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A modern charango.
String instrument
Other names Quirquincho, Mulita, Tatu, Kirki
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-5
(Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers)
Developed Early 18th century (perhaps earlier)
Playing range
E4 - (G6)
Related instruments
Walaycho; Chillador; Ronroco; et al (see text)

The charango is a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, which probably originated in the Quichua and Aymara populations in post-Columbian times, after European stringed instruments were introduced by the Spanish and other colonial powers. The instrument is widespread today throughout the Andean regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, where it is a popular musical instrument which exists in many variant forms.[1]

About 66 cm long, the charango was traditionally made with the shell from the back of an armadillo (quirquincho, mulita),[2][3] but also it can be made of wood, which some believe to be a better resonator. Wood is more commonly used in modern instruments.[2] Charangos for children may also be made from calabash.[3] Many contemporary charangos are now made with different types of wood. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each, but many other variations exist.

The charango is primarily played in traditional Andean music, but is sometimes used by other Latin American musicians. A charango player is called a charanguista.


  • History 1
  • Construction 2
  • Tuning 3
  • Variants: the Charango Family 4
  • Names 5
  • Notable players 6
  • In pop culture 7
  • See also 8
  • Further reading 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


A sign in Potosi, Bolivia, in the style of a charango with the words 'Cuna del Charango' (Birthplace of the Charango).
A traditional charango made of armadillo, today superseded by wood made charangos, in Museu de la Música de Barcelona

When the Spanish conquistadores came to South America, they brought the vihuela (an ancestor of the classical guitar) with them. It is not clear whether the charango is a direct descendent of a particular Spanish stringed instrument; it may have evolved from the vihuela, bandurria (mandolin), or the lute. Ernesto Cavour, charanguista, composer, and consulting music historian for many museums around the world,[4] has noted characteristics of the charango in various vihuelas and guitars of the 16th century, and maintains the charango is the direct descendent of the vihuela.[5]

There are many stories of how the charango came to be made with its distinctive diminutive soundbox of armadillo. One story says that the native musicians liked the sound the vihuela made, but lacked the technology to shape the wood in that manner. Another story says that the Spaniards prohibited natives from practicing their ancestral music, and that the charango was a successful attempt to make a lute that could be easily hidden under a garment such as a poncho.[6]

It is believed the charango came in to its present form in the early part of the 18th century in the city of Potosi in the Royal Audiencia of Charcas part of the Viceroyalty of Peru (in what is present-day Bolivia), probably from Amerindian contact with Spanish settlers. Cavour presents evidence from Bolivian murals and sculptures as far back as 1744—in, for example, the Church of San Lorenzo of the city of Potos (Potosí), the facade of which depicts two mermaids playing what he believes to be charangos.[7]

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 Indians used with much enthusiasm the guitarrillos mui fuis... around here in the Andes of Bolivia they called them Charangos".[8] Turino mentions that he found carved sirens representing playing charangos in some Colonial churches in the highlands of Bolivia.[9] One of the churches to which Turino refers may well be that mentioned by Cavour; construction on the San Lorenzo edifice began in 1547 and wasn't completed until 1744.[10]

According to quena were now banned.[11]

The 2005 documentary film El Charango (director, Jim Virga; editor, Tula Goenka; assoc producer and sound, Andrew Reissiger) gives some explanation to the relationship between the charango and Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia, site of the world's largest silver deposit and therefore a possible location of the charango's birthplace.


Designation of the parts of the charango

Traditionally a charango was made with a dried armadillo shell for the back and wood for the soundbox top, neck etc. While still common, this is no longer the norm: rather they are now typically made of wood, with the bowled back merely imitating the shape of the armadillo shell. Unlike most wooden lutes, the body and neck are typically made of a single block of wood, carved into shape. The charango's ten strings require quite a large headstock, often approaching or even exceeding the size of its diminutive sound box. Aside from these visual distinctions, it resembles something between a bowl-backed mandolin and a small ukulele.

The overall length of a typical charango is about 66cm, with a string scale length of about 37cm. The number of frets ranges from five to eighteen. The most common form of the instrument has ten strings of nylon, gut, or (less commonly) metal. (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 peghead with geared "machine" 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.

Variations may include a separate glued-on neck, a two-piece top plate of contrasting woods, old-style friction tuning pegs in palisander or ebony, guitar-style box construction, or even a hollowed-out neck. The size, shape, and number of soundholes is highly variable and may be a single round or oval hole, dual crescents, or even multiple holes of varying arrangement. Another variant is a neck with two holes bored 3/4 of the way through, parallel to the fretboard and close to the headstock (an innovation said to color the instrument's tone).

