San Diego Union Tribune Article on Luthiers for a Cause: The Voice of the Luthier

This article by Pam Kragen appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 3, 2018.

Luthiers' Rare Ukuleles Answer Musical Riddle

This time last year, a group of ukulele builders from around the world came up with a way to answer one of history’s great musical mysteries and raise money for charity at the same time.

For centuries, scientists and musicologists have puzzled over the secret behind the one-of-a-kind sound produced by 17th-century Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu violins. Was it the maker? Was it the varnish, the glue or the chemicals used in the building process? Or was it the wood itself?

 Luthiers for a Cause ukulele builders, from left: Jay Maclay, Jay Lichty, Beau Hannam, Joji Yoshida and Steve Grimes with Kevin Beddoe, right, owner of Fallbrook's KinnardUkes, at a gathering in Hawaii in November 2017. (Luthiers for a Cause)

Luthiers for a Cause ukulele builders, from left: Jay Maclay, Jay Lichty, Beau Hannam, Joji Yoshida and Steve Grimes with Kevin Beddoe, right, owner of Fallbrook's KinnardUkes, at a gathering in Hawaii in November 2017. (Luthiers for a Cause)

To find an answer, six ukulele builders from around the world — including Fallbrook’s John S. Kinnard — were appointed a task. Using the same sheets of wood from two old-growth trees, the men were invited to build six identically sized tenor ukuleles using their own construction techniques and finishing details.

In November, all six instruments were flown to Hawaii, where they were played by the same musician to determine whether the builders’ individual craftsmanship influenced the sound or whether it was all in the wood.

The result?

Although there were some minor differences in tonality when ukulele master Kimo Hussey played the six instruments, “they sounded more alike than they sounded different,” said Carlsbad resident Kevin Beddoe, who owns KinnardUkes, the company that distributes Kinnard’s ukuleles worldwide.

KinnardUkes owner Kevin Beddoe, left, and master ukulele builder John S. Kinnard play some of Kinnard's instruments at his Fallbrook workshop in June 2017. (U-T File)

The musical test could mean the prized wood used in the six instruments — 100-year-old Honduran mahogany and a section of the famous Lucky Strike redwood tree that fell during a storm in the 1990s — created the near-uniform sound. Or it could prove Kinnard’s own theory.

“I say it’s the nut behind the wheel: A good musician can play a cigar box,” he said.

Beddoe, who attended the recent Ukulele Guild of Hawaii gathering, said there is some evidence to support Kinnard’s theory. When Hussey strummed all six instruments, they sounded virtually the same. But two other musicians, who play with a different technique, found some unique qualities in each ukulele.

Although the main materials and dimensions of the six ukuleles were the same, Beddoe said the instruments were quite different in design. They had different body shapes, fretboards, tuning boards and custom inlays that reflected their creators: Kinnard, Steve Grimes of Hawaii, Beau Hannam of Colorado, Jay Lichty of North Carolina, Jake Maclay of West Virginia and Joji Yoshida of Okinawa, Japan.

All six men donated their time to the project, which was organized by Luthiers for a Cause. Lichty said he was eager to be involved because of the “mojo factor” of the assignment.

“I’ve not had a more fun build,” he said. “To be able to build what I want out of this special wood for this special project with these special guys was a huge inspiration.”

After the musical meet-up in Hawaii in November, Luthiers for a Cause planned to sell the instruments in an online auction. The goal was to raise $25,000 for the Ukulele Kids Club, a Florida-based nonprofit that provides free ukuleles and music instruction to children facing long-term hospitalization.

The sale met with unexpected success when an American couple who attended the musical gathering offered to buy the whole set for $100,000. The anonymous donors said they plan to keep the instruments together for use in exhibits and special events to raise money for musical therapy programs like the Ukulele Kids Club.

Kinnard, 66, didn’t attend the November meeting because he’s a solitary sort who prefers working quietly in his Fallbrook workshop to traveling and marketing his instruments.

The Vista native has been building string instruments since the 1970s, including jobs with Taylor Guitars and the Delle’Arte brand Gypsy jazz guitars. He started making ukuleles about six years ago. Kinnard ukuleles are tuned differently to have a deeper, richer sound that especially appeals to guitarists.

Working at a leisurely pace, Kinnard turns out about 30 custom-order ukuleles each year, priced from $1,750 to $5,000 apiece. Beddoe said Kinnard has a 10-month backlog of orders.

