Central America ATLAS of Plucked Instruments

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Central America / Caribbean

This page is about some countries in the Caribbean and Central America :
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama.

 

For the other countries of America see

 

 

 

top Cuba
tres
example : Lonestar,
bought via internet 2001
L=870 B=340 H=90mm
scale 550mm
You Tube
tres

In Cuba they use (besides the string instruments guitar, laud and standing bass), a typical plucked instrument : the tres.

The tres is made like a guitar. Formerly the shape was like a normal spanish guitar, but slowly the shape gets different (tapering to the top) and especially the cut-out takes a typical shape (however I have seen lots of tres on Cuba and none looked the same). The bridge, soundhole, frets, tuning head are all similar to normal spanish guitar.

Although the fingerboard is as wide as a normal 6-string guitar, there are only 3 courses of metal strings, so there is a wide gap between the courses.
Tuning is usually : g'g c'c' e'e, but other tunings exist.

Playing is with a plectrum, usually playing the chords arpeggio style, with solos to fill in between the vocal lines.

See for more information TresinCuba .

A tres I did not buy on Cuba, 2004
   
tres
example :
bought via eBay 2011
L=730 B=330 H=85mm
scale 395mm
You Tube
laud cubano

In Cuba they often use (besides the guitar and the standing bass), the (Spanish) laud in their dance orchestras. Usually this is the same instrument type of laud as used in Spain (and elsewhere in South America), so with the wavy body outline and the two f-holes with a central teardrop as soundhole (see EuropeWest). However the typical Cuban version of the laud has no wavy outline, but on both sides of the body a rather sharp point. It is also a bit smaller. This type is called : laud cubano.

The laud cubano is made like a guitar - or for that matter : just like a Spanish laud. The size is between a laud and a bandurria. It usually will also have the soundholes like that laud (two f-holes with a central teardrop), but nowadays (as with the laud in Spain) you can also find lauds with a large round soundhole.

The 12 metal strings in 6 double courses run via a guitar-like bridge to a stringholder at the edge of the body.
Tuning is a bit higher than the Spanish laud : dd f#f# bb e'e' a'a' d"d".

Playing is with a plectrum, usually playing chords, with solos to fill in between the vocal lines.

 

   
top Puerto Rico
cuatro
example : Lonestar,
bought via internet 2001
L=860 B=280 H=75mm
scale 515mm
You Tube
cuatro

In Puerto Rico quite a few typical plucked instruments have developed : the cuatro, the tiple and the bordonúa. The national instrument is the cuatro (note that the same name is used for a small guitar in Venezuela - see South America).

The cuatro can be made like a guitar, but it is often made entirely (body, neck and tuning head) from one piece of wood, hollowed out. A front of thin wood (often yagrumo) is added, with a fingerboard and veneer for the tuning head. The body shape resembles a violin.

The tuning of the cuatro, with 10 metal strings in 5 courses is like a Spanish bandurria, so in 5-5-5-5 (pitches) or : bB e'e aa d'd' g'g'.

The cuatro is played with a plectrum, and usually the melody lines in a small group.

 

A cuatro with 6 courses would be called a seiz.

For more information about the Puerto Rican instruments see Cuatro-PR .

top  
tiple doliente
example : bought via internet friend from
Puerto Rico, 2006
L=590 B=160 H=60mm
scale about 365mm
You Tube
tiple

The tiple (pronounced "tea-play") from Puerto Rico is different from the tiple in South America. Here it is a small kind of cuatro, with a different shape. There are different types, sizes and names, and number of strings.
Like the Tiple Requinto de la Montaña (3 strings, scale ~300mm), Tiple Requinto Costero (3 strings, scale ~380mm), Tiple Doliente (4 or 5 strings, ~380mm) and Tiple Grande (also called Tiplón con Macho) with 5 strings (one from halfway the neck) and a scale of 530mm.
Another large one is the Tiple Grande de Ponce (also with 5 strings, all of about 530mm), which is the link between Tiples and Bordonuas (see under). Sometimes it is called "Bordonua Chiquita" (small Bordonua). A tiple with 3 double strings would be called a tres.

The tiple that is now most often played is the tiple doliente, with a more or less fixed body shape : it narrows at the top and has 5 strings.

The tiple doliente is usually made like the cuatro, so either constructed like a guitar, or from one piece of wood hollowed out. The bottom half of the body is rounded like a guitar, however the top half is square, or triangular.
All other features (like neck and bridge) resemble the construction of a normal spanish guitar. The peghead has tuning machines either from the side or from the back.

The tuning of the most common type of tiple,
the tiple doliente with 5 metal strings is :
e a d' g' c''.

The tiple is played with a plectrum, to play melody lines.

 

top  
bordonúa
example : from website
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
bordonúa

The bordonúa is the biggest plucked instrument of Puerto Rico. The slender long body-shape resembles a bit the mejorana of Panama, but it is much larger.
There is some confusion about its history; some claiming the modern instrument was originally a vihuela, or that the bordonúa was a higher tuned instrument with 6 single strings.

The bordonúa is made like the cuatro : so usually the body, neck and tuning head are carved from one (big) piece of wood. A front is added, with a fingerboard and veneer to the tuning head. The other features (neck with frets, bridge and tuning head) are like the normal spanish guitar. However nowadays often the entire instrument is made like a guitar, so from separate bits of wood.

It has 10 metal strings in 5 double courses.
The tuning is : Aa dd' fisfis' bb e'e'.

With its deepest voice of the Puerto Rico stringed instruments the bordonúa is used to play either harmonic or melodic bass lines. But also melodies or even chords can be played on it.

 

For more information on making one, see Cuatro.PR.

 

   
top Panama
mejorana
example : bought via internet from friendly man from Panama, 2006
L=660 B=230 H=80mm
scale 435mm
You Tube
mejorana

In Panama two quite similar instruments exist : the mejorana and the socavon. The main difference is the number of strings : 5 on the mejorana and 4 on the socavon. Because mejorana is also the name used for a spectacular festival in Guarare, the instrument is usually also called : mejoranera, to avoid confusion.

The mejorana is usually completely (body, neck and tuninghead) made from one piece of wood, hollowed out. The body is quite slender and resembles much the Brazilian viola de cocho. It has a rope attached via some holes in the body, to be used as strap around the neck.

The neck is short and has only 5 tied-on frets of rope. There are 5 wooden friction pegs from the back of the flat tuninghead.

The bridge is quite rounded, and has two feet which are glued to the front, but are also secured via internal screws.


The mejorana has 5 (single !) nylon (guitar) strings.
The tuning can be :
d' a' a b e' ("por 25"),
or
d' g' g b e ("por 6").


Playing is a mix of picking and strumming.

top  
socavon / bocona
example : from website
L=0 B=0 H=0mm
scale 0mm
You Tube
socavon / bocona

The socavon is made like the mejorana, and looks quite similar.

The difference is the number of strings : only 4 nylon strings,
tuned : G d a B.

It seems not much in use anymore.

 

 

   
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