More recently solid-body electric and hollow-body acoustic-electric charangos have become available. The solid-body instruments are built very much as miniature electric guitars, whereas the acoustic-electrics are usually a standard acoustic charango with the addition of a contact microphone or piezoelectric pickup to run the output of the instrument through an amplifier.

In his book The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara describes an instrument that he identified as a charango while near Temuco, Chile, in 1952. It was "made with three or four wires some two meters in length stretched tightly across tins fixed to a board. The musician uses a kind of metal knuckle duster with which he plucks the wires producing a sound like a toy guitar."[12]


The basic charango has five pairs (or courses) of strings, typically tuned GCEAE. This tuning, disregarding octaves, is similar to the typical C-tuning of the ukulele or the Venezuelan cuatro, with the addition of a second E-course. Unlike most other stringed instruments, all ten strings are tuned inside one octave. The five courses are pitched as follows (from 5th to 1st course): G4 G4 - C5 C5 - E5 E4 - A4 A4 -E5 E5. Some charanguistas use "octave" strings on other pairs in addition to the middle course. Note that the lowest pitch is the "E" string in the middle (3rd) course, preceded by the higher pitched "g" (5th) course and "c" (4th) course, and followed by still higher pitched "a" (2nd) course and "e" (1st) courses. This tuning pattern is known as a re-entrant pattern because the pitches of the strings do not rise steadily from one string or course to the next, but progress from high to low and then back to high pitch again.

A charango player.

The ramifications of the charango tuning are that there is a very narrow tonal range in most chords, often with many pitch duplications, which produces a surprisingly powerful sound from the small instrument. Seventh and ninth chords shimmer more than on a guitar due to the close harmonies. In terms of melody playing, the charanguista can create a harp-like sound with close intervals ringing out (i.e., like a piano with the sustain pedal engaged). With the close pitch spacing across strings (intervals like 2nds), a simple alternating finger-style pattern in the right hand can produce very rapid chromatic and diatonic runs with only minimal movement of the left hand on the fingerboard. This makes the charango an extremely agile melodic instrument, especially when compared to instruments traditionally played with a flat pick.

As with any stringed instrument, tunings for the charango may vary, but the "standardized" tunings most commonly used (for the 10-stringed, five-course version) are:

Charango tuning (Am7)
Notes of charango.
Course Am7 tuning Comments
5 G4 G4 (391.99 Hz, above middle C) 2nd lowest tone, nearest the face
4 C5 C5 (523.25 Hz) "C" above Middle C
3 E5 E4 (659.26 Hz, 329.63 Hz) Strings are tuned an octave apart
2 A4 A4 (440.00 Hz) "A" above Middle C
1 E5 E5 (659.26 Hz) Highest tone, nearest the floor

G#m7 and Gm7 tunings are achieved by tuning a semitone or a full step down, respectively. Em7 is achieved by tuning down by a perfect fourth.

Variants: the Charango Family

There are metal string, nylon/gut string, and mixed-string charangos. Some metal-stringed versions have all strings at the same gauge. There are also solid-body electric charangos.

The Charango Family is a large one, and there are many variants on the charango, some of them quite recent. In many cases the variant is named for the town or region in which it originated, or in which it is most frequently seen (e.g., the Charango Ayquileño of Ayquile, Bolivia). The number of strings on these variant instruments ranges from 4 to 20, and courses may be single, double, triple, or quadruple strung. (The standard charango has 10 strings in 5 courses of 2 strings each.)[13]

Common members of the charango family are:

  • Walaycho (also hualaycho, maulincho, or kalampiador): a smaller relative, typically less than 30 cm long. It has 10 strings (which may be of metal, nylon, or nylon fishing line) arranged in 5 courses of two strings each. Usually tuned a fifth higher (sometimes a fourth higher) than the charango, strings in the 3rd (center) course may be either in unison or in octaves.
  • Charangón: (also charangone) a larger relative, in effect, a tenor charango. About 75 cm long by 22 cm wide, tunings vary, with the most common being a fourth lower than the charango (Argentine tuning) or a fifth lower (Bolivian tuning). It is occasionally tuned an octave lower that the charango, but such lower pitches are more usually reserved for the ronroco.[14]
  • Ronroco (also ronrroco): a still larger relative, essentially a baritone or bass charango, about 80 cm long with a 50 cm scale. It was invented by Gonzalo Hermosa of the group Los Kjarkas from Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the 1980s. Ten nylon strings are arranged in five double courses. As with the charangón tunings vary, and depending on region and use the ronroco may be tuned a fourth lower than the charango (Argentine tuning); a fifth lower (Bolivia; Chile); or an octave lower ("Bolivian tuning"). The octave lower tuning is better acoustically supported by the larger body of the ronroco, and is more common on this instrument than on the charangón. The strings of the 3rd (center) course are tuned an octave apart; strings in the other courses are usually tuned in unisons, though occasionally the 4th or 5th courses (or both) may be tuned in octaves. When courses 4 and 5 are doubled at the lower octave the ronroco is essentially no longer in reentrant tuning.[15]
A 12-string chillador
  • Chillador: has a flat back; usually steel-strung. It exists in both 10- and 12-string forms. When strung with 10-strings (in 5 courses) it is tuned the same as a charango. It has 10 strings in 5 courses, and is usually tuned an octave below the charango. With 12 strings, courses 2 and 4 are triple-strung, and the (reentrant) tuning is more like that of a charangone or ronroco in Argentine tuning.[16]
  • The Hatun Charango or "grand charango" is an extended-range charango developed in Peru in the modern era. It has either seven or eight strings, all set in single string courses except for the third course, which is double-strung. It is tuned (A3) • D4 • G4 • C5 • E5 E4 • A4 • E5[17]

