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Portuguese cavaquinhos
String instrument
Other names Machete, braguinha, manchete, cavaco
Classification String instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification
(Composite chordophone)
Related instruments
Ukulele, Viola Braguesa, Cuatro

The cavaquinho (pronounced [kɐvɐˈkiɲu] in Portuguese) is a small Portuguese string instrument in the European guitar family, with four wire or gut strings.


More broadly, cavaquinho is the name of a four-stringed subdivision of the lute family of instruments.

A cavaquinho player is called a cavaquista.


There are several forms of cavaquinho used in different regions and for different styles of music. Separate varieties are named for Portugal, Braga (braguinha), Minho (minhoto), Lisbon, Madeira, Brazil, and Cape Verde; other forms are the braguinha, ‘cavacolele’, cavaco, machete, and ukulele.


Portuguese cavaquinhos Vea.cavaquinho.png
Portuguese cavaquinhos

The Venezuelan concert cuatro is very nearly the same instrument, but somewhat larger.

Cavaquinho Brasileiro, cavaco, and cuatro

Portuguese and Brazilian cavaquinhos 2 cavaquinhos 3.jpg
Portuguese and Brazilian cavaquinhos

The Brazilian cavaquinho is slightly larger than the Portuguese cavaquinho, resembling a small classical guitar. Its neck is raised above the level of the sound box, and the sound hole is usually round, like cavaquinhos from Lisbon and Madeira.

The Venezuelan concert cuatro is very nearly the same size and shape, but has its neck laid level with the sound box, like the Portuguese cavaquinho.

The cavaco is a smaller version of the Brazilian cavaquinho, similar in size to the Portuguese cavaquinho. It is part of a samba ensemble (see the international section, below). The name cavaco means “wood splint” in Portuguese probably back-formed from the original name cavaquinho (“little wood splint”).

Machete and braguinha

The machete is a steel-string version of the cavaquinho from Madeira. It is a predecessor of the modern ukulele. The Machete de Braga (“Braga-style machete”) is called a braguinha.


The minhoto cavaquinho, associated with the Minho region in Portugal is similar to the viola braguesa . Its neck is on the same level as the body. Like the braguesa, the minhoto's sound hole was traditionally shaped like a stylized ray (fish); the shape is called “raia” in Portuguese.


The most common tuning in Portugal is C G A D (from lower to higher pitches).[ citation needed ]

The standard tuning in Brazil is D G B D.[ citation needed ]

Other tunings include:

International use

Different forms of cavaquinho have been adapted in different regions. Varieties used outside of Iberia are found in Brazil, Cape-Verde, and Madeira. The locally iconic Caribbean region cuatro family and the Hawaiian ukuleles were both adapted from the cavaquinho.


A samba cavaco (right). Pandeiru i kakvako.jpg
A samba cavaco (right).

The cavaco a small version of the Brazilian cavaquinho is a very important instrument in Brazilian samba and choro music.

The samba cavaco is played with a pick, with sophisticated percussive strumming beats that connect the rhythm and harmony by playing the rhythm “comping”. Some of the most important players and composers of the Brazilian instrument are Waldir Azevedo, Paulinho da Viola, and Mauro Diniz.

Cape Verde

Two cavaquinhos in Cape Verde. Cavaquinhos.jpg
Two cavaquinhos in Cape Verde.

In Cape Verde the cavaquinho was introduced in the 1930s from Brazil. The present-day Cape-Verdean cavaquinho is very similar to the Brazilian one in dimensions and tuning. It is generally used as a rhythmic instrument in Cape-Verdean music genres (such as morna , coladeira , mazurka) but it is occasionally used as a melodic instrument.


A modern ukulele. Red Ukulele.JPG
A modern ukulele.

The Hawaiian ukulele also has four strings and a shape similar to the cavaquinho, although tuned differently usually G C E A.

The ukulele is an iconic element of Hawaiian popular music, which spread to the continental United States in the early 20th century. [3] It was developed from the braguinha and rajão, brought to Hawaii in the late 19th century by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira Island. [4]

The machete was introduced into Hawaii by Augusto Dias, Manuel Nunes, and João Fernandes in 1879, which further influenced the development of the ukulele. [5]

Northern Latin-America and the Caribbean

Venezuelan Concert Cuatro. Cuatro Ramon Blanco.jpg
Venezuelan Concert Cuatro.

The cuatro is a family of larger 4-stringed instruments derived from the cavaquinho that are popular in Latin-American countries in and around the Caribbean. Versions of the iconic Venezuelan cuatro are very similar to the Brazilian cavaquinho, with a neck like a Portuguese cavaquinho.


