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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Virtuoso's $5,000 baritone 'ukulele stolen

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Thieves target quality 'ukulele and other expensive musical instruments because they're easy to pawn, but a model valued at $5,000 and stolen from 'ukulele virtuoso Kahauanu Lake may prove hard to unload.

Composer Kahauanu Lake's 'ukulele was stolen from his Kaimuki office over the weekend.

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A baritone 'ukulele made for the Hawaiian composer and musician, stolen from his Kaimuki office during the weekend, has his name inlaid on the face of the instrument.

The 'ukulele, handmade by craftsman K.C. Young in 1974, is one of a kind and easily recognizable, Lake said.

"That is why it makes me believe they wanted it for themselves. It has my name on it," Lake said.

From Aug. 1 to Nov. 3 there were nine reports of 'ukulele thefts in Honolulu Police Department's District 7 — where Lake's office is located — including six taken during burglaries, two stolen from vehicles and one during a shoplifting incident, said Lt. Gilbert Kilantang, with the district's burglary /theft detail.

"They break into a house, see an 'ukulele and take it," Kilantang said. "They figure it is an expensive item and could pawn it for quick cash."

Lake is the latest high-profile musician to be victimized, but everywhere from public schools to private homes have also been hit by thefts of 'ukulele and other instruments.

In July 2002, more than $8,000 worth of musical instruments and two laptop computers were stolen from the music studio of Kenneth Makuakane, a songwriter and producer of traditional Hawaiian music with multiple Na Hoku awards.

Hale'iwa Elementary School was victimized by thieves that same month, losing 11 'ukulele valued at $400 to $500 apiece.

Two months later, three guitars were taken from the Waikele home of musician Cyril Pahinui. They were recovered a few weeks later.

Lake, winner of a Na Hoku Hanohano Lifetime Achievement Award and a member of the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said he last played the 'ukulele Thursday night during a regular practice session with the Kahauanu Lake Singers.

He flew to Maui on Saturday and when he returned to his Kaimuki studio the 'ukulele was not in its case. He called police.

"I usually come here Sunday and fool around with melodies," Lake said. "I opened the case and almost cried. That is like my other half."

Lake said he always left the kolohala wood 'ukulele in his office in the Jade Building in Kaimuki. There were no signs of forced entry into the office and nothing else was taken, he said.

Kilantang said most 'ukulele do not have serial numbers inside, so they cannot be positively identified by their owners. He advises owners to take a photo of their instruments, engrave their name on them and not leave them where they can be seen easily by a thief.

At the request of police, 'ukulele maker Kamaka started stamping serial numbers inside its instruments in 2000. Kamaka's regular line sells for $500 to $1,250 each.

Harry B. Soria Jr., an authority of pre-statehood Hawaiian music, said Lake is a living legend and because his name is so prominent on the 'ukulele, it may be easier to find.

"It's unmistakable," Soria said. "If they play it in public they are going to get busted royal. Hopefully, they will be afraid to play it anywhere and give back."

Lake said he has another 'ukulele made by Young but it is in bad shape. He took the instrument to Kamaka 'ukulele shop for repairs and hopes to get it back before Christmas.

"I'm not going to give up the music business just because I don't have that 'ukulele," he said.

Lake is not offering a reward for the stolen instrument, which he estimates would cost $5,000 to replace, and hopes someone simply returns it. "If they called me and said, 'do you want to pay for it,' I'd tell them to shove it," he said. "Why should I pay for what is already mine?"

Anyone with information about the crime can call police at 955-8300 or Lake at 734-4546.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.