What: Jake Shimabukuro

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St., Bend

Cost: $37, $47 or $57 plus theater preservation fee

Contact: towertheatre.org or 541-317-0700

Like many Hawaiians, Jake Shimabukuro picked up his first ukulele as a young kid — at age 4, to be precise. Unlike many Hawaiians, he never put it down.

With its simple, four-string, two-octave setup, the ukulele is often thought of as a beginner instrument similar to the recorder in mainland U.S. elementary schools — a stepping stone to “real” instruments such as guitar or piano. Shimabukuro, who was taught to play ukulele by his mother, did try his hand at other instruments early on, including drums, piano and guitar. But he would always return to ukulele.

“When I was in my high school band and I played drums, everything that I learned in band from playing drums, I would try to immediately just figure out how I can apply that to the ukulele,” he said from a tour stop in Seattle. He will return to the Tower Theatre for the third time Thursday. “I did take some piano lessons for a little while as well, and when I did that it was the same thing — how can I incorporate that into my ukulele playing so that I can get a better — so I can approach my instrument in a different way? Guitar, too — I tried to study some different guitar techniques, but it was always so that I could immediately apply it to my ukulele playing.”

Three-plus decades later, Shimabukuro has become to ukulele what Jimi Hendrix was to guitar or Miles Davis was to trumpet — two musicians he’s often compared to thanks to his reinvention of the instrument. He was already a star in Japan in 2006, when a clip of him performing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on a solo ukulele became one of YouTube’s first viral videos. Since then, he’s shared stages with Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers Band) and Jimmy Buffett, recorded with Alan Parsons and Kip Winger (on his 2012 album “Grand Ukulele”) and released multiple albums of original songs and more esoteric covers of Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, Queen and more.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle in a lot of ways,” Shimabukuro said of his arranging process. “I remember when I was coming up with the arrangement for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ there were so many things — I was like, oh my goodness, how am I gonna make this work? And you just experiment and try different things, and you eventually find ways to make it work. And a lot of times — sometimes it feels like you’re kind of cheating the instrument where you have to do different things or even eliminate certain parts. You just find all these ways to make it work, and that’s what’s fun. You really have to be creative, and I think that’s the part that I love.”

His fans love the covers, too — after all, they’ve been a big part of his appeal going back to that original viral video filmed in Central Park in New York City. But Shimabukuro’s composing has continued to evolve on his albums, culminating in 2016’s “Nashville Sessions,” his first album of all-original material. Recorded with regular touring bassist Nolan Verner and drummer Evan Hutchings, the album’s 11 songs were largely improvised in-studio.

“I never really had confidence in my songwriting, but it was something I really thought I needed to do,” he said. “I just needed to really force myself to try to write and come up with material, and it was a great learning experience for me.”

Shimabukuro will return to a more familiar balance of half covers, half originals on his next record, “The Greatest Day,” which he said will be released in early summer.

Once again, Shimabukuro recorded in Nashville with the same group plus guitarist Dave Preston, who has been touring with Shimabukuro behind “Nashville Sessions.” He tracked the main band live — again, same as on “Nashville Sessions” — but this time opened up the recording to session musicians including pedal steel player Jerry Douglas, one of Shimabukuro’s heroes.

“There’s a little bit of everything — there’s some organ on there, there’s some horns. … We’ve got some strings,” he said. “We tried to just — again, just to make each track a little more interesting, we added different sounds and sonically got a little bit more experimental this time.”

As usual, he dug across genres and through generations for the cover songs, which will probably get some play in Bend: Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9,” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”

“People love hearing things that they’re familiar with,” Shimabukuro said. “I do, and a lot of times, that’s how I discover new artists — I’ll hear a cover of something that they did and I really like their approach, and then I’ll go dig into other stuff that they do. And especially with the ukulele, because for a lot of people outside of Hawaii, it’s kind of an obscure instrument. I think some people, they’re not really familiar with all the different sounds that you can get out of it, so I think that cover tunes (are) the perfect way for people to be introduced to the instrument. And that’s why I think Izzy’s (Hawaiian musical icon Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole) ‘Over the Rainbow’ worked so well, because it was just such a beautiful take on this iconic standard.”

That’s becoming less of a concern thanks in large part to Shimabukuro himself. The instrument has experienced another revival in recent years, with ukuleles popping up in modern indie rock and folk bands and in the hands of established musicians such as Eddie Vedder and Bruno Mars.

“For me, I mean, I’m just a big fan of the instrument,” Shimabukuro said. “So whenever I see more and more people getting excited about it — I don’t know, I just feel proud. Like, oh, good, I’m so glad that more and more people are discovering how amazing this ukulele is and the kind of music that it can put out.”