Guitarrón chileno

Last updated
Playing guitarron chileno Guitarronero001.jpg
Playing guitarrón chileno

The Guitarrón Chileno (literally: "large Chilean guitar") is a guitar-shaped plucked string instrument from Chile, with 25 or 24 (rarely) strings. 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 and use

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 to the violin), but modern instruments employ metal frets and geared tuning machines, like those of modern guitars.

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). [1] The music embraces two main groups of themes: Canto a lo Divino, lit. "Singing to the Divine" (solemn, religious, more prepared themes) [2] and Canto a lo Humano, lit. "Singing to the Human" (humorous, amorous, and social criticism themes). [3] This instrument is also used to perform in other musical forms like cuecas, tonadas, valses and polkas. [4]

Design and 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:

A close-up of the string arrangement Guitarron encordadura01.jpg
A close-up of the string arrangement

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 auxillaty pins on the sides of the bridge near the daggers.


Strings within a course are tuned either in unison or in octaves; tuning between courses is in fourths, except between the second and third courses where the interval is a major third. With the instrument held in playing position, the stringing is: devil, devil, 5 (or 4)-string course, 6 (or 5)-string course, 5 (or 4)-string course, 3-string course, 3-string course, devil, devil, and the most common tuning is:

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

Either the fifth course or the third course may sometimes have only four strings, and the fourth course sometimes only has five, depending on the individual instrument design.

One common variant of this tuning is to eliminate the middle octaves in the fifth course, thus:

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

The entire instrument is sometimes transposed to accommodate the voice of the singer. For example, all notes in the above "G tuning" may be raised a whole step, to produce an "A tuning".

Traditionally, tunings are confined to a range which favors the male voice, as most guitarroneras were, until quite recently, male. Modern female guitarroneras have mostly devised new playing patterns on the "male" instrument, but a few makers have been experimenting with novel stringing that allow the instrument to be tuned up to C or D, to better accommodate a female vocal range. [11] [12]


The traditional playing method for the guitarrón chileno is to pluck the strings with the finger tips and nails of the right hand. Typically only the thumb and index finger are employed, especially in the payada styles. The left hand frets strings on the fingerboard in a manner similar to that of the guitar and other guitar-like instruments.

Notable players


  1. "El Canto del Poeta - Wikisource". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  2. "Canto a lo Divino :: tradicion". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  3. "Canto a lo Humano :: tradicion". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  4. "The Stringed Instrument Database". Archived from the original on 2019-04-24. Retrieved 2010-08-02.
  5. Pinkerton, Emily Jean; The Chilean Guitarrón: The Social, Political and Gendered Life of a Folk Instrument; Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, May 2007. p. 20-21.
  6. Bustamante, J.and Astorga, F.; Renacer del Guitarrón Chileno; Santiago: Agenpoch/Fondart, 1996. p. 13.
  7. To simplify construction, some contemporary luthiers opt to design the instrument for lighter-gauge, lower-tension strings. This has a detrimental effect on the tone and volume of the instrument, which is then partially compensated through increasing the size of the body, sometimes to where it is larger than a standard guitar.
  8. Ibid. Pinkerton, p. 21, et seq.
  9. "El guitarrón chileno" (PDF). Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  10. Op cit. Pinkerton, p. 19-21.
  11. Op cit. Pinkerton, p. 231, et seq.
  12. Done primarily by switching from metal to nylon strings. To tune a metal-strung instrument to C or D would put excessive tension on the bridge. As of yet there are no metal-strung instruments in a woman’s key. In 2000, Anselmo Jaramillo designed a guitarrón for women that has smaller dimensions and smaller courses of strings (3 per course, plus 4 diablitos for a total of 19 strings) to facilitate playing; as of 2007 only two such instruments had been made. Pinkerton, p. 231.
  13. "Hugo Arévalo". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  14. "Marcelo Navarro Francke - Documental Pirque". YouTube . Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  15. Argentina, Cadena 3. "Buscador". Cadena 3 Argentina. Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  16. Ibid., Pinkerton.
  17. [ dead link ]
  18. Ibid., Pinkerton
  19. "Santos Rubio tocando su guitarrón - Memoria Chilena: Portal". Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  20. "Manuel Sánchez - Clase Magistral de Guitarrón Chileno". YouTube . Retrieved 21 April 2021.
  21. "Osvaldo "Don Chosto" Ulloa (1936-2010) - Memoria Chilena, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile". Retrieved 21 April 2021.

Related Research Articles

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.


The charango is a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, which probably originated in the Quechua and Aymara populations in the territory of the Altiplano in post-Colonial times, after European stringed instruments were introduced by the Spanish during colonialization. The instrument is widespread throughout the Andean regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, where it is a popular musical instrument that exists in many variant forms.

<i>Bağlama</i> Stringed musical instrument

The bağlama is a stringed musical instrument.

