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View Full Version : Ukulele Tuned as a Cuatro - What Size?



Lalz
09-26-2012, 11:14 PM
Hello hello!

I'm thinking of re-stringing one of my ukes to a cuatro tuning (ADF#B with low 1st and 4th) because it sounds really nice and I just love alternative tunings.

What size uke would be most appropriate for this do you reckon? It's two low strings but the lowest note is not quite as low as a low G set would give.

How about a concert, would it be a good one or would I need more body resonance? A longer scale? Shorter?

I remember there was a page about cuatros on the South Coast website but I can't find it.

Thanks!

UPDATE: I just watched the cuatro video Dirk posted yesterday (great one btw!). I guess that in order to get that sound a baritone would be the closest thing, but I think I'd like to have more of a "traditional" ukulele sound to it still. Just with a different tuning.

nolimits
09-27-2012, 03:30 AM
I just tried this very same experiment. I used D'Addario Venezuela Cuatro string set, designed for 20 7/8" scale, on my tenor uke. The difference in scale length meant I had to tune up to CfaD, to get enough tension. Interesting voicing of chords, lots of new possibilities. Well worth the time involved.

Ben_H
09-27-2012, 05:02 AM
I have a set of Southcoast cuatro strings for baritone scale in C tuning on the way. They are not listed on the current website but there is a new SOuthcoast site waiting to be launched. Email Dirk to check your options.

BTW Lalou I think they have an offer on that if you're a first time buyer the postage is free on one set and if you buy three sets or more it's free postage after that. I would check that with someone more reputable before relying on the info though. :)

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 08:26 AM
Hello hello!

I'm thinking of re-stringing one of my ukes to a cuatro tuning (ADF#B with low 1st and 4th) because it sounds really nice and I just love alternative tunings.

What size uke would be most appropriate for this do you reckon? It's two low strings but the lowest note is not quite as low as a low G set would give.

How about a concert, would it be a good one or would I need more body resonance? A longer scale? Shorter?

I remember there was a page about cuatros on the South Coast website but I can't find it.

Thanks!

UPDATE: I just watched the cuatro video Dirk posted yesterday (great one btw!). I guess that in order to get that sound a baritone would be the closest thing, but I think I'd like to have more of a "traditional" ukulele sound to it still. Just with a different tuning.

Hello Lalou -

Yes, a Baritone gives the most common Cuatro sound, but this instrument has a long and interesting history. Now it's commonly seen in aproximately Baritone Ukulele size, but there were 3 sizes at one time (though not rigidly defined); the Grande, as you have now, but also the Medio y Chiquillo. The D tuning works out wonderfully on the 20" scale usually seen on Baritones these days, and I imagine that the smaller instruments had higher tunings - something like nolimits set up on his Tenor Ukulele.

This is a subject near and dear to us, as my partner Omar has a lot of experience with Cuatros, and these instruments define a lot of our approach to the Ukulele. We have offered a traditional plain set for quite some time - just look on the Menu in the Stringuide. Ben is also correct about new sets. When we can ever get the string site up, we'll have a bunch of new Cuatro sets - probably 5! They'll be a least one with wound strings that will give C tuning on a Baritone - maybe another with plain strings. The heavier sets will be for our Tenor Guitars. One new Tenor Guitar model is actually based on a Cuatro Grande, and a lot of the heavier new sets are for those instruments where the tuning is fabulous.

Our new small-bodied Tenor Guitar is a bit big by normal Cuatro standards, but I'm not sure if it's as big as the one Yva Las Vegass has. Am glad you mentioned that clip, Lalou, as it's not something to be missed. Stroll on over to the video section and take a look - I can pretty much guarantee you won't have seen anything like that before.

Remember, the chord shapes in Cuatro tuning are exactly as with an Ukulele set-up, so you you can chord it straight away (melody playing will take an adjustment, since your highest strings are inside and not at the bottom).

And......since you gave me an opening here, I'll post a couple of other more traditional vids.

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 09:29 AM
I have a theory as to the reasons for Cuatro tuning. With a 500 year history, the Renaissance Guitar was still being played in the Cuatro’s formative years. The Renaissance guitar was a four course instrument that was just a lttle bigger than a Baritone Uke, and it was played with the same tuning as is commonly used on a Baritone (though there were often double courses).

