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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, June 21, 2001

Jose Hipolito Jr., 'ukulele craftsman, dead at 66

Advertiser Staff

Master 'ukulele craftsman Jose Hipolito Jr., 66, of Honolulu, died June 10.

Hipolito was born in Honolulu in 1934, and started working as a craftsman at the Kamaka Hawaii musical instrument factory in 1954.

Hipolito has been praised for the construction and tuning of some of the best-sounding 'ukulele in the world — a staggering accomplishment for a man who never heard the sounds of the instruments.

The Kamaka brothers, Sam and Fred, hired 20-year-old Hipolito when he was referred by counselors who worked with disabled people.

"Jose was hearing-impaired, but his communication and work were fantastic," said Sam Kamaka. "It was a treat to have Jose with us. He did particularly fine work in assembling instruments and making sure everything was mechanically accurate.

"He did all of the tuning by vibrating frequency, so a lot of the quality of our instruments was due to someone who never heard the 'ukulele the way we hear it.

"It was an inspiration to me."

Hipolito retired from Kamaka Hawaii a few years ago, after 40 years of craftsmanship.

He is survived by brothers, Melvin and Julian; sisters, Irene Wheeler, Frances Ashley, Lillian Cash and Priscilla Bolongan.

The memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Depot Beach in Nanakuli.

Casual attire.