A gallery of Cumpiano Latin American stringed instruments
William Cumpiano's half-Bostonian, half-Puerto Rican parentage has resulted in a decidedly multicultural approach to his instrument making. William cherishes his Puerto Rican and Latin American heritage, and has steeped himself in its musical and musical-craft traditions. He has come to deeply appreciate the vast treasury that is Latin American fretted string instruments. Evidence of this can be found on this page.
Padouk and ebony
On the left is a Colombian Tiple commissioned by the gifted and eclectic Massachusetts guitarist Joe Belmont. Except for the soundboard and fingerboard it was made entirely from slices and billets of one original single plank of blood-red African Padouk (Pterocarpus soyauxii), also known as Coral wood. The finish is clear, with no tint whatsoever, so the amazing color is absolutely authentic.
The instrument has twelve metal strings arranged in four triple courses, the first in unisons, but the rest arranged with a center wound and an octaved monofilament on either side.
It is tuned D-G-B-E, or precisely like the four higher strings of the guitar, making it an easy study for any proficient guitarist.
The body size and scale is about 2/3 that of a classic guitar, putting it in requinto or terz range.
The tiple is used in Colombian folk music and like many Latin American string instruments is iconic of its culture. Its new owner, Joe Belmont, however, will not only use it for South American folk-jazz fusion music, but will also take advantage of its jangly, ethereal sound in his own original eclectic compositions as well.
Hear Joe Belmont play a Cumpiano classic guitar and tiple together :
Now hear Colombia's top tiple player, Jose Luis Martínez Vesga, play a fragment of the traditional Columbian tune, the beloved "Ternura" [Tenderness]
Puerto Rican Tres
Norwegian Broadleaf Maple and ebony
It's perhaps easy to accept the proposition that Puerto Rican stringed instruments were descendants of ancient Spanish stringed instruments. But it may be harder to accept the concept that one of them was born in modern times with the sole purpose of playing Cuban music. But that's how it was with the Puerto Rican tres.
On the other hand, the idea of a Puerto Rican Cuban instrument is not so strange if you consider that during the last two centuries, Cuban and Puerto Rican cultures have frequently and intimately intertwined.
One of the consequences of this cultural proximity was that the Cuban three-course instrument, created to provide the rhythmic ostinato passages for the Cuban son and changui, was adopted in Puerto Rico, but adapted with a different and distinctive shape and stringing, while keeping the original modal tuning: thus was born the instrument that has become known as the Puerto Rican tres
Unlikely as it may seem, I made this Puerto Rican tres for a Japanese musician to present to his Mexican teacher in Japan as a gift.
Hear my favorite Puerto Rican tres player, the late Tuto Feliciano, play a tres:
Again, Tuto Feliciano playing a slower solo on his tres:
Honduras mahogany and ebony
There are many instruments called cuatro across Latin America but this Puerto Rican cuatro is the product of the jíbaro, the traditional Puerto Rican "hillbilly" (jiba as in the old Spanish, "hill"). An early version had four gut strings, hence its name. But in the 19th century, a new instrument emerged on the Island with 10 steel strings arranged in 5 courses, and configured much like our familiar 12-string guitar but tuned an octave higher at B-E-A-D-G with its lower courses in octaves and its higher courses in unisons.
A vast treasure of music and musical traditions surrounds the Puerto Rican cuatro, much of it captured in my Puerto Rican Cuatro Project website.
Father and son Juan and Kacho Montalvo play a vals (waltz) in my shop on a
Puerto Rican cuatro and Spanish guitar, both made by William Cumpiano
Chicago classical recitalist Jeff Kust adapts one of my Puerto Rican cuatros to the familiar Carol of the Bells
View and listen to William Cumpiano's novel 12-string cuatro in the the Special Commissions section