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date: 22 October 2019


  • Thomas Turino


Small fretted lute of the Andean regions of Bolivia, central and southern Peru and northern Argentina. It is one of the few hybrid instruments resulting from contact between indigenous and European cultures and is known to have existed by the early 18th century (an example is found in a decorative sculpture at Puno Cathedral, completed in 1755). Its area of distribution, which follows precisely the major colonial trade routes, indicates that it was disseminated by muleteers; its small size may have been partly due to practical considerations of transport.

It is shaped like the Spanish guitar but has a small, thin soundbox and short strings, giving a sharp, high-pitched sound (see illustration). The neck has between five and 18 wooden, bone or metal frets. The soundbox may have a flat wooden back of cedar or walnut, or a round back made of armadillo shell or a single piece of carved wood; its face, which has a round soundhole, is of pine, spruce, cedar or walnut and the bridge is cedar or walnut. The total length of the instrument varies from 45 to 65 cm. The instrument also exists in other forms; it has been made from a round gourd, in a pear-shape of wood or armadillo, and ornately carved in the form of a mermaid. The strings are arranged in four or, more commonly, five single, double or triple courses and number between four and 15; they are of metal, nylon or gut (now rare). Tunings vary according to region and personal taste; those found most frequently are A minor (...

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