Other, less common members of the charango family include:

  • Ayacucho: A small guitar-style charango (flat back) usually made of plywood, with 6 strings in 5 courses, strung 1-1-2-1-1. Smaller than the charango, but not as small as the walyacho, it is tuned like the charango, with the strings of the doubled course in octaves.[18]
  • Bajo charango: A large bass instrument, more guitar-like than charango-like, it was invented by luthier Mauro Nunez in the region of Cochabamba. It is about 1.5m long, with a scale of 87 cm, and the large resonating body is usually made of plywood. Six strings in five courses (1-1-2-1-1-) are typically tuned: B • E • B • G • D, with the 3rd (center) course in octaves. It sounds two octaves lower than the charango, and is written as a transposing instrument, with parts notated a 4th higher than they actually sound.[19]
  • Chango a larger member of the charango family, from 104 to 108 cm long with a scale of about 80–84 cm. It has 20 nylon strings set in ten courses, two strings to a course, and is tuned in fifths. Invented in Bolivia by the Shuarscovliente brothers, it has no frets; the strings are played open.[20]
  • Charango mediano or mediana ("medium" charango): a rural instrument that varies widely in size: from 50–95 cm, with scales ranging from 33–65 cm. It has 10 strings in 5 courses, and is usually tuned an octave below the charango.[21]
  • Khonkhota (also jitarron or pomputu): A rustic instrument of the rural regions of Cochabamba, Oruro, and Potosí. Its soundbox is made of plywood, and it has only 5 frets. The total length is 90 cm, with a 65 cm scale. It has 8 strings in 5 courses (2-2-1-1-2); the doubled courses are all unison doublings. Tunings vary, with a common choice being E-A-D-B-C.[22]
  • Moquegua: Charango with 20 strings arranged in five courses of four strings each. Tuning is like the standard charango with the third (central) course using octave doublings.[23][24]
  • Pampeno (also Arequipeño): Another rustic, guitar-style, plywood charango used in the Arequipa region of Peru. It's 15 metal strings, triple strung in 5 courses, are tuned: C# - F# - C# - A - E, with the third (middle) course in octaves.[25][26]
  • Shrieker: An instrument from the South of the Peru similar to the walaycho, made of wood or armadillo. Typically less than 30 cm long, it differs from the walaycho in having 12 (usually metal) strings in five courses; the second and fourth courses are triple-strung. Tuning is the same as for the walyacho.[27]
  • Sonko: A large heart-shaped instrument with 13 (and sometimes more) strings. It is a fairly recent development, first designed in the 1970s, by Gerardo Yañez.[28] It has not yet acquired a standard tuning.
  • Vallegrandino: Named for the town of its origin, Vallegrande, Bolivia, this charango is about 50 cm long, with a scale of 33 cm, and has 6 strings in four courses: 1 - 2 -2 -1. Tuning is A-E-C-G.[29]

As one of the most popular stringed instruments in regions along the Andes, countless other regional variations of the charango exist, for example:

  • charango Anzaldeño
  • charango Ayquileño
  • charango asimétrico
  • charango diablo ("devil" charango)
  • charango de juguete ("toy" charango)
  • charango kirki
  • charango Layme
  • charango p´alta ("crushed" charango)
  • charango de pukarillo ("chojllo-chojllo" charango)
  • charango Sacabeño
  • charango uñanchay
  • guitarrilla ("chilin chilin")
  • jitara
  • k´ullu charango
  • maulincho (tilisito)
  • manguerito
  • muyu muyu
  • p´ala-p´ulu
  • putu charango
  • Soncoy charango
  • tajlachi (in three sizes)

Several hybrids of charango with other instruments have also been made, for example: charanquena (charango and quena); charansicu (charango and zampoña); and charango charanguita (charango and guitar).[30]


The charango is known by different names in various regions of the Andes. A few include:

There are also may dialect variants of these terms.