Beddoe said the Luthiers for a Cause project exceeded everyone’s expectations, and not just for the money it raised.

“This is a legacy thing,” Beddoe said. “For those six guys, it doesn’t matter what they do from here on out. Their names are on those instruments. If that set is still together in 150 years, that will be quite a legacy that they’ve left behind.”

Copyright © 2018, The San Diego Union-Tribune


Luthiers for a Cause Raises Over $100,000 for Music Therapy

Two Legendary Trees + Six World-Class Instrument Builders = 
Lots of Children Harnessing the Healing Power of Music

LOS ANGELES, CA – Luthiers for a Cause is proud to announce that the six custom tenor ukuleles created for its groundbreaking project The Voice of the Luthier have been sold as a set for $100,000. All of the proceeds are going to The Ukulele Kids Club, a 501(c)3 non-profit whose mission is to harness the healing power of music by sending hospitalized children home with the gift of music for life.

The acquirers, who wish to remain anonymous, are a husband and wife who appreciate ukulele and who are advocates for music therapy. “When I first heard about the concept of the project I was enchanted,” said the husband. “The benevolence of the luthiers who volunteered their effort and artistry to produce a set of instruments to benefit the Ukulele Kids Club charmed my wife and me, because we had fallen in love with the UKC and the work it does for thousands of children in hospitals. It was a perfect combination of art, craftsmanship, ukuleles, and charity. I had expected one instrument to stand out for me. Instead, they were all uniquely beautiful in design. And the tone from each instrument was truly amazing.”

The acquirers hope that by keeping the collection together they can provide even more benefit to The Ukulele Kids Club by possibly using them in museum exhibits, concerts and potentially even a CD featuring all six ukuleles being played by world-class players. The wife added, “We see this as an opportunity to expand awareness about the work UKC is doing through its ever-growing network of pediatric hospitals who use board-certified music therapists to help sick children harness the healing power of music.”

The Voice of the Luthier project was devised to help explore an often-asked question in the acoustic music world. What is the relative importance of the wood used and the builder in determining the final tone of an instrument? Six of the world’s most distinguished ukulele builders came together to showcase their own unique approaches to aesthetics and voicing an instrument:

·       Steve Grimes (

·       Beau Hannam (

·       John Kinnard (

·       Jay Lichty (

·       Jake Maclay (

·       Joji Yoshida (

In addition to the luthiers, Rodgers Tuning Machines contributed artisan engraved tuners and world-renowned inlay artist Harvey Leach inlayed the Luthiers for a Cause logo on the fretboard of each instrument. Oahu Cases contributed leather-wrapped fiberglass cases for the ultimate in instrument protection.

The wood used in each of these instruments is extremely rare and legendary among acoustic guitar and ukulele enthusiasts. The back and sides are from a particular Honduran mahogany tree that is truly one-of-a-kind in its figuring and so famous that it is simply known as The Tree. The soundboard is Lucky Strike Redwood, which is from a redwood that fell during a storm and straddled a small ravine. The suspended section air-dried over many years, resulting in a higher strength-to-weight ratio than is typically found in redwood.

Since its founding in early 2014, more than 4,700 ukuleles have been gifted to almost 200 hospitals with board-certified music therapists in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. UKC Founder Corey Bergman said, “The generosity of everyone involved in this unique project has been overwhelming and has helped us spread awareness about the healing power of music therapy. Since every $40 donation puts one of our instruments into the hands of a sick child, this outcome will help us make big steps toward our goal of placing 10,000 ukuleles by the end of 2019.”

To learn more, including seeing and hearing the instruments, or to make a contribution to Ukulele Kids Club, visit The Luthiers for a Cause website ( or follow us on Facebook.

# # #

LFAC: Eddie Monnier ( | UKC: Corey Bergman (

The Ukulele Review Showcases "The Voice of The Luthier" Project to Benefit The Ukulele Kids Club

The Ukulele Review video podcast showcased the "The Voice of the Luthier", a charity effort organized by Luthiers for a Cause, which sought to demonstrate how six world-class builders bring their own aesthetics and voicing to nearly identical sets of wood, sourced from legendary one-of-a-kind trees. The idea for the project came about to help answer the question about how the woods used and the builder each contribute to the final tone of an acoustic instrument.