<i>Bouzouki</i> Greek a plucked stringed instrument

The bouzouki, also spelled buzuki or buzuci, is a musical instrument popular in Greece. It is a member of the long-necked lute family, with a round body with a flat top and a long neck with a fretted fingerboard. It has steel strings and is played with a plectrum producing a sharp metallic sound, reminiscent of a mandolin but pitched lower. There are two main types of bouzouki: the trichordo (three-course) has three pairs of strings and the tetrachordo (four-course) has four pairs of strings. The instrument was brought to Greece in the early 1900s by Greek immigrants from Anatolia, and quickly became the central instrument to the rebetiko genre and its music branches. It is now an important element of modern Laïko pop Greek music.


The mandola or tenor mandola is a fretted, stringed musical instrument. It is to the mandolin what the viola is to the violin: the four double courses of strings tuned in fifths to the same pitches as the viola, a fifth lower than a mandolin. The mandola, though now rarer, is an ancestor of the mandolin.

Appalachian dulcimer fretted string instrument

The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.

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.

Guitarrón mexicano

The guitarrón mexicano (the Spanish name of a "big Mexican guitar", the suffix -ón being a Spanish augmentative) or Mexican guitarrón is a very large, deep-bodied Mexican six-string acoustic bass played traditionally in Mariachi groups. Although similar to the guitar, it is not a derivative of that instrument, but was independently developed from the sixteenth-century Spanish bajo de uña ("fingernail[-plucked] bass"). Because its great size gives it volume, it does not require electric amplification for performances in small venues. The guitarrón is fretless with heavy gauge strings, most commonly nylon for the high three and wound metal for the low three. The guitarrón is usually played by doubling notes at the octave, a practice facilitated by the standard guitarrón tuning A1 D2 G2 C3 E3 A2. Unlike a guitar, the pitch of the guitarrón strings does not always rise as strings move directionally downward from the lowest-pitched string (the 6th string from the lowest-pitched string, A2, is a perfect 5th below the Adjacent string E3).

Guitar tunings

Guitar tunings are the assignment of pitches to the open strings of guitars, including acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and classical guitars. Tunings are described by the particular pitches that are made by notes in Western music. By convention, the notes are ordered and arranged from the lowest-pitched string to the highest-pitched string, or the thickest string to thinnest, or the lowest frequency to the highest. This sometimes confuses beginner guitarists, since the highest-pitched string is referred to as the 1st string, and the lowest-pitched is the 6th string.

Russian guitar

The Russian guitar (sometimes referred to as a "Gypsy guitar") is an acoustic seven-string guitar that was developed in Russia toward the end of the 18th century: it shares most of its organological features with the Spanish guitar, although some historians insist on English guitar ascendancy. It is known in Russian as the semistrunnaya gitara (семиструнная гитара), or affectionately as the semistrunka (семиструнка), which translates to "seven-stringer". These guitars are most commonly tuned to an open G chord as follows: D2 G2 B2 D3 G3 B3 D4. In classical literature, the lowest string (D) occasionally is tuned down to the C.

In music, a chorus effect occurs when individual sounds with approximately the same time, and very similar pitches, converge and are perceived as one. While similar sounds coming from multiple sources can occur naturally, as in the case of a choir or string orchestra, it can also be simulated using an electronic effects unit or signal processing device.

Course (music)

A course, on a stringed musical instrument, is either one string or two or more adjacent strings that are closely spaced relative to the other strings, and typically played as a single string. The strings in each multiple-string course are typically tuned in unison or an octave.

A nut, on a stringed musical instrument, is a small piece of hard material that supports the strings at the end closest to the headstock or scroll. The nut marks one end of the vibrating length of each open string, sets the spacing of the strings across the neck, and usually holds the strings at the proper height from the fingerboard. Along with the bridge, the nut defines the scale lengths of the open strings.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

Octave mandolin

The octave mandolin is a fretted string instrument with four pairs of strings tuned in fifths, GDAE, an octave below a mandolin. It is larger than the mandola, but smaller than the mandocello and its construction is similar to other instruments in the mandolin family. Usually the courses are all unison pairs but the lower two may sometimes be strung as octave pairs with the higher-pitched octave string on top so that it is hit before the thicker lower-pitched string. Alternate tunings of GDAD and ADAD are often employed by Celtic musicians.

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:

Bass guitar tuning

Each bass guitar tuning assigns pitches to the strings of an electric bass. Because pitches are associated with notes, bass-guitar tunings assign open notes to open strings. There are several techniques for accurately tuning the strings of an electric bass. Bass method or lesson books or videos introduce one or more tuning techniques, such as:


A guitalele, also called a ukitar, or kīkū, is a guitar-ukulele hybrid, that is, "a 1/4 size" guitar, a cross between a classical guitar and a tenor or baritone ukulele. The guitalele combines the portability of a ukulele, due to its small size, with the six single strings and resultant chord possibilities of a classical guitar. It may include a built-in microphone that permits playing the guitalele either as an acoustic guitar or connected to an amplifier. The guitalele is variously marketed as a travel guitar or children's guitar. It is essentially a modern iteration of the Quint guitar.

Viola da terra

Viola da terra is a stringed musical instrument from the islands of the Azores, closely associated with the saudade genre of Portuguese music. Its 12 or 15 metal strings are arranged in either five or six courses.