Charangos - The South American Super Ukulele!
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Charangos - The South American Super Ukulele!

That's the beauty of fretted instrument cousins. The charango, a small Bolivian/Andean relative of the guitar and ukulele, is an inexpensive, portable, musically flexible, LOUD little bundle of fun. I first discovered these fascinating instruments in the 1980s and have used them for many different kinds of music. I have played these instruments everywhere from downtown Tokyo to a Zulu village in South Africa, and everyone smiles when they hear it. The bodies of charangos were originally made from Armadillo shell; however, due to environmental concerns and durability issues, professional charangos are now made with wooden bodies.

One of my favorite ongoing experiments in ethnomusicology is that I have given away charangos to many of the musicians with whom I collaborate, from Asia to Africa to the Pacific. It fascinates me to see how each musician chooses to play it, and what kind of music they invent on it. In fact, the charango has really taken root on Réunion Island, where René Lacaille has obtained several more for his many musical relatives.


The charango has 5 pairs of strings, tuned G C E A E. The G string (5th string) is the one closest to your head when playing. If you momentarily ignore the first high E string, you will see that what remains is a ukulele, which is the highest four strings of the standard-tuned guitar capoed at the fifth fret. Another way to think of it is that all of the chord shapes on the guitar's highest four strings will work on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, & 5th charango strings. Using your ears and fretting with your pinky, you can quickly figure out how to add the highest string to these chords. A ukulele chord book will have ALL of the possible four-string chords, then you add the extra string.

The charango can be played as a picking instrument and have a charming harp-like quality, and then it can be very strong and rhythmic as a strumming instrument, for accompanying singing or other instruments. I have used it for Okinawan music, Calypso, African, Réunion (of course), swing, blues, pretty much anything is possible.

I have two different charangos available for purchase offline, the professional model, and the artist model. The two models are similar, both a few hundred dollars, though generally the artist models have a deeper tone, and the professional models have a brighter tone. This is due to the style of bridge on each model and the position of sound holes. These are not tourist-grade instruments. They are made from fine instrument grade woods, and have very accurate fingerboards, an important feature on short-scale instruments. Examples of these two models are shown at right; however, the makers of these instruments vary their visual and ornamental designs periodically.

To inquire about charangos, please e-mail me directly.

Charangos, South American Super Ukulele: models for sale

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