Guitarrone Chileno

Name: Guitarrone Chileno.
Type: Lute > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Chile.
Region: South America.

F#5 • A4 • (D4) D4 D3 D3 D2 • (G4) G4 G4 G4 G3 G3 • (C4) C4 C4 C3 C2 • E4 E4 E4 • A4 A4 A4 • G4 • B4

F#5 • A4 • (D4) D4 D4 D4 D2 • (G4) G4 G4 G4 G3 G3 • (C4) C4 C4 C3 C2 • E4 E4 E4 • A4 A4 A4 • G4 • B4

Description: The Guitarrón Chileno [literally: “large Chilean guitar”] is a guitar-shaped plucked string instrument from Chile, with 24 or 25 strings rarely. 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 origin of the Guitarrón Chileno may date back to the 16th century. Although the name suggests an instrument derived from the guitar, the design, tuning, and playing technique of the instrument are more closely linked to a common ancestor of the guitar, the vihuela of the Renaissance and Baroque.

There are also some design similarities to the Baroque archlutes, though a direct connection is uncertain. Technologically 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 tuning machines, like those of modern guitars.

Repertoire: 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. 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.

Construction: As with most relatives of the guitar, the guitarrón chileno is constructed of wood and the same major sections may be distinguished in its construction: The headstock includes the strings and their respective tuners. Machine tuners as on the modern classical guitar are used in the construction of the head stock.

Neck / Fingerboard: This is wider than the standard guitar [ca. 6.5 cm to 7.5 cm] and frequently is fitted with only 8 frets, although some modern models are fully fretted with 18 or 19 frets like a modern classical guitar. Originally the frets were movable cords of gut, similar to the frets employed on Renaissance lutes, but modern instruments use metal frets like those found on guitars.

Body: In its more traditional construction the body is a bit shorter overall, and narrower at the bouts than the guitar, but also somewhat deeper. Typical dimensions are: length 45 cm to 50 cm; width [upper bout] 23 cm to 24 cm; width, the lower bout 29 cm to 30 cm; depth 11–12 cm. Many models have a simple sound hole 8–9 cm, although some specimens show highly decorative rosettes. The bridge frequently has showy extensions called “daggers” that extend along the top. On each upper bout are two “auxiliary” tuning machines, for tuning the four outlying strings [two on each side of the neck]. These outlying strings are known as “diablitos” [lit. “little devils”] “tiples” [trebles] or simply, “Devils”.

Strings: The string arrangement may be seen where strings pass over the sound hole of the guitarrón in the illustration. Current general practice is to use strings of metal [generally steel] both plain and wound; on historical instruments metal, gut, and nylon were often mixed, even within a single course. These strings are grouped in courses of various numbers of strings. Five courses pass over the fingerboard, and each of these courses has usually either six, five, four, or three strings in it.

The contemporary standard is to group the strings in courses of 5, 6, 4, 3 and 3 from low to high, but there is also some variation among models. Thus for some instruments the number of strings in a particular course may differ from this standard, though the total number of strings will remain 24 or 25. One of the most distinctive features of the guitarrón chileno is the “little devils”: four short, high-pitched strings, arranged two on each side of the neck, which run from tuners on the upper bouts to auxiliary pins on the sides of the bridge near the daggers.


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