View Full Version : charango

Jan-30-2004, 12:18pm
dear all - i'm not just some ordinary crank. thanks to this site i'm now a published, INTERNATIONAL crank and i'd like to hear what anyone has to say about the suitability of the charango as a mandolin(ish) instrument for the playing of medieval/renaissance music. naturally i'm talking about those charango (charangi?) constructed in wood and not those made from some unfortunate, new-world critter like an armadillo. before you dismiss this as pure folly, i'd like to point out that the single-piece construction used for the charango predates the multi-piece construction of any string instrument and that stringed instruments of this type were (i believe) unknown by the indigenous people of america prior to the spanish invasion. any opinions? sincerely - bill

Jim Garber
Jan-30-2004, 12:24pm
Why not, I say? Knock yourself out.

Are you using traditional charango tuning gceae or would you tune in fifths like a mandolin?

Come to think of it a charango bears some distant resemblance to those Lombardi or Milanese mandolins strung with gut.

Jan-30-2004, 12:35pm
Why, sure...

If you leaf through any old anthology of images from the Renaissance (be it paintings, woodcuts, tapestries, etc.), you will certainly find the wildest (err.. pardon me: richest) variety of instruments depicted. So, why not charango?

Pick on!

Jan-31-2004, 9:12am
i've tuned it in 4ths (g-a-d-g-c). i say this in all ignorance but i don't see what's to be gained by tuning it in 5ths. if that makes for better music (more versitile, more harmonic possibilities, etc.) please let me know. as it is, playing in 4ths is so spontanious and simple...i sometimes get the feeling it just can't be right.

Jan-31-2004, 9:15am
sorry..."spontaneous" - ed.

Jim Garber
Jan-31-2004, 9:27am
i've tuned it in 4ths (g-a-d-g-c). #i say this in all ignorance but i don't see what's to be gained by tuning it in 5ths. #if that makes for better music (more versitile, more harmonic possibilities, etc.) please let me know. #as it is, playing in 4ths is so spontanious and simple...i sometimes get the feeling it just can't be right.
That is an odd tuning. As I said, std tuning is more like a uke: gceae (low to high) I think that the middle e strings are in octaves (I do not have my charango in front of me). This way the bottom 4 courses are in same realtionship as the top four strings of the guitar with a doubled e note on the very top course.

The reason I asked about fifths is because this is a mandolin board and that is generally how we tune. Whatever you are used to works. I was just curious about how you came to the tuning you use.


Jan-31-2004, 5:13pm
i got this tuning from playing the oud but isn't a-d-g-c a mandola tuning?

Jim Garber
Feb-01-2004, 12:47am
Yes, a-d-g-c high to low is a mandola tuning but I thought you were talking fourths, not fifths.


Feb-01-2004, 9:43am
'gems - you threw me for a loop there. what little understanding i have about music is tentative at best - went to bed last night with a knitted brow and visions of notes dancing in my head. i've tuned my charango g-a-d-g-c from the bottom to the top, not the other way round. so...does this make it an ###-backward mandola tuning (re-entrant "returned" - so to speak) with a bottom course in g?
you guys still want to talk to me?

Feb-01-2004, 9:47am
you mean i can't say "###"?
how about "hindmost"?

Feb-01-2004, 11:38am
There were some early gut-strung mandolin types tuned in fourths. Your tuning is actually fairly period-appropriate... or historically informed... or whatever early music types are calling it these days. Pick on.

Jim Garber
Feb-01-2004, 8:37pm
Yes you are tuned in 4ths with the exception of the lowest string. I believe that re-entrant tuning has a higher string on what would be lower courses, for instance the ukulele which would have it's lowest string, say g higher in pitch than all but the very first string, a.


