Name: Guitarrón Chileno.
Type: Chordophones > Composite > Guitarillos > Lute.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Tuning: F# / A / D / G / C / E / A / G / B
Region: South America.
Description: The Guitarrón Chileno [literal meaning, “large Chilean guitar”] is a guitar-shaped plucked string instrument from Chile, with 25 or rarely 24 strings. Its primary contemporary use is as the instrumental accompaniment for the traditional Chilean genre of singing poetry known as Canto a lo Poeta, though a few virtuosi have also begun to develop the instrument’s solo possibilities.
History: The origins of the Chilean guitar are linked to the Payadores and their calls, Canto a lo Poeta, Canto a lo Divino, Canto de Velorio etc. The Chileno Guitarrone was mainly limited being played in the commune of Pirque, in the Cordillera Province. Although considered a rural instrument, in recent years there has been a revival of its practice and construction in urban areas.
The instrument has followed an evolution similar to that of the guitar. The old instruments used tied-on gut frets and friction tuning pegs [similar in appearance to the violin] but modern instruments employ metal frets and geared guitar tuners, like those of modern guitars.
Originally the guitarrón chileno was a folk instrument seen primarily in rural areas; however, recent interest in “world music”, and in the revival of traditional folk music forms has led to increased interest in the instrument in more urban areas and contemporary musical settings.
Repertoire: The Guitarrón Chileno is mainly used to accompany el Canto a lo Poeta [the Poet Singing], an old Chilean folk genre that combines décima [a ten-line poetic form] and payada [improvisation]. The music embraces two main groups of themes: Canto a lo Divino, lit. “Singing to the Divine” solemn, religious, more prepared themes; and Canto a lo Humano, lit. “Singing to the Human” [humorous, amorous, and social criticism themes]. This instrument is also used to perform in other musical forms like cuecas, tonadas, valses and polkas.
Tunings: Strings within a course are tuned either in unison or in octaves; tuning between courses is in fourths, except between the second and third courses where the interval is a major third. With the instrument held in playing position, the stringing is: devil, devil, 5 [or 4] string course, 6 [or 5] string course, 5 [or 4] string course, 3-string course, 3-string course, devil and the most common tuning is: F# / A / D / G / C / E / A / G / B
Either the fifth course or the third course may sometimes have only four strings, and the fourth course sometimes only has five, depending on the individual instrument design. One common variant of this tuning is to eliminate the middle octaves in the fifth course, thus: The entire instrument is sometimes transposed to accommodate the voice of the singer. For example, all notes in the above “G tuning” may be raised a whole step, to produce an “A tuning”.
Traditionally, tunings are confined to a range which favours the male voice, as most guitarroneras were, until quite recently, male. Modern female guitarroneras have mostly devised new playing patterns on the “male” instrument, but a few makers have been experimenting with novel stringing that allow the instrument to be tuned up to C or D, to better accommodate a female vocal range.