When did you start playing the uke?
I first picked up the ukulele when I was about 4
years old. My mom introduced me to the instrument, and I began by playing familiar Hawaiian
folk music. Growing up in Hawaii, it was natural
to play the ukulele—it was so easy to throw it
over my shoulder and play it at the park, on the
beach, and even in the car. In other words, it
made playing music possible everywhere, and
that’s a wonderful quality. I wouldn’t have been
able to do that with a guitar—which would’ve
taken a lot more effort to carry around—or a
violin, which is small but fragile and very sensitive to different weather conditions. I also really
loved the sound of the ukulele—light, happy,
and childlike—qualities that still appeal to me.
When did you get serious about it?
When I was a teenager I started branching out,
listening to a little bit of everything—rock ’n’
roll, jazz, classical, and blues—and I would try to
mimic it all on the ukulele. That’s what led me
to developing a different technique and approach
to the instrument altogether. In the beginning, it
was all by ear. But when I got into high school, I
started getting some formal music training, learn-
ing about sight reading, theory, and composition.
How important was that training to
It has played a really huge role in my musical
life. While the training helped me better understand what I was doing on the instrument, it
made me not just a stronger ukulele player but
a complete musician. And I’m still always trying
to expand and challenge myself by discovering
new things about music. The great thing about it
is that, the more you learn, the more you realize
how little you know. That’s the beauty of it—you
can never know everything you want to know
about music in a lifetime.
Your music is remarkably diverse. Who were
some of your biggest influences?
I’m influenced by the guitar greats of all
styles—Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen,
Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges, Andrés Segovia.
I’m also inspired by consummate musicians
FEATURE > JAKE SHIMABUKURO
like [cellist] Yo-Yo Ma, [bassist and composer]
Edgar Meyer, [banjoist] Béla Fleck, and [vocalist]
Bobby McFerrin. But it’s actually not just music
that informs my arranging, composing, and
performing: Bruce Lee is a huge influence. His
philosophy and approach to martial arts are valid
in any art form—and even in life in general.
Bill Cosby is also an influence, because of his
ability to just be himself, to seem so natural and
sincere in his performances. And Michael Jordan,
whose vehicle was of course basketball, expressed
himself in a way on the court that was just truly
magical and that I find musically inspiring.
Let’s talk about technique. Do you use a pick,
or do you play fingerstyle exclusively?
I got into picks for a while, because I listened
to a lot of Al Di Meola and was so blown away
with what he did with a pick—such fast lines
and such clean, precise runs. But, to me, fingers really give music a lot more character and
uniqueness. Think about it: Anyone can run
out and buy the same pick as you, but no one
can go out and buy your hand in a music store.
Space on many stages is at a premium. The large rigs of decades past are not practical for most gigging musicians. The 50-watt Pearl is perfect for those tight stages measuring only 20” W x 9” T x 8” D. It pairs perfectly with the Port City 2x12 and 1x12 OS Wave cabinets. Finally, there is the perfect option for a simple, clean, mid-wattage guitar amp all in a cabinet that doesn’t require a roadie. Discover the full line of Wave cabinets and Port City amplifiers at portcityamps.com.