience, one that takes years to cultivate.

A beautiful section of wood must be matched with an equally high level of craftsmanship and a constant focus on an instrument’s final tone and appearance. From selection of each piece of wood, to the final finishing and polishing, all work is done by myself.

I have set prices for specific sizes of instruments and for types of inlay with abalone shell, mother of pearl, and wood. Please feel free to telephone or write for further information, pictures of specific instruments, or to make an appointment to meet me at my shop.

Aloha Pumehana,

For more information, please write or call:
P.O. Box 5, Kapaau, Hawaii 96755
Phone: (808) 889-5100


Gomes logo


Top of Page

Previous pageNext button

Join our mailing list