Feb-17-2004, 7:28pm
Looking at citterns, gitterns, vihuelas, four-course guitars etc. it seems that 4-string instruments tended to use 5ths, 5 or more courses tended to use fourths (often but not always with a 3rd in the middle). When you get to the more complex French lutes anything up to 14 courses (some tripled, tuned root-octave-quint) can be found, so I'd reckon you can claim some sanction for any tuning you choose - but the Hobgoblin guide is as good as anything else AS A GUIDE, not as a law. I use a guirat tuned F-Bb-D-G-B-E, so who am I to say? (and then I use it as two ukes ....) #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-18-2004, 1:58pm
Looking at citterns, gitterns, vihuelas, four-course guitars etc. it seems that 4-string instruments tended to use 5ths, 5 or more courses tended to use fourths (often but not always with a 3rd in the middle).
I'm not so certain this makes so good a rule of thumb. #The four-course guitar was certainly tuned mostly in 4ths as was the early mandolino in four courses. #There is plenty of testimony for such tuning in early tablatures. #Mostly 4ths were retained as courses to six were added to both guitar and mandolino. #Tuning of all the various early cittern kin varied wildly; e.g., the English guitar was tuned to a c-major chord, i.e. thirds, fourths, and fifths. #The modern ukulele with four strings uses a reentrant series of fourths with one third. #Of course, tuning of medieval ancestors is as much speculation as anything...assuming it was ever standardized.

Feb-18-2004, 4:06pm
I have charangos and I have tried alternative tunings so from my experience....
If you are trying out fourths tuning as milanese mandolino you can not use standard charango (scale length is circa 35-36 cm) because strings wouldn´t stand it. Better try the smaller member of the charango family called waylacho with circa 30 cm scale.

Feb-19-2004, 11:33am
dear lucho -

do you know where i might buy strings for the waylacho?

sincerely - bill

Feb-28-2004, 4:16pm
the standard no microwound nylon sets made in Argentina by Medina Artigas o even the american made mari sets could work for it. I don't know what to tell where to buy them... it depends on your location.... if in South America (from South of Ecuador) should not be a problem... otherwise try www.boliviamall.com. There you should be able to find #2 options for waylachos: standard nylons sets or steel sets tuned down to B scale (called afinación diabla).

Jim Garber
Feb-28-2004, 4:27pm
Try this guy in PA for things Bolivian: Joe Todaro. I ran into him a few years back at a Philadelphia guitar show and ended up buying my charango from him.

He makes sojourns down to Bolivia and has connections to players and builders. I hope this info is current -- I found it on the Web.

Joe Todaro
28 N. Lansdowne Ave.
Lansdowne, PA 19050


Feb-29-2004, 8:10am
billkilpatrick: I forgot.... I think you may try the handmade light sets made in Spain by Font (http://www.font-company.com/font-company/101b.htm). They have charango sets and it may be if your charango soundboard is sturdy enough you could try light bandurria sets tuned like those older milanese mandolinos.... older classical bandurrias used to have gut strings.... and some players still use them for classical repertoire.

Mar-13-2004, 9:34am
for 'dem 'dat's interested, there's a peculiar (gruesome?) pear-shaped, mandolin-faced charango up for auction on german ebay at the moment. something of a missing link perhaps...?

Jim Garber
Mar-13-2004, 9:43am
Speaking of missing link... what is the link for that charango?


Mar-13-2004, 11:21am
Is it this one:

http://cgi.ebay.de/ws....y=27600 (http://cgi.ebay.de/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=3710227280&category=27600)

Mar-15-2004, 4:12am
link!?!....LINK!?!!......i don't got to show you no stinkin' link!

yep, that's the one. #looks like something from out of that bar scene in the first "star wars."

Mar-15-2004, 12:50pm
Hmmm...I can deal with the concept of charango, but I'm none too keen on them still sporting EARS!

Jim Garber
Mar-15-2004, 1:36pm
A good friend of mine insists that the very best charangos are those on which the hairs still grow. Hmmmm...

I will stick to wooden ones and mandolins.


Alex Timmerman
Mar-25-2004, 6:19pm
Hello Bill,

I read somewhere in this topic that you tune your Charango in this string arrangement: g-a-d-g-c (from the lowest to the highest strings). If so, the four highest strings are tuned exactly a whole tone lower than the Italian Mandolla (±1600) tuning. Except for the lowest string pair, since that is tuned to a g.
Towards a Mandolla/Mandolino tuning it is better to tune that string pair to f#, because that would result in a tuning #f#-a-d-g-c.

Now, if you tune your instrument up a whole tone (and I think this is possible) to: g-b-e´-a´-d´´, you have the exact mandolla tuning in fourth. This enables you to play the repertoire of the Mandolla.

