Sunday, December 18, 2016

Puerto Rican Cuatro an ADHD Find

Yesterday I found a new instrument I didn't even know existed and it's perfect for guitar players who are looking for a unique yet familiar sound to add to their music. The Puerto Rican Cuatro is a 10 stringed tenor instrument that falls somewhere between a 12 string and a mandolin.

With a little bit of googling I found there are quite a few variations on this theme including shapes and other countries being quite different but I'm going to focus on this one.

The Puerto Rican Cuatro Technically falls into the lute family. It is small bodied like a parlor guitar and thin so very easy and comfortable to hold. The violin shaped body is immediately familiar and while typically played with a pick I also used finger picking. There are electric versions but most of them are acoustic or electric/acoustic.

What makes it incredibly cool for guitar players is that the chords and scales you use are easily transferred over because the tuning is very similar. The strings are tuned like a 5 string bass so BEADG with the bottom B and E having an octave string and the A,D and G string being doubled. The B starts at the same B as your 2nd fret of your A string on the guitar. And the scale is about 20".

Immediately ideas are popping out of my head for uses. 1) Doubling an acoustic for 12 string type sounds. Strumming cords will sound perfect but also picking notes out sounds amazing.

2) Mandolin type sounds, if you need to play Maggie May, or Losing my Religion in a set this thing could easily fill in. It doesn't sound quite as twangy like a mandolin but it gives you the double string sound and it is not as full bodied as a 12 string.

3) If you enjoy running around in phrygian on a nylon string the cuatro immediately sounds familiar and yet different. This is the first thing I did and while you have to think about the difference a little it's not so far removed from the regular scale patterns.

4) If your a roots player or bluegrass player running scales in mixolydian will also feel immediately comfortable. It really is that easy.

The Cuatro is the national instrument of Puerto Rico. I found this youtube video that you can really hear the sound of the Cuatro on it.

There are quite a few cheap Chinese built versions on the market. Be ready to take these to a seasoned luthier for a good setup. This is what I played yesterday and it was very well built. I also found a few artisan built Cuatros that were in the thousand dollar range. Not bad considering artisan built guitars can easily be over five grand. If your looking for something that sounds unique but familiar check out the Puerto Rican Cuatro.

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