Nuclear Ukeage

Jake Shimabukuro brings the big sound of ukulele to the DCA

Since his teen years, Jake Shimabukuro has been obsessed with the sound of the ukulele, or, more specifically, how much sound it can make.

“When I was a teenager, there was no good way to amplify the ukulele,” he said. “People would either play in front of a mic, or they had these little transducer pickups that you would attach to the ukulele, or you could install a pickup like a guitar, but it didn’t sound very natural. I always thought in order for the ukulele to be more versatile, there has to be a way to amplify it so it could complete with drums, electric guitar or bass and kind of step out.

“I wanted to figure out a way to amplify the ukulele and keep it pleasing to the ear,” he continued. “That’s what I devoted a lot of time to, figuring out ways to make it loud, basically, on stage, and make it sound big. It’s still a challenge, but it’s something I keep working on.”

You can see and hear how far he’s taken the instrument at the Door Community Auditorium on Friday, July 26, 8 pm. 

“I’m playing in a trio currently, with electric bass and guitar. That’s been so much fun,” he said. “I’m really happy with the sound we’re getting. It’s something that I’ve personally never heard in the context of the ukulele. The ukulele is a percussive instrument, so my role is almost like the drummer, providing a very percussive sound. It’s a great combination of instruments and players.”

If you can’t make it to the show to hear the trio, you’ll have to wait until the end of the year when a new trio record is due out.

“We’re also finishing up a duets record right now, a collaboration of me with all of my favorite singers,” Shimabukuro said. “We’ve got a track with Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, Jack Johnson, Jon Anderson. I have so many favorites. These are the ones that said yes. It’s going to be a fun record. That one will probably come out next summer.”

Shimabukuro’s journey to take the ukulele places it has never been began when he as a child.

“My mom was my first teacher,” he said. “When I was four, she sat me down and taught me a few chords. After that I listened to a lot of ukulele players like Eddie Kamae of Sons of Hawaii, Peter Moon and Sunday Manoa, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. All of the great players. That’s kind of what inspired me.”

Combine his ukulele-playing talent with a broad love of music, and you have a performer who knows no boundaries.

“I love all kinds of music,” Shimabukuro said. “I just love playing. I love making music. I love sharing the ukulele with people. I think it’s one of those interests that make people smile. It’s so charming, and it’s not intimidating. I love that about the instrument.”

Shimabukuro met some fellow ukulele enthusiasts during a uke jam held in the DCA courtyard before his last concert there, in 2016.

“We had such a great time the last time we were there. I wasn’t expecting to see so many ukulele players there,” he said.

A free jam that’s open to the public will be held in the DCA courtyard prior to this concert as well, beginning at 6:30 pm. Greg Forton, a music teacher in the Hortonville School District and a member of the ukulele ensemble Forte and The Pianissimos, will lead the session.

To purchase tickets, visit, call 920.868.2728, or go to the box office, Monday through Friday, 12-5 pm; and 12 pm until show time on show days.

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