Name: Charango.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Guitars > Guitarillos.
Hornbostel & Sachs No#: 321.322.5
Specimens: 3 in collection.
Country: Bolivia, Peru, N. Chile, N. W. Argentina & Ecuador.
Region: South America.

Description: The charango is a 10-stringed 5 course lute whose some strings may very up to 14 strings 8 courses. Having a small body and short neck. It is a lead instrument in ensembles from both Bolivia, Peru, North Western Argentina and Northern Chile.

History: The charango was conceived by Indigenous peoples during the first contacts when they were forbidden by the conquistadors to play their own traditional instruments. It has been suggested the charango was the a creation of the first successful attempt at building a small enough lute that could be concealed under the poncho.

Origins: The Bolivian charanguista, composer and musician Ernesto Cavour presents evidence from murals and sculptures in Bolivia from as long ago as 1744. Citing an example being the Church of San Lorenzo in the city of Potosi. The facade of the church depicts two mermaids playing what he believes to be a charango.

The first published historic information on the charango may be that gathered by Vega, going back to 1814, when a cleric from Tupiza documented that “the Indigenous used with much enthusiasm the guitarillos mui fuis… around here in the Andes of Bolivia they called them Charangos”.

Turino mentions that he found carved sirens representing playing charangos in some Colonial churches in the highlands of Bolivia. One of the churches to which Turino refers may well be that mentioned by Cavour. The construction on the San Lorenzo edifice began in 1547 and wasn’t completed until 1744.

Charango Tunings
Name Nomenclature Tuning
Am7 C G E A E
AmBb7 B F Eb Ab Eb
Balitzar, Peru A Major G C# E A E
E Minor C G E G E
2nd Kimsa E G# E A E
Runa G D E A E
Jalq’a F# A C# B E
Easter F# B E A E
False E G C A E
Sucre Noº2 A D G C E
Tuning Noº4 G A C# A E
Small & Large D G E A E
Small Noº2 A D F# B F#
Small Noº3 C F A D A
En Fa / In F G C F A F

The cuatro tunings aka. the four tunings is a tuning for the charango devised by Victor Mena.

Distribution: Although is a provenance for the the origins of the charango to point to what is today Potosi, Bolivia. This region was once apart of the Royal Audiencia of Charkas which included its neighbours, Peru, North Western Argentina and Northern Chile. Several varieties of the charango exist from region to region.

Varieties: There are several varieties of charango that exist in Bolivia and it’s neighbours. Including the Charango De Caja having 6 paired courses of double strings. The arrangement of the strings of the charango de caja is no different than the 12 string guitar. Accept the charango de caja is tuned three octaves above the guitar.

Charango De Caja Tunings
Names Tunings
Standard E A D G B E
Comuncha G B D G B E
Diablo G Bb D G C E
Arpa F# A D F# B E

Construction: The charango was originally built with the use of armadillo shells from the 9 banded Armadillo. A neck and head stock were added during the assembly process. The body of this particular type of charango was boiled to remove the remaining hair and while still warm.

The body is then moulded into shape by a mallet around a wooden mould. Today it is common place to find the charango whose body and neck are carved from the same piece of wood [as featured on my Bolivian made charango for example].

The bracing, perfloring and sound board are glued into place than the basic shape of the instrument forming its over all profile. Once the basic body-shape is established, the fingerboard and frets are then installed. Machine gears are installed to the left and right sides of the head stock.

The typical amount of strings usually nylon are added on the charango near the last phase of the build. The result is a portable instrument with a small vaulted-backed instrument that can produce quite a tonal projection despite its size.

Citations: Biography: Ernesto Cavour, Turino, Stanley Sadie – New Grove Dictionary Of Music @ Vol  1, Book A to C, Page ; Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, South America ; [now archived by the waybackmachine]

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