Ho’opi’i’s Way to Tune a 6-string ‘Ukulele

Mele and Hawaiian legend Uncle Richard Ho'opi'i

Mele and Hawaiian legend Uncle Richard Ho’opi’i

Did you know there are different ways of tuning a 6-string ‘ukulele? I was fascinated to observe that Hawaiian music legend Richard Ho’opi’i uses a wire wound string for his “A” string, meaning he tunes it low. He tunes his 6-string ukulele this way from top to bottom like this:
G
Double C strings tuned the same
E
Low A and A (octave apart)

When I asked Uncle Richard why he tunes that way, he replied that it was to compliment his brother Solomon’s regular tuning when they played their ‘ukulele and sang Hawaiian music together. That makes sense.

The Ho’opi’i brothers, Solomon and Richard, were raised on Maui in the rural village of Kahakuloa. Solomon was born March 28, 1935, and Richard was born March 15, 1941. In 1996, my husband and I were living in Maryland and attended the awards ceremony at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium where the Ho’opi’i brothers were given the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship award. I was awed by their ‘ukulele playing, and felt so fortunate to be able to enjoy their music live in Washington, D.C. We moved to Maui in 2000, and attended Solomon Ho’opi’i’s memorial service after he died on March 2, 2006.

Today, we continue to see Uncle Richard and his wife Ululani when we are on the same program at community venues, and sometimes my husband Rich has joined Uncle Richard on stage to back him up on bass. For example, in 2011 “the two Richs” played at the Maui Ukulele Festival for an audience of thousands at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center (see photos). On a personal note, we were especially pleased when the Ho’opi’i’s invited us to their grandson’s 1st birthday luau many years ago. We are so lucky to be considered friends of a Hawaiian legend.

Most recently on Thursday night, October 1, we were pleased when Ululani Ho’opii stopped by to say hello to us at Keith Regan’s birthday bash at Wailuku Community Center. That meant that Uncle Richard was in the house, and thus, we went up to talk story with him before he went up on stage. We were part of 900 in attendance at the event. Regan is running for Maui County Council in 2016.

I tune my 6-string ukulele this way from top to bottom:
Low G (below middle C)
C and low C (octave apart)
E
Double A strings tuned the same

It is so fascinating to learn there are different ways to tune a 6-string ‘ukulele. If you play a 6-string, how do you tune yours?

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele