The cuatro is any of several Latin American instruments of the guitar or lute families. Many cuatros are smaller than a guitar. Cuatro means four in Spanish, although current instruments may have more than four strings. The cuatro is found in South America, Trinidad & Tobago and other territories of the West Indies, and certain variants are considered the national instrument of some countries (e.g., Venezuela). Its 15th century predecessor was the Portuguese Cavaquinho, which, like the cuatro had four strings. The cuatro is widely used in ensembles in Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Surinam to accompany singing and dancing. In Trinidad & Tobago it accompanies Parang singers. In Puerto Rico and Venezuela, the cuatro is used as an ensemble instrument for both secular and religious music.
The Venezuelan cuatro
The cuatro of Venezuela has four single nylon strings, tuned (A4,D5,F#5,B4) or (A3,D4,F#4,B3) depending on the strings you get. It is similar in shape and tuning to the ukulele, but their character and playing technique are vastly different. It is tuned in a similar fashion to the traditional D tuning of the ukulele, but the B is an octave lower. Consequently, the same fingering can be used to shape the chords, but it produces a different transposition of each chord. This instrument is also known as the guitarra pequeña, guitarrita, or guitarilla, and also exists in a 5-string version (cinco), and a 6-string version (seis).
- There is a pear-shaped Venezuelan cuatro with four strings, called the bandola llanera, tuned A3 D4 A4 E5; and a sort of truncated pear-shaped bandola oriental, which has eight strings in four doubled-courses, and which is tuned similarly to a mandolin, but with some octave doublings: G4 G3♦D5 D4♦A4 A4♦E5 E5
- Other Venezuelan cuatro variants include: cinco cuatro (5 strings in 4 courses); seis cinco (6 strings in 5 courses); cinco y medio (5 strings and a short extra string from the top of the body); cuatro y medio (4 strings plus a short extra string); and octavo (8 strings in 4 double courses).
The cuatros of Puerto Rico
|You may watch a segment from "Nuestro Cuatro" about the cuatro with Tomás Rivera Morales here|
The Puerto Rican cuatro is shaped more like a violin than a guitar, and is the most familiar of the three instruments which make up the Puerto Rican orquesta jibara (i.e., the cuatro, the tiple and the bordonua). The Puerto Rican cuatro has ten strings in five courses, tuned in fourths from low to high, with B and E in octaves and A, D and G in unisons: B3 B2♦E4 E3♦A3 A3♦D4 D4♦G4 G4
Several sizes of the instrument exist, including a Cuatro Soprano, Cuatro Alto, Cuatro Tradicional (the standard instrument, also called Cuatro Tenor), and Cuatro Bajo (Bass Cuatro): all have ten strings and are tuned in fourths. There is also a Cuatro Lírico ("lyrical cuatro"), which is about the size of the Tenor, but has a deep jelly-bean shaped body; a Cuatro Sonero, which has 15 strings in 5 courses of three strings each; and a Seis, which is a Cuatro Tradicional with an added two-string course (usually a lower course), giving it a total of 12 strings in 6 courses.
- There is a Cuatro Cubano from Cuba, shaped more like a standard guitar, and which is basically a Tres with an extra course added.
- The name "cuatro" is also sometimes used for small Guitarros and Tiples in some parts of Spain.
- "Instrumentos Musicales de Venezuela: Cuatro". Diccionario Multimedia de Historia de Venezuela. Fundación Polar.
- Fredy Reyna: Alfa Beta Cuatro - Monte Avila Editores 1994
- Alejandro Bruzual: Fredy Reyna - Ensayo biográfico - Alter Libris 1999
- Chord and instructional guides
- Tobe A. Richards (2007). The Venezuelan Cuatro Chord Bible: ADF#B Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords'. Cabot Books. ISBN 978-1-906207-00-7.
- Tobe A. Richards (2007). The Puerto Rican Cuatro Chord Bible: BEADG Standard Tuning 1,728 Chords. Cabot Books. ISBN 978-1-906207-06-9.