Notable players

In pop culture

  • Ólöf Arnalds, Icelandic folk singer, plays the charango extensively on her debut album Við og Við. Ólöf also plays charango on two tracks on Skúli Sverrisson's Sería album: Sungio E.g. Gaeti and Sería.
  • Bruce Cockburn, Canadian guitarist and singer/songwriter, features the charango in Bone in My Ear from his 1994 "Dart to the Heart" CD.
  • The Gipsy Kings's CD Pasajero (2006) features a charango in several songs—most notably Café.
  • Yehuda Glantz, Jewish-Latin musician, frequently performs with a charango. On the live album Granite he informs his sudience that he plays a charango from his native Argentina.
  • honeybird of Italian/US trio "honeybird & the birdies" plays the charango, and in their song Don't Trust the Butcher sings : "I've got my PJs on and I pick up my charango, 'cause I don't wanna think about you." Their album will be released 24 October 2012 on Trovarobato. The album is produced by Enrico Gabrielli (musicista).
  • Monsieur Periné, a Columbian group, features charango in many of their songs, mixing of Colombian folk rhythms with gypsy jazz.
  • Tanya Nielsen, Canadian singer/songwriter, features the Charango in her songs Escape and Dreams on her album Firefly (2009).

See also

  • Andean Masterpieces; Charango; Ans Records; B00000614U: 1998.
  • Santaolalla, Gustavo; Ronroco; Nonesuch; B000005J4W: 1998.

Further reading

  • Cavour Aramayo, Ernesto (editor): Instrumentos musicales de Bolivia. La Paz (Bolivia): 1994, 1999; depósito legal 4-1-544-93.
  • Cavour Aramayo, Ernesto: El charango: su vida, costumbres y desventuras. La Paz (Bolivia): Producciones CIMA, 1980, 2001; depósito legal 4-1-937-01.
  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Charango Chord Bible: GCEAE Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. — A comprehensive chord dictionary instructional guide.  


  1. ^ "ORIGEN DEL CHARANGO". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  2. ^ a b "Todo acerca del Charango". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  3. ^ a b "Familia de los charangos". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  4. ^ Ernesto Cavour
  5. ^ ; La Paz, Bolivia: October 2 - 11, 1997"Second Congress of Charanguistas" and "First International Meeting of the Charango"; from Historia del CharangoCavour, Ernesto A.;
  6. ^ Mendoza, Z.S. (2008). Creating Our Own: Folklore, Performance, and Identity in Cuzco, Peru. Duke University Press. p. 97.  
  7. ^ ., Cavour, ErnestoOp cit
  8. ^ "Historia musical de Bolivia". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Broughton, S.; Ellingham, M.; Trillo, R. (1999). World Music: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. Rough Guides. p. 278.  
  10. ^ , Cavour, ErnestoOp cit
  11. ^ Morris, Nancy. 1986. Canto Porque es Necesario Cantar: The New Song Movement in Chile, 1973–1983. Latin American Research Review, Vol. 21, pp. 117-136.
  12. ^ The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. by Ernesto Che Guevara. Ocean Press. 2003. ISBN 1-876175-70-2
  13. ^ Asociación Internacional del Charango (Spanish)|
  14. ^ Rosa, Jose; The history of music from Cuba, the Caribbean, South America and the United States; Contemporary Latin Music Educators; Southwest Ranches, Florida: 2008. p.68
  15. ^ A Guitarist's Choice To Play The Ronroco (baritone charango)
  16. ^ " :: El portal del Charango Peruano". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  17. ^ claire charberet. "Federico Tarazona - The Hatun charango". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  18. ^ " :: Mapa del Charango Peruano". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  19. ^ "Familia de los charangos". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Charango". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  21. ^ Ibid.
  22. ^ "Familia de los charangos". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  23. ^ " :: Mapa del Charango Peruano". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  24. ^ "charango moquegua (charango de 20 cuerdas) - YouTube". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  25. ^ " :: El portal del Charango Peruano". Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  26. ^ "CHARANGO AREQUIPEÑO(PAMPEÑO) - YouTube". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  27. ^ Op Cit "Charango"
  28. ^ "Sonko Charango - Gerardo Yañez Sarmiento". Retrieved 2014-10-16. 
  29. ^ Op Cit. "Charango"
  30. ^ The Chagango Family (Spanish)

External links

  • Charangos for Sale (English)
  • Charango para Todos, el portal de Héctor Soto (Spanish)
  • Familia de los charangos (Spanish)
  • Revista musical chilena - Horacio Durán e Italo Pedrotti. Método de charango
  • Sociedad Boliviana del Charango SBC (Spanish)-Primera asociacion formada desde 1973
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