Charango

Name: Charango.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes > Guitars > Guitarillos.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.5
Scale Length: 370 mm.
Frets: 5 – 18
Courses: 5
Strings: 10
Acquisition Date: Circa 1998.
Acquisition Source: Rene Hugo Sanchez.

Description: The Charango or [in Quechua: Charanku; in Spanish: Charango] is a small lute that has five courses and ten strings. It is played in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Northern Argentina, Chile and neighbouring Colombia. The charango has its origins among the Quechua and Aymara populations in the territory of what is today Altiplano in Bolivia during post-Colonial times. This came about after European stringed instruments rowers introduced by the Spanish during colonization.

Etymology: the Spanish language name “charango” is uncertain. Alternate and regional names inside Bolivia include. Mediana, guitarrilla, thalachi, quirqui, p’alta, khonkhota, aiquileno, guitarron, anzaldeno. Just as there are numerous types of charango there are equally as numerous names for them, varying by region and language. In Argentina the charango is called “Mulita y Tatu” ; in Bolivia it is called Kirkinchu sometimes, “quirquinchu” and “Kirki” in Bolivia and Peru. It is also called Quinquela in Bolivia.

A Uruguayan publication from 1823 uses the term “changango” and claimed the same word was used during the eighteenth century to refer to old and poorly constructed guitars: “…In Argentina they speak of the Charango, a guitar with five doubled strings and a body made from the shell of an Armadillo. Nevertheless, the small Spanish-American guitar has been known by the name changango for more than one hundred years. In a footnote to his correspondence with Paulino Lucero regarding the Great War, Hilario Ascasubi explains this situation with indisputable clarity:

“Changango: an old, poorly made guitar” [Excerpt from the newspaper “El Domador”, Montevideo, 19 March 1823]. Julio Mendivil engages in a similarly detailed discussion of this issue in his article La construccion de la historia: el charango en la memoria colectiva mestiza ayacuchana, Musicology Institut / University of Colonia ;

History: When the Spanish conquistadors came to South America, they brought with them the vihuela [an ancestor of the classical guitar] with them. It is unclear whether the charango is a direct descendant of a particular Spanish stringed instrument. Ernesto Cavour, Bolivian Charanguista [player] composer and historian consultant for museums. He had observed the the organological characteristics of the charango in various vihuelas and guitars of the 16th century.

Charango Tunings
Name Nomenclature Tunings
Standard Am7 C G E A E
Runa G D E A E
Kimsa E G# E A E
Jal’qa F A C# B E
Pasqua F# B E A E
Falsa Natural E G C A E
Tuning In F G C F A F
C# F# C# A  E
Vallegrandino A E C G

Construction: The charango is approximately 66 cm or 26 inches in total length, from the back of the body to the tip of the head stock. The string scale length is about 37 cm. The number of frets ranges from five to eighteen. The most common form of the charango has ten strings, five courses or paired strings of either gut, nylon or less commonly metal. Metal strung examples include the chillador and other variant forms of the charango have any where from four to fifteen strings. Numerous configurations range from single, double or triple courses.

Variant forms of the charango may have anywhere from four to fifteen strings, in various combinations of single, double, or triple courses. The body generally has a narrowed waist, reminiscent of the guitar family, and not the pear-shape of the lute. There are many minor variations in the shape of the body and soundboard [top] and many different kinds of wood are used. Although, like guitars, the preferred tone woods for the top come from the cedar or spruce families.

Old instruments had friction-style tuning pegs; similar to those used on violins, but today a classical guitar style machine gear tuners is  the norm, though these are occasionally positioned perpendicular to the headstock. Most instruments include some degree of ornamentation. Which may range from simple purfling inlays around the perimeter of the top, to elaborately carved headstocks, and whole scenes engraved, carved, or burned into the back of the body. Strap buttons are sometimes added, as are position marker dots on the fingerboard.

The scale length from nut to bridge is 770 mm in length. the charango was originally made from the shell of an armadillo [called quirquincho or mulita in South American Spanish]. The body of the charango can be made of a single piece of wood. A soft wood is desired so the body can easily be sculpted.

The neck is made from the same piece of wood the body is carved from. The typical example of a charango has five courses of double or paired strings. A fretboard on the charango usually has in the range of five to eighteen frets. Many regional variations of the charango do exist such as the ranka charango.

Citations: Bibliography: Excerpt from the newspaper “El Domador”, Montevideo, 19 March 1823 ; El Charango: su vida, sus costumbres y desventurasPresencia, La Paz, March – Ernesto Cavour A. 1981 ; Instrumentos Musicales de Bolivia. La Paz, Bolivia: Producciones Cima. – Ernesto Cavour A. ; Websites:

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