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This article is about the instrument. For the album, see Charango (album). For the style of music, see Charanga. For the village, see Charang, Nepal.

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Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-5
(Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers)
Developed Early 18th century

The charango is a small Bolivian Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, about 66 cm long, traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo. Primarily played in traditional Andean music, and is sometimes used by other Latin American musicians. Many contemporary charangos are now made with different types of wood. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each, but other variations exist.

A charango player is called a charanguista.

The instrument was invented in the early 18th century in the Royal Audiencia of Charcas in what is now Bolivia.


When the Spanish conquistadores came to South America, they brought the vihuela (an ancestor of the classical guitar) with them. It is not clear from which Spanish stringed instrument the charango is a direct descendant. It may have evolved from the vihuela, bandurria (mandolin), or the lute. 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.

The first historic information on the charango was 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". Turino mentions that he found carved sirens representing playing charangos in some Colonial churches in the highlands of Bolivia.

File #857 of The New Chronicle of Guaman Poma eloquently expresses under the suggestive title "Indian Criollos" a drawing and text representing the Indigenes of Peru and Bolivia playing a similar instrument. Assuming the chroniclist is not representing the actual "charango" it is very important to notice that the image he presented is dated in the early 17th century, registering the musical mestizaje of the chord instruments in Bolivia.

It is believed the charango came to be what it is today 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.

According to Eduardo Carrasco of Quilapayún in the first week after the 1973 Chilean coup d'etat the military organized a meeting with folk musicians where it was explained that the traditional instruments charango and quena were now banned.[1]

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 the most likely location of the charango's birthplace.


Traditionally a charango was made with a dried armadillo shell for the back and wood for the soundbox top, neck etc. This is no longer the norm, rather they are 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 a small ukulele.

The overall length of a typical charango is about 66 cm, with a string scale length of about 37 cm. However, the number of frets ranges from five to eighteen.

There are many variations in the shape of the top in "plan view" and species of wood, although, like guitars, cedar or spruce family woods are preferred for the soundboard (top). The "waist" is generally narrowed, somewhat reminiscent of the guitar-family—not the pear-shape of the lute.

The typical construction is a one-piece body and neck, classical guitar style peghead and machine tuners (occasionally positioned perpendicular to the headstock), spruce top, and some degree of ornamentation. Variations include a separate glued-on neck, palisander or ebony vertical tuning pegs, guitar-style box construction, or even a hollowed-out neck. Another variety 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). The size and shape of the soundholes is highly variable and may be dual crescents, round hole, oval hole, or even multiple holes of varying arrangement.

More recently solidbody electric and hollowbody acoustic-electric charangos are coming on the scene. The solidbodies are built very much as miniature electric guitars, whereas the acoustic-electrics are usually more like a standard acoustic charango.

The instrument has four to fifteen metal, gut, or nylon strings.

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."[2]


The 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 1st "E" string in the middle course, followed by the "g" course, then the "a" course, then the "c" and finally the "e" strings. 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.

The ramifications of the charango tuning is that there is a very narrow tonal range in most chords, and so there is a tremendous wall of sound. Seventh and ninth chords shimmer more than on a guitar due to the close harmonies. More importantly though, in terms of melody playing, the instrumentalist can create a harp-like sound with close intervals ringing out (i.e., like a piano with the sustain pedal engaged). With intervals like minor 2nds and major 2nds fingered on different strings, the charango player can play sustained melodies at rapid speed with an alternating thumb/finger pattern.

Tunings for the charango vary, but the "standardized" ones most commonly used (for the 10-stringed, five-course version) are:

Course Am7 tuning Comments
5 G4 G4 (392 Hz, above middle C) 2nd lowest tone, nearest the player
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 Hz) "A" above Middle C
1 E5 E5 (659.26 Hz) Highest tone, farthest from player

File:Charango - cuerdas al aire.ogg G#m7 and Gm7 are achieved by tuning a semitone or a full step down, respectively. Em7 is achieved by stepping the appropriate amount down.


There are both steel string and nylon string charangos. Some steel-stringed versions have all ten strings at the same gauge. There are also solid-body electric charangos.

There are many variants on the charango, some of them quite recent. The number of strings on these variant instruments varies 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.)[3]

Common members of the charango family are:

  • Walaycho (also hualaycho, or maulincho): 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.
  • Ronroco (also "ronrroco"): a larger relative, essentially a baritone or tenor charango, about 80 cm long with a 50 cm scale. It was invented by the Hermosa brothers of the group Los Kjarkas from Cochabamba, Bolivia, in the 1980s. Ten nylon strings are arranged in five double courses. Tunings vary, with the most common being a fourth lower than the charango (Argentine tuning); a fifth lower (Bolivian tuning); or an octave lower (Bolivia; Chile). The strings of the 3rd (center) course are tuned an octave apart; strings in the other courses may be tuned in unisons, though occasionally the 4th or 5th courses (or both) may be tuned in octaves.
  • Charangón: a still larger relative, essentially a bass charango. Usually tuned an octave below the charango, although there are variants which tune it more like an ronroco.
  • Chillador: has a flat back; usually steel-strung. Tuned the same as a charango.
  • The Hatun Charango or Grand Charango is an extended-range charango developed in Peru. 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

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.
  • Bajo charango: A large bass instrument, more guitar-like than charango-like. It is about 1.5 m 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 is written as a transposing instrument, with part notated a 4th higher than they actually sound.
  • Chango a larger member of the charango family, from 104-108 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.
  • Charango mediano("medium" charango): a rural instrument that varies widely in size: from 50 - 95 cm, with scales ranging from from 33 - 65 cm. It has 10 strings in 5 courses, and is usually tuned an octave below the charango.
  • Khonkhota: 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.
  • 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.[4]
  • Pampeno (also "Arequipeño"): Another rustic, guitar-style, plywood charango used in the Arequipa region iofPeru. It has 15 metal strings, triple strung in 5 courses. Tuning is C# - F# - C# - A - E, with the middle C3 course in octaves.[5]
  • Shrieker: An instrument from the South of the Peru similar to the walaycho, made of wood 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.
  • 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. 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.


The charango is known through different names in the Andes. A few include:

There are various dialects to this slang.

Notable players

  • Eddy Navia charanguist composer from Potosí, Bolivia
  • Ernesto Cavour, charanguist composer from La Paz, Bolivia
  • Ernesto Centellas, charanguist composer from Sucre, Bolivia
  • Patricio Castillo, Chilean musician, Quilapayún member
  • Jaime Guardia, Peruvian musician
  • Gustavo Santaolalla, Argentine musician
  • Jaime Torres, Argentine-Bolivian musician

In pop culture

  • The Colombian group Monsieur Periné, features charango in many of their songs, a mix of Colombian folk rhythms with gypsy jazz.
  • The Skúli Sverrisson's Sería album, namely Sungio E.g. Gaeti and Sería.
  • The Jewish Latin musician Yehuda Glantz frequently performs with a charango. He informs his audience on the live album "Granite" that he plays a charango from his native Argentina.
  • Canadian guitarist Bruce Cockburn features the charango in "Bone in My Ear" off his 1994 "Dart to the Heart" CD.
  • Canadian singer songwriter "Dreams" and "Escape" in her album "Firefly" 2009.
  • 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).

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.
  • — A comprehensive chord dictionary instructional guide.


External links

  • Sociedad Boliviana del Charango SBC (spanish)-Primera asociacion formada desde 1973
  • Charango para Todos, el portal de Héctor Soto (spanish)
  • Familia de los charangos (spanish)
  • Charangos for Sale (english)
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