The origins of this Portuguese instrument are elusive. Author Gonçalo Sampaio holds that the cavaquinho and the guitar may have been brought to Braga by the Biscayans.[ citation needed ]

Sampaio explains Minho region’s archaic and Hellenistic modes by possible survival of Greek influences on the ancient Gallaeci of the region, and stresses the link between this instrument and historical Hellenistic tetrachords.[ citation needed ]

See also

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Ukulele Member of the guitar family

The ukulele is a member of the lute family of instruments. It generally employs four nylon strings.

The term requinto is used in both Spanish and Portuguese to mean a smaller, higher-pitched version of another instrument. Thus, there are requinto guitars, drums, and several wind instruments.

Tiple Fretted string instrument

A tiple, is a plucked-string chordophone of the guitar family. A tiple player is called a tiplista. The first mention of the tiple comes from musicologist Pablo Minguet e Irol in 1752. Although many variations of the instrument exist, the tiple is mostly associated with Colombia, and is considered the national instrument.

The cuatro is a family of Latin American string instruments played in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and other Latin American countries. It is derived from the Spanish guitar. Although some have viola-like shapes, most cuatros resemble a small to mid-sized classical guitar. In Puerto Rico and Venezuela, the cuatro is an ensemble instrument for secular and religious music, and is played at parties and traditional gatherings.

Plucked string instrument

Plucked string instruments are a subcategory of string instruments that are played by plucking the strings. Plucking is a way of pulling and releasing the string in such a way as to give it an impulse that causes the string to vibrate. Plucking can be done with either a finger or a plectrum.

Kroncong Genre of Indonesian folk and traditional popular music

Kroncong is the name of a ukulele-like instrument and an Indonesian musical style that typically makes use of the kroncong. A kroncong orchestra or ensemble traditionally consists of a flute, a violin, at least one, but usually a pair of kroncongs, a cello in pizzicato style, string bass in pizzicato style, and a vocalist. Kroncong originated as an adaptation of a Portuguese musical tradition, brought by sailors to Indonesian port cities in the 16th century. By the late 19th century, kroncong reached popular music status throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Reentrant tuning

On a stringed instrument, a break in an otherwise ascending order of string pitches is known as a re-entry. A re-entrant tuning, therefore, is a tuning where the strings are not all ordered from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch.

Ten-string guitar

There are many varieties of ten-string guitar, including:

Cuatro (Venezuela)

The cuatro of Venezuela has four single nylon strings, tuned (ad'f#'b). It is similar in shape and tuning to the ukulele, but their character and playing technique are vastly different. It is tuned in a similar fashion to the traditional D tuning of the ukulele, but the A and B are an octave lower. Consequently, the same fingering can be used to shape the chords, but it produces a different inversion of each chord. A cuatro player is called a cuatrista.

Music of Madeira

The Music of Madeira reflects its cultural heritage, this can be seen in the local Folklore music, which in Madeira is widespread and mainly uses local musical instruments such as the machete, rajão, brinquinho and cavaquinho, which are used in traditional folkloric dances like the bailinho da Madeira.


The Guitolão is a chordophone exclusively designed by one of the masters of Portuguese guitars making, the luthier Gilberto Grácio. He started to develop the prototype instrument, originally built for Carlos Paredes in 2001, and only 3 types were made. The term Guitolão, is a match from the lexical between Portuguese Guitar and Violão. Although, there are some connoisseurs who have tried to undo this neologism, but the use of the term makes sense because the initial idea was to create an instrument similar to a Portuguese guitar, but without the need of an accompaniment instrument. So while this is not the most correct terminology, however, is the one that makes more sense.

There are many instruments which can be or are commonly referred to as four string guitars.


The rajão is a 5-stringed instrument from Madeira, Portugal. The instrument traces back to the country's regional folk music, where it is used in folklore dances of Portugal in addition to other stringed instruments from the same region.

Viola braguesa

Viola braguesa is a stringed instrument from Braga, north-western Portugal. It has 10 strings in 5 courses. The strings are made of steel. It is tuned C4/C3–G4/G3–A4/A3–D4/D4–G4/G4. The scale length is about 500 mm (20 inches).

The viola da Terceira is a stringed musical instrument of the guitar family, from the Portuguese islands of the archipelago of the Azores, associated with the island of Terceira.

The machete is a small stringed instrument from Madeira, Portugal. The instrument has a double bulged body, traditionally made of wood, with a small rib and has four metallic strings, which depending on the region, is attached by wooden pegs. Nowadays however, it is not uncommon to see the instrument being made out of linden or poplar. In contrast to this, its slightly larger cousin, the machete de rajão has five metal strings. Historians believe the machete was introduced in Madeira as Braguinha from Braga, and that it is possible to be one of, or the immediate predecessor of the ukulele, being introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants in the late 19th century.


  1. "The Brazilian phenomenom of Beirutando". Sounds and Colours. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  2. "  C  ". The Stringed Instrument Database. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
  3. "5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele". National Museum of American History. 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  4. "History". Archived from the original on 2011-04-30.
  5. "The Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum - Augusto Dias". Retrieved 2020-10-06.