SHLOMO PESTCOE  שלמה פּסטקאָ

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Please note: This is not a commercial site. I do not sell or appraise musical instruments. Please do not contact me to request that I identify and provide background information on a specific instrument in your possession and/or evaluate its worth. That's a job for an accredited professional appraiser, which I'm not. That said, I'll be glad to answer questions and discuss any subject I present here, so long as that one proviso is respected.  

 

 

THE PUERTO RICAN CUATRO


The term cuatro is used to describe several different South American and Caribbean small guitar-type instruments. Like the South American tiple, the Andean charango, Panama’s mejoranera (also mejorana) and other similar Latin American plucked lutes, the various kinds of cuatros are descended from small Iberian guitar-family instruments, such as the Spanish tiple (also timple and guitarillo) and the Portuguese cavaquinho. In Venezuela, Columbia, Surinam, Mexico, Jamaica and Trinidad, the cuatro is a 4-string instrument, akin to largest member of the ukulele family, the baritone ukulele.

Puerto Rico's national instrument, the 10-string Cuatro Puertorriqueño, started life as a small 4-string guitar-like instrument sometime in the 17th century. The highly distinctive body shape of the original instrument – a circular lower half capped with an upside-down pyramid for the upper portion – earned it the nickname "el cuatro arana" (the spider cuatro) because it looked like a spider climbing up its web.

From the early colonial days to the 1950s, el cuatro antiguo (the old cuatro) had four strings made of gut and was played throughout the Puetro Rican countryside to accompany religious and secular celebrations. In the 1920s, a more sophisticated version of the cuatro arana appeared in the southern region of Puerto Rico, the 8-string "Southern" cuatro (also referred to as cuatro de dos codos or cuatro de dos puntos). For next thirty years, this instrument was mainly played in ensembles performing Puerto Rico's classical music.

However, by the 1940s, the older forms of the cuatro were overshadowed by the 10-string cuatro aviolinado (the violin-shaped cuatro), which has ten metal strings arrayed in five courses, tuned in fourths: BEADG. It first appeared in Puetro Rico's costal towns in the early 1900s and was popularized in the mid-1930s by the renowned cuatrista Ladislao Martinez on Puerto Rico's first radio music show, Industrias Nativas. Today, the cuatro aviolinado is Puerto Rico's quintessential string instrument and is found in all of the Island's various music forms from rural jíbaro to urban danza, plena and bomba.

-- Shlomo Pestcoe

 

For more information, please visit: EL PROYECTO DEL CUATRO PUERTORRIQUEÑO

 

Illustration Credits:

* Home * Bio * Shlomo Sez * Shlomo on MySpace * Sufferin' Succotash * Gillygaloo *    

* Yummie * Musical Styles * Instruments * Features * News * Contact * Links *

* Banjo Roots: Banjo Beginnings *

* Banjo Roots: West Africa *

* The Ekonting: A Link to the Banjo's West African Heritage *

Please send mail to info@shlomomusic.com with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 2005 Shlomo Pestcoe. All rights reserved.
Last modified: 02/01/09