Ukulele brothers and sisters

13 Sept 2011

Ukulele brothers and sisters

You may have read my Ukulele History article which explains how the modern uke we know today was Introduced to Hawaii by Spanish and Portuguese settlers.

But of course, the uke is just another member of the chordophone family of plucked stringed instruments that date back to very old times, and instruments like lutes. Of course the ukulele is family member of the guitar which we all know very well, but are you aware of some other smaller stringed instruments with which the ukulele shares a family connection?

CUATRO - Venezuala and Puerto Rico

Both versions of this instrument are of a simple size to the uke. The Venezuelan Cuatro has four strings usually tuned A D F# B. It's often used in carnivals and festivals. The Puerto Rican version has ten strings in five duplicate courses (like a mandolin) tuned B E A D G. Both instruments were developments from the instruments introduced by the Portuguese. Below, Venezuelan Cuatro.

CAVAQUINHO - Portugal and Brazil

An instrument with four strings, very similar in appearance to a ukulele. It originated in Portugal and was introduced to Brazil where it is hugely popular and also known as the Cavaco, Machimbo, Machim and Machete amongst others. It comes in either steel strung or gut strung and is most commonly tuned D G B D. The Strumming of a Cavaquinho is an essential sound in Brazillian Samba. Below, traditional Brazillian Cavaquinhos.

TIMPLE - Lanzarote, Spain

The Timple (or Tiple) is found in a bewildering range of styles and string configurations all over the Spanish world in places like Puerto Rico, Colombia, Cuba and the Spanish Islands, but it is said to originate on the island of Lanzarote in the Canaries where it is strung with five strings, G C E A D. It is believed that it was a development of instruments brought to the islands from the nearby African continent. Generally speaking, the Timple's that are now played in Latin America have 10 or 12 strings either in two or four courses. Canarian Timple's are made by hand in the old capital Teguise where there is now a Museum dedicated to their history! Below, Canarian Timple.

CHARANGO - Peru and Bolivia

Another variation on the instruments brought to Latin America by the Spanish and Portuguese, the Charango has a distinctive bowl to the back of the body that was traditionally made from an Armadillo shell, but now usually made of shaped wood. It usually has 10 strings in five pairs tuned G C E A E. Below, Bolivian Charango.

And of course there are many more variants around the world in all corners, coming in all shapes and sizes. Next time you strum, give some thought to the history and common bond tied up in your little uke!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. very interesting article, thank you


  2. Thanks Richard. These only scratch the surface too. I could run a whole blug on the many many other variations.

    Amazing really that in the depths of history some fella strung a strip of gut over a wooden box, and now we have all these!

  3. Dear Sir,

    I was looking for your website, and it´s lovelly and your work looks great.

    I have a new particular Project with a few friends about the ancestries of the Ukulele: The Machete.

    It´s a Virtual Museum in homage to a relative of min. He was a collector and musician.

    The Machete is for me the most important, but I am interested in all instruments from Madeira Island (Portugal)

    I have already a few good instruments from the XIX century.

    You can see it on:

    With clicking on Instrumentos, you go to the page of the Machetes, and Machetinhos.

    The Machete number 6 and number 9, is an Machete and Machetinho respectively, built in May 2012 by Maker Carlos Jorge Pereira Rodrigues, that is the only Maker in Madeira that still making Machetes, Machetinhos, Rajao, and Viola de Arame with original woods fro Madeira and original forms.

    I am very interested on buy this kind of old and antique instruments, or any Madeirian Instruments.

    If you have any for sale, or know anybody that have it, please let me know.

    Please feel free to ad my website to your contacts . Will apreciate.

    Thank you in advance.


    Norberto Gomes


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