Bolivian charango 001.jpg
A Bolivian charango
String instrument
  • Necked bowl lutes
  • String instruments
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 321.321-5
(Composite chordophone sounded by the bare fingers)
Developed Early 18th century

The charango is a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, 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.

The instrument was invented in the early 18th century in the Viceroyalty of Peru.



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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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 Viceroyalty of Peru (in what is present-day Bolivia), probably from Amerindian contact with Spanish settlers.

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.


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. 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, though cedar or spruce family woods are preferred for the soundboard (top), and there is generally a narrowed "waist" 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."[1]


Charango tuning.

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): gg cc eE (because the thicker one is tuned an octave lower) aa ee. 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.

A charango player.

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

Course Am7 tuning Comments
5 GG (392 Hz, above middle C) Lowest tone, highest position
4 cc (523.25 Hz)
3 Ee (329.63 Hz, 659.26 Hz) Strings are tuned an octave apart
2 AA (440 Hz)
1 ee (659.26 Hz) Highest tone, lowest position
Notes of charango.

Abm7 and Gm7 are achieved by tuning a semitone or a full step down, respectively. Em7 is achieved by stepping the appropriate amount down.


A pair of charangos.
  • The walaycho (also hualaycho, or maulincho) is a smaller relative, usually tuned a fourth higher (sometimes a fifth higher) than the charango
  • The charangón is a larger relative:
    • Some are a 4th down, others a 5th, yet others are an octave down[citation needed]
    • Bolivia: tuned in between a ronroco and a charango
    • Argentina: one octave below the walaycho (maulincho); presumably a fifth down
  • The ronroco is a larger relative of the charango
    • Usually tuned one octave lower.[citation needed]
    • Bolivia: tuned one octave lower than the charango
    • Argentina: tuned a fourth lower than the charango
  • The chillador: tuned the same, but with a flat back; usually steel-strung

The number of strings may vary, and includes:

  • 4-string
  • 5 courses of 3 strings

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.


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

  • Mulita and Tatu (in Argentina) and
  • Kirkinchu (sometimes "Quirquinchu") and Kirki (in Bolivia and Peru)

There are various dialects to this slang.

Notable players

Charango in pop culture

The Gipsy Kings's CD Pasajero (2006) features a Charango in a few songs—most notably Café.

Donald Newholm plays the charango among other instruments in the band "pig with the face of a boy".

Icelandic folk singer Ólöf Arnalds plays the charango extensively on her award winning debut album Við og Við. Produced by Sigur rós' Kjartan Sveinsson, album tracks that feature the charango include Klara, Moldin, and her cover of Megas' Orfeus og Evridís. Ólöf also played the charango on two tracks on Skúli Sverrisson's Sería album, namely Sungio Eg Gaeti and Sería.

Andrew Reissiger of the world music group Dromedary features the charango on many songs. Reissiger has introduced the instrument to both the Americana/Folk tradition via Jonathan Byrd's The Sea and The Sky and recently on a Puerto Rican CD with Roy Brown, Tito Auger, and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger called "Que Vaya Bien."

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.

The electronica group, Morcheeba, has an album entitled Charango (album). The album also features a song called Charango (album), featuring rapper, Pace Won.

Canadian guitarist Bruce Cockburn features the charango in "Bone in My Ear" off his 1994 "Dart to the Heart" CD.

Canadian singer songwriter Tanya Nielsen features the Charango sound in her songs "Dreams" and "Escape" in her album "Firefly" 2009.

Famous film music composer Gustavo Santaolalla, composer for several popular films (including Babel, 21 Grams & The Motorcycle Diaries) makes extensive use of the Charango in many of his compositions.

A founding member of Bramble, James Miska plays the Charango on several of their songs, including "Fruit of the Moon", "The Bridge" and "Seah."

Abby DeWald of The Ditty Bops plays the Charango on "The Next Best Thing" from their album Summer Rains (2008)

DJ Shadow samples a Charango in his song You Can't Go Home Again on The Private Press album which was released in 2002.

Further reading

  • Richards, Tobe A. (2006). The Charango Chord Bible: GCEAE Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 0-9553944-1-4.  — A comprehensive chord dictionary instructional guide.


  1. ^ The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. by Ernesto Che Guevara. Ocean Press. 2003. ISBN 1-876175-70-2

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Charango — (aus Bolivien) Charango (aus Peru) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Charango — Charango …   Википедия

  • Charango —   [spanisch, tʃa rango], in Südamerika, vor allem in den Andenländern, verbreiteter kleiner Lautentyp von 45 bis 65 cm Länge, der in zahllosen Varianten mit unterschiedlichen Stimmungen existiert. Das Korpus ist ursprünglich ein kleiner… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • charango — ● charango nom masculin Petit luth à frettes d origine andine, dérivé de la guitare, dont la caisse de résonance est constituée d une carapace de tatou …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • charango — sustantivo masculino 1. Especie de bandurria pequeña de cinco cuerdas y sonido agudo típica de los Andes centrales …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • charango — (Voz onomat.). m. Instrumento musical de cuerda, usado especialmente en la zona andina, parecido a una pequeña guitarra de cinco cuerdas dobles y cuya caja de resonancia está hecha con caparazón de armadillo …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Charango — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar al autor prin …   Wikipedia Español

  • Charango — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Charango (homonymie). Le charango est un instrument de musique à cordes pincées inspiré de la guitare et originaire de Bolivie, de la ville de Potosí, au XVIIe siècle. Suite à l arrivée des Espagnols en… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Charango — ► sustantivo masculino MÚSICA Instrumento musical compuesto por cinco cuerdas, que es originario de América del Sur. * * * charango (de or. expresivo) m. Especie de guitarra pequeña de cinco cuerdas, típica de América del Sur, hecha a veces con… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • charango — {{#}}{{LM C08227}}{{〓}} {{[}}charango{{]}} ‹cha·ran·go› {{《}}▍ s.m.{{》}} Instrumento musical semejante a una bandurria de cinco cuerdas, y con el que se acompañan en sus danzas algunos indios sudamericanos: • La caja del charango suele hacerse… …   Diccionario de uso del español actual con sinónimos y antónimos

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.