The woods selected for the project are extremely rare. The body wood is from "The Tree", a one-of-a-kind, uniquely figured Honduran mahogany giant that laid in a ravine for almost 20 years before it was re-discovered. No other Honduran mahogany tree like it has ever been discovered. The soundboard is from Lucky Strike redwood, which is sourced from a storm-felled redwood which straddled a small ravine when it fell. A section of the tree the air-dried over many years, yielding redwood that has a much higher stiffness-to-weight ratio than is typically found in redwood. As a result, this redwood is said to provide the best attributes of both redwood and spruce.

These prized instruments will be auctioned by The Ukulele Site ( beginning in December.  All proceeds will go to The Ukulele Kids Club, who provides ukuleles and music therapy to kids dealing with serious medical problems. Over 4,100 ukuleles have been placed in the hands of children at more than 200 hospitals who work with board-certified music therapists.

You can learn more about the luthiers and the woods used, buy LFAC merchandise and even donate straight to UKC on the Luthiers for a Cause website ( Every $40 puts a ukulele in the hands of a child in need of the healing power of music for life.

Crafting Music: Grand Junction luthier makes instruments beautiful for eyes, ears and charity

From The Daily Sentinel

November 19, 2017

Crafting Music

Grand Junction luthier makes instruments beautiful for eyes, ears and charity


Beau Hannam looks at a piece of wood and hears music.

He sees melodies in the grain, tones in the curves he knows he can bend into something that once grew tall and straight.

"You just learn to hear what's going on in the wood," Hannam said, pulling a thin piece of wood out of a stack and tapping it so that it vibrated with a quiet but raw, deep sound. He selected another piece and it responded to a tap with a brighter, higher pitch.

"Each one has a different ring," Hannam said, and through the years he has become better at hearing the potential of each voice.

Being a luthier is like being an artist or an actor, he said.

"It's a vocation, something you really love, but you're not going to get rich," Hannam said with a half smile and looking around at his humidity-controlled Grand Junction workshop, where tools and bottles were lined up like school children — everything in its place, but not perfectly because his workshop is an active place, after all.

Veneers, rubs, dyes, shellac were in one general area, various saws were here and there, and wood was everywhere. Mother-of-pearl shimmered in an array of colors from the inlays on ukuleles and guitars in progress: gold, white, red, abalone and black "that's a bugger."

Hannam is Australian, thus the mild swear word, the Australian flag hanging on a door and calendar-page beach scenes tacked on the wall high above a workbench.

"My mom brought me a calendar of the northern beaches of Sydney," Hannam said and pointed to a pine tree in the background of a picture of Mona Vale Beach that he is sure is the huge pine standing in his parents' front yard.

The back of another workshop door was covered with invoices for Hannam's custom ukuleles and guitars that will be sent to buyers as close as Fruita and as far away as Hong Kong, Melbourne and Japan.

"I've got about 2–2½ years of orders. I'm backed up," Hannam said.

That is because Hannam's instruments are time-intensive pieces of art for both the ear and eye and because he recently spent more than 100 hours devoted to a ukulele for Luthiers for a Cause's "Voice of the Luthier" project.

For the project, Hannam and five other luthiers each built a special tenor ukulele to be revealed at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival this weekend in Honolulu. The ukuleles will be auctioned in December with the proceeds going to The Ukulele Kids Club, a nonprofit that uses ukuleles for music therapy in pediatric hospitals.

What makes the six ukuleles special is that each was made from the same wood that is legendary among luthiers. The backs and sides come from "The Tree," a Honduran mahogany tree felled in the 1960s. It landed in a ravine where it wasn't recovered for more than a decade, according to an article from Guitar Aficionado magazine posted at

"It's incredible figured wood," Hannam said while showing off the ukulele he made for the project in his workshop several weeks ago.

The tops of the ukuleles are "Lucky Strike" redwood from California. That tree had naturally fallen and was salvaged in the 1990s, according to a Guitar Bench Magazine article also posted at

And so the luthiers are the biggest difference in the six ukuleles.

"There is an often-asked question in the world of acoustic instruments, and that is: How much is the final tone of an instrument determined by the woods used and how much is determined by the instrument builder?" wrote Eddie Monnier, co-founder of Luthiers for a Cause, in an email shortly before the festival in Hawaii.

About a year ago, Monnier convinced luthiers Hannam, Steve Grimes, John S. Kinnard, Jay Lichty, Jake Maclay and Joji Yoshida to donate their time and expertise to answering this question.

