Cumpiano guitars signature banner   

Wm. R. Cumpiano
Latin American 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.

Colombian Tiple

On the right is a Colombian Tiple just finished and presented to the fine 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 :

mp3.gif (1403 bytes) 900kb

Now hear Colombia's top tiple player, Jose Luis Martínez Vesga, play a fragment of the beloved "Ternura" [Tenderness]

mp3.gif (1403 bytes) 525kb

DSCN2255.jpg (30504 bytes)

DSCN2254.jpg (32829 bytes)

DSCN2252.jpg (29408 bytes)

DSCN2249.jpg (30201 bytes)

Venezuelan Cuatro

The first two photos at the right  show the front and rear of a concert-grade Venezuelan cuatro made from slices and blocks from a single plank of curly maple. This instrument was recently on display at the American Crafts Museum in New York City

I've included some more information on this small, beautiful instrument in my Venezuelan cuatro page.


WRC Venezuelan cuatro (front)  maple 4ven.jpg (16557 bytes)


The Puerto Rican cuatro appears to the uninitiated as a small 10-string guitar with a violin-shaped outline. At right is another example of William's cuatro making, but this is a Puerto Rican cuatro. William makes them in the traditional enterizo fashion, that is, hollowed out of a single 3"-thick block of hardwood. But he also has extended the tradition by making a 12-string version and a "thinline" electric-acoustic version which behaves much better on a noisy stage than its deeper-bodied traditional counterpart. William's cuatros have superb pitch accuracy and finish. They cost between $1500 and $2000.

More on the Puerto Rican cuatro and its traditions


This traditional, carved (from one block of Maga wood) Puerto Rican cuatro was made expressly for the British musician Peter Brandt. The soundboard is also tradition, a soft, white hardwood called Yagrumo. Brandt wrote:

I have to say that I absolutely Love the instrument--its been so beautifully made its been a total pleasure to play it, which I have done every day since its arrival. I really look forward to years of enjoyment from it...I  am truly delighted to have been able to get in touch with you and get the whole thing rolling and I am forever in your debt for such fine craftsmanship and attention to detal. it's certainly been worth waiting for--and how often in life can we say that with such conviction?

Another view, taken before set-up:

The "seis"
The Seis shown at the right was originally commissioned by Paul Simon's production staff, for use during the production of  his broadway play "The Capeman."

It is a six-course (12-string) hybrid of the cuatro that I developed, adding an extra sixth course tuned a fourth below the usual fifth bottom course (a course is a string pair, tuned in unisons or in octaves). This expansion in the instrument's range has a number of interesting consequences: the seis can either be tuned across the string array in strict fouths, enabling it to be played by someone familiar with playing the traditional cuatro, but now with an expanded bass range.

But by dropping the pitch of the two upper string courses by a semitone, you create the interval series 4-4-4-3-4. Voila! Guitar intervals. Now any guitarist can play the cuatro right out of the box. And what beautiful music it guitar player friends tells me it sounds like a miniature 12-string guitar, but much louder, sweeter and faster!










My partner Harry Becker tries some Fahey-style 12-string licks on this small hybrid of the Puerto Rican cuatro I call the seis (six) made recently for Jeffrey Pfeiffer of New Hampshire. He says it sounds just like a full-size 12-string guitar, but louder! Don't believe it? Listen for yourself:

Shortly before it was shipped , the superb Hartford guitarist David Giardina dropped by and played some impromptu Beatles on it. Here's a short sound clip of his first experience playing my Puerto Rican seis. See if it doesn't sound just like the full-size 12 on the Beatles' recording...  

  650 kb .mp3


William plays a Colombian Bandolina.  Fifteen strings: amazing sound. Joyful noise!

William plays bandolin gd.jpg (26826 bytes)



Cumpiano guitars                 Cumpiano articles archive                 Make a guitar with William