The Cuatro Puertorriqueño
The cuatro is a small, five-stringed guitar-like instrument that is native to Puerto Rico. It is considered to be the national instrument of Puerto Rico and has been played by Puerto Ricans for centuries. The cuatro has a distinctive, nasal twang that sets it apart from other instruments. In its earliest form, the cuatro was quite different from what it is today. Let's take a look at the history of this fascinating instrument.
Early Origins of the Cuatro
The "early" cuatro or “cuatro antiguo” once had a peculiar, keyhole-shaped soundbox and was strung with four single strings made from animal guts—hence its name cuatro—or "four." Its tuning and stringing—originally derived from a primitive modal form of tuning dating back to 15th century Spain— remained unchanged on the Island for centuries. In this form, the jíbaro country folk living in the remote central hills of the Island, preferred it.
The Modern Cuatro
In the early 1900s, two important changes were made to the cuatro that would change it forever. First, the soundbox was modified to make it more like a guitar. This gave the instrument a louder, fuller sound. Second, the strings were changed from gut to steel. This made the instrument much easier to tune and gave it a brighter sound. These changes helped to make the cuatro more popular among all Puerto Ricans, not just those living in rural areas.
The cuatro has come to symbolize Puerto Rican identity and is an important part of Puerto Rican culture. Musicians such as Yomo Toro, Edwin Colon Zayas, and Prodigio Claudio have helped to keep the tradition of playing the cuatro alive and have introduced it to new audiences all over the world.
The cuatro remains an integral part of Puerto Rican culture even though it has changed significantly since its earliest days. With its unique sound and distinctiveness in traditional music that dates back centuries ago, no other instrument quite compares with this proud symbol of tradition and identity in Puerto Rican music today. Whether you are just starting out learning how to play or you are an experienced musician looking to add something new to your repertoire, learning how to play this classic instrument is sure to provide hours upon hours worth of enjoyment!