"We wanted to use world-class luthiers for this project, so there was an obvious short list from which Beau was selected," Monnier wrote. "Beau is recognized not only for the magnificent tone he achieves from his instruments, but also for the many elegant aesthetic details he incorporates, such as sculpted heels on his instrument necks, mosaic rosettes, and fretboards with floating frets."

Hannam is pretty sure he could identify any of his instruments on sight, but for others looking to recognize his work, there are a couple giveaways beyond the stylistic "H" somewhere on the outside of the body of the instrument, a red wax seal and a label inside the body.

There's the mosaic rosette around the sound hole mentioned by Monnier and two curves at the top of the headstock (unless a customer has requested otherwise) that are inspired by the mountain ranges of Colorado. He moved to the state after he and his wife, Laurie, were married in 2013, the same year he built his workshop tucked away in Grand Junction where Laurie lived.

But without all those, Hannam would still know one of his instruments. When you spend as many hours as he does creating an instrument, you just know it, he said.

Once he and his wife were walking around the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and came across a guitar made by Gilet Guitars that Hannam recognized. They went over to check out the plaque with the guitar and, lo and behold, there was his name listed among the luthiers.

"It was a shock to see my name there," said Hannam, who started his career in luthiery in 2002 at Gilet Guitars School of Luthiery in Sydney. This followed art school and studying theology and philosophy, "so I've got the same training as a priest," Hannam said with a laugh.

It was during those university years that he found a second-hand book about making guitars, an instrument he learned to play while in primary school. However, before picking up that book, it had never occurred to him that people hand make guitars, he said.

He read the book cover-to-cover, "didn't understand it, but I loved it," he said.

He began at Gilet as a student "and I slowly began to work there" first as a teacher and then as a full-time luthier.

While he was teaching, one of his students was a surgeon at a transplant hospital in Sydney. The surgeon told Hannam "the only thing as hard as transplant surgery is luthiery."

The human body is self-healing. Wood is not, and so a luthier must be more precise, Hannam said the surgeon told him.

"You can't have a short attention span and be a good luthier," Hannam said. It's like "Fast & Furious" versus "The English Patient."

"It's a meditative state you have to be in," he said. You're working with power tools and dental tools, you don't want to lose fingers and the detail work is "headache material."

If you break an expensive piece of wood, "you'll cry yourself to sleep because you lost hundreds of dollars," he said.

A shaving can be the difference between something fitting or not fitting, he said. "It's really fine work."

And there is a certain rhythm to all of it. Hannam currently has 12 ukuleles and guitars all in various stages of completion. Because he is a custom builder with each instrument differing per the desires of the buyer, "it's hard to get in a roll like a factory," he said. "It's slow going, but it keeps the day interesting."

Over the years he developed a mental catalogue of the traits and sounds of different wood.

"One way to identify a wood species is to smell it," he said.

Brazilian rosewood, Tasmanian blackwood or Sitka spruce, "my nose knows it," he said.

In addition, "I don't throw away anything. I'm like a wood hoarder," he said. "I keep splinters almost."

He never knows when just a bit of something might be needed to accentuate a bit of something else. He once used the unique grain in a small piece of wood to create the head of an elephant for a one-of-a-kind headstock.

Some of Hannam's hoarded splinters and bits of mother of pearl, another thing he tucks away, found their way into his Luthiers for a Cause ukulele now on display at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival.

Hannam was keen to see and hear how it compares to the five others. He also was glad to know that his efforts will benefit an organization that uses music to put smiles on the faces of children.

"It's a really good cause and I'm proud to be a part of it," he said.

To learn about Beau Hannam, go to; Luthiers for a Cause,; and The Ukulele Kids Club, A podcast about the tenor ukuleles created for the "Voice of the Luthier" was to be recorded at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival. A link to that podcast should be available at Luthiers for a Cause's Facebook page later this year.

Hawaii Ukulele Festival: The Big Unveiling

The big unveiling is here! Come see and hear the Luthiers for a Cause "Voice of the Luthier" ukuleles at the Hawaii Ukulele Festival, which is being held at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel, Waikiki (November 17-19). These very special instruments and those of more than 30 other builders will be on display Friday and Saturday from 11-4pm and Sunday from 11-3pm.

Six of the world's leading luthiers built these fine instruments from wood sourced from two legendary trees. The Ukulele Review will be doing a podcast showcasing the ukes as well, which will be available later in November. The instruments will be auctioned beginning in December through The Ukulele Site, with all proceeds going to The Ukulele Kids Club to support music therapy at pediatric hospitals, including Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children.