When the first pioneers came to the new world, as survival in the wilderness was the primary goal, there likely weren’t any string makers. The special hand wound strings available to the leisure class of Europe just didn't exist in the new world at first. The early immigrants needed a tuning that would keep the rich depth of their “Renaissance Guitar” but work without wound strings.

The result was the Cuatro, and with roots in the classical world, it has always been used for that style of music. I had mentioned above that melody playing takes an adjustment for those used to an ukulele set-up. The results are well worth the small effort, however. Here’s how the “Maestro”, Leonardo Lozano does it:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crAREbPBvsw&feature=relmfu

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 09:31 AM
And just because he is such a viruoso, here's another:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=outKf8pcDvI

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 09:40 AM
And while I'm on a roll.....................

Actually the second video shows some of the flamenco type strumming that is commonly heard with Cuatro playing today. Today, it's often simply thought of as a latin folk intrument. The heavy strumming can actually get a bit out of hand, but that's probably what you feel like after getting off your horse out on the Venezulean plains and filling up on cane liquor. It's also why they come with a "guardarasca", or scratch guard, as the popular style could also be described as "beat my Cuatro to death".

Nonetheless, the most popular player of all is Simon Diaz (Yva mentiones him). He played in more of a folk style, without nearly as much of the hard flamenco flourish. Here's a beautiful old video (both the B&W cinematography & the music). I love the first comment "Estoy Llorando en este momento" (I'm crying at this moment).



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsee-3S-Lok

Lalz
09-27-2012, 10:57 AM
Wow, Dirk! These videos are fantastic! Lots of very interesting information too. Thank you so much!
Very excited about your up-coming Cuatro string sets!! So you're saying baritones or tenors would be more appropriate? Any chance a concert could work if tuned higher than D? (I don't have a tenor and I have other plans for how to tune my baritone that is on its way)

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 11:45 AM
Any chance a concert could work if tuned higher than D? (I don't have a tenor and I have other plans for how to tune my baritone that is on its way)

Yes, I think it would work on a concert. I haven't tried it, but even though nolimits got F tuning with D'Addarios on a Tenor, I beleive our plain set would do it on a concert.

I wouldn't go with heavier strings. Remeber that even though that sounds like a high tuning to someone used to (high) reentrant Ukulele tuning, it takes on a whole different sound when you drop the outside notes an octave. You need to use a higher tuning with those two low strings. After all, when listening to the videos above, your first thought wouldn't be that those big things were tuned to the same key that ukulele players use on a Soprano!

AS I metioned, Cuatros also once came in smaller sizes. Design parameters have never been as relatively strict as they are for the ukulele. Take a look at this old photo. The instrument on the left is the Cuatro. Even though the scale is longer, the body doesn't look that far off from a Concert Ukulele (not coincidentally, it looks like one of our longnecks):

43466

Lalz
09-27-2012, 12:02 PM
I just tried this very same experiment. I used D'Addario Venezuela Cuatro string set, designed for 20 7/8" scale, on my tenor uke. The difference in scale length meant I had to tune up to CfaD, to get enough tension. Interesting voicing of chords, lots of new possibilities. Well worth the time involved.

Cool! Do you have a recording or a video? :)


Yes, I think it would work on a concert. I haven't tried it, but even though nolimits got F tuning with D'Addarios on a Tenor, I beleive our plain set would do it on a concert.

I wouldn't go with heavier strings. Remeber that even though that sounds like a high tuning to someone used to (high) reentrant Ukulele tuning, it takes on a whole different sound when you drop the outside notes an octave. You need to use a higher tuning with those two low strings. After all, when listening to the videos above, your first thought wouldn't be that those big things were tuned to the same key that ukulele players use on a Soprano!

AS I metioned, Cuatros also once came in smaller sizes. Design parameters have never been as relatively strict as they are for the ukulele. Take a look at this old photo. The instrument on the left is the Cuatro. Even though the scale is longer, the body doesn't look that far off from a Concert Ukulele (not coincidentally, it looks like one of our longnecks):

43466

Yay! Then I'll try it with F tuning on my concert when the strings are available for purchase :-)
The one on the left in the picture does indeed look like a concert. Cool!
(Love how long the headstock is on the right one haha. You could almost use it as a paddle!)

Lalz
09-27-2012, 12:05 PM
I have a set of Southcoast cuatro strings for baritone scale in C tuning on the way. They are not listed on the current website but there is a new SOuthcoast site waiting to be launched. Email Dirk to check your options.