If you want to play the Mandolino repertoire more or less at pitch, the first thing to do is: tune down the lowest string pair from g to f-sharp. Resulting in a tuning of: f# - b-e´-a´-d´´. #Secondly, place a Capotasto at the 5th position on your Charango. Now you have created the tuning of the five double strung Mandolino: b-e´-a´-d´´-g´´ on your “Charango”.

To have a little more ´space´ for the movement of your left-hand fingers on the Charango fingerboard I would advice you to play at Baroque pitch (415 Hertz). This is done on your "Mando-rango" by placing the Capotasto in the 4th position.
You than still have the tone-range under the first string pair (up to d´´´) that is needed for most of the Mandolino repertoire up to about 1730.

After that time most of the Mandolino music requires a bottom 6th string tuned to g. In this way you have made your own practise ´Mandolino´.

Have fun,


PS. Also, to create a longer fingerboard you can tune up the Mandolla tuning I suggested: f#-b-e´-a´-d´´ up with a whole tone to: g#-c#´-f#´-b´-e´´, and put down the Capotasto at the 3rd position.

PS. If the normal string-length on your Charango is 37cm, can you tell me how long it is measuring this from the third position to the nut? I think that would be interesting to know. Thanks in advance.

Mar-26-2004, 4:52am
dear alex -

thank you for your wonderful reply; very thoughtful and very kind. #your command of computer technology is impressive as well.

the g-b-e'-a'-d" tuning you suggest is probably the way i'll go - especially if it allows me to play music written for the mandola. #it's also a banjo tuning, i note.

the distance on my charango, from the third position (4th fret) to the beginning of the nut, is 6 cm precisely. #i have a fret positioned just before the nut (i don't see one on yours) and the measure for that (fret to fret) is 5.7 cm.

you've made me wonder if my charango is strong enough to support the 5 course mandolino tuning i was aiming for. #mine has a solid bodied, wood construction but i've heard that charango bridges in general have a tendency to (wince) pop.

thanks again for your help alex. #by way of compensation - to you and anyone else on this wonderful site - if you ever need to know anything about shoveling sheep sheet onto olive trees and the oil which sometimes results, i'm your man.

sincerely - bill

Alex Timmerman
Mar-26-2004, 5:18am
Thank you and good morning Bill,

I think you can only reach the Mandolino pitch with a Capotasto on your instrument. Therefore the measurements you gave are interesting because the swinging string-length of the Mandolino tuning - if you put a Capotasto in the 4th position on your Charango - is 31.3cm (37 minus 5.7cm). And that´s about the Mandolino mensure (swinging string-length). The advantage of this way is that you have no problems of collapsing fingerboars and sound tables and breaking up bridges.

One other tip: use a flat as possible Capotasto, so that the side of your 3rd phalanx (counted from the tip of the finger) of your index finger will not be hampered in it´s movements by it.

Playing on your Charango in this manner would give you a near to and nice ´Mandolino feeling´ under your fingers, I would say. That is for the time being, plan 2 is to watch out for a nice Mandolino.

All the best,


PS. It sounds like a marvellous job you have! All day in the open air!

Jun-10-2004, 9:18am
dear alex -

i've retuned my charango from the "g-adgc" tuning i normally play to the "g-bead" tuning you recommended - an up-grade, indeed! it's sounds just wonderful. i don't know why; it could just be the newness of a higher, brighter tone and easier access to the "g" but it makes everything i play sound so much better.

there's a south american musician named ernesto cavour, an advocate of the charango who says there are literally hundreds of tunings for the charango, aside from the traditional "gceae" tuning. on its way from vihuela de mano to charango, the instrument must have passed through a wide variety of tunings and i'm sure this was one.

many thanks alex. your good advise may seem obvious to you but to me, it's positively enlightening.

sincerely - bill

Apr-09-2018, 3:11pm
... tuned in fifth, I have mine : CC-GG-DD-AA-ee with 37cm scale...


Simon DS
Apr-12-2018, 3:12pm
Very nice looking instrument, they seem to have a mystique about them. I’d like to own one.
I really enjoy learning all of the different strumming techniques (I make do on my ukulele).
It seems that the ukulele is played everywhere now in the UK. I wonder how much of that is driven by the plentiful supply of relatively cheap, high quality instruments from China, Vietnam etc.