4/14/2016

1970s Unmarked Puerto Rican Cuatro




My friend Ed brought this back from a recent trip to Puerto Rico as a $50 "random shop find." It was full of mouse leavings, totally filthy, and had the most wrecked jumbo-sized frets I've ever seen. The top was (is) also distorted like crazy from years of 10-string tension behind the bridge and the tuners were rusted and grimed to non-functionality. Still -- under all that, one could appreciate that it had the potential to be a very cool instrument, especially since "real" (read: solid-wood, authentic-style) cuatros are sort-of hard to find up here.

After a board level and refret, relocation of the saddle (and compensation, too), and installation of a tailpiece to ease tension off the top, this thing definitely is cool. It has that saucy, Latin vibe you hear in old dance recordings and has quite a good "cut" to its tone. I had the chance this evening to play a song with it during our weekly jam and it did its job, for sure. These instruments are usually used (from what I hear in recordings) to play a sort of counterpoint chordal "plink plink" crosspicking thing behind the beat or vibrant leads -- both of which it works really well for.


This is "sized" about like a smaller tenor guitar but has a longer body and 9th-fret join at the heel. The top is solid -- something -- and the back, sides, and neck are all cut from one piece of solid -- something. The bridge and fretboard are a gum-like wood and have qualities found both in rosewood and ebony. It's good stuff. This has something like a 20 1/4" scale as I recall.


The wide nut and classical-shaped neck is a little clunky for cowboy chords (with my hands, anyway), but manageable. It really shines for sliding 3-finger chord shapes (like, jazz-style) mixed with little runs to fill-in around the edges of songs.


I've strung it and tuned it ADGBE like a 12-string guitar minus the low E. This is to make it easy for my buddy to learn some material on it. Apparently the "real" tuning is all in fourths -- perfect for sliding, repeating chord shapes like you find in a lot of traditional Latin music of all stripes. The bajo quinto/sexto of the US/Mexican borderlands, which is also tuned in all fourths, plays a similar role but in an octave-down range.





I love that wear!









These tuners were shockingly grim, before, but a bit of lube and cleaning and they're working "good enough."

They're also the reference for the date -- probably this was made between the '70s and early '80s.

2 comments:

albox said...

That carved body is really striking -- is that a knot on the shoulder near the heel?

Jake Wildwood said...

Just grime -- but I see knots on charangos and ronrocos (made the same way) all the time, so I'm sure there are plenty with knots in 'em! I forgot to mention in the writeup that the initial "carving" method is to drill-press the wood block with bits almost 2" across (!).