We are deeply indebted to our many contributors:

Luthiers: Steve Grimes, Beau Hannam, John S. Kinnard, Jay Lichty, Jake Maclay and Joji Yoshida.

Other sponsors: Harvey Leach (master inlay artist & source for Lucky Strike redwood), Rob Rodgers (fine tuning machines), Andrew Kitakis (The Ukulele Site, Oahu Cases, The Ukulele Review), Jay Howlett (source for The Tree body wood), Kimo Hussey & John Covey (Hawaii Ukulele Festival).

Hawaii Ukulele Festival

Luthiers for a Cause and Ukulele Kids Club Bring Healing Powers of Music to a Red Cross Shelter

Luthiers for a Cause and Ukulele Kids Club raised funds to help bring the healing powers of music to children living in areas ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. Thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers on the ground in Houston and the support of the American Red Cross, we will be helping some young people discover the joy of making music. The article below was written for Red Cross Chat.

Story and photos by Chris Genin, American Red Cross volunteer

Shelter residents and volunteers gathered to the sound of a live band, featuring the ukulele, playing at the Greenspoint Mall Shelter in Houston. Children sang along to nursery rhymes, while older residents sang along to the classics as the Ukulele Kids Club performed for people who remain displaced after Hurricane Harvey. Joy radiated from the crowd, demonstrating the happy and healing powers of music.

Ukulele Kids Club’s mission is to share the magic of the ukulele, a unique string instrument, and to teach kids the basics. Operating out of the Miami area, the club normally goes to hospitals and plays for kids in long-term care. However, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall, local musician Kevin Griffin put out word to the local ukulele community that there would be kids in shelters who might enjoy a new activity.

Club members answered the call to help, and word spread quickly among musicians. Not only were they willing to play, but local instrument builders generously donated 100 ukuleles.

These interactive experiences teach children that ukuleles are not just toys, and that music is something you can keep up with your entire life. The longer-term goal is to provide children with something positive as they transition from shelter living to a new household.


“We believe music has potential to heal, and that’s the whole idea,” Griffin said. “We aren’t here for exposure or anything like that. We just love music, it has had an impact in our lives and we’d like to share that with those who may need it.”

Of course, it can be difficult to keep the attention of young people so Griffin enlisted the help with this Susan Pearson, a former school teacher, who helped implement some teaching techniques during the ukulele lessons.

“Everyone was clapping and bouncing their feet up and down,” Pearson said. “It was neat watching the kids play along.”

After such a positive experience and response from the shelter community, and with at least 10 kids showing interest, Griffin is eager to return to teach future lessons. He is also planning to keep in touch with the families of the children who continue to show interest so they may gift the instruments as a family transitions out of the shelter.

If you are interested in helping with the Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, please visit to learn more.

Get a Sneak Peek of the Kinnard Charity Uke at the Los Angeles International Uke Festival

Luthiers for a Cause and participating luthier Kinnard Ukes both will be exhibiting at the Los Angeles International Uke Festival on September 30, 2017 at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center (3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance, CA 90503).

The LA International Uke Festival is a fun-packed, all-day event with playing workshops for players of all levels, group strum-alongs, and an expo area with exhibitors displaying ukuleles from entry-level to high-end customs. Plus, many of today's top ukulele musicians will be performing throughout the day, including Kalei Gamiao, Victoria Vox, Little 'Rev, Honoka & Azita and many more. Tickets for access to all activities throughout the day are just $45.

While the six Luthiers for a Cause charity ukuleles will not be unveiled together until November, this is your chance to get a sneak peek at the Kinnard project uke. Kinnard Ukes, the distributor for John S. Kinnard ukuleles, will be exhibiting several fine Kinnard ukuleles, including the Luthiers for a Cause project uke. This incredible tenor ukulele was made with wood from two legendary trees: the body wood is "The Tree" and the top is Lucky Strike Redwood.

Luthiers for a Cause will be offering merchandise with the project logo, with all proceeds going to benefit The Ukulele Kids Club, a non-profit whose mission is to harness the healing power of music by supporting music therapy programs and gifting ukuleles to pediatric hospital music therapy programs so that children in need can be sent home with the gift of music for life.

To purchase Los Angeles International Uke Festival tickets or to see a full schedule of events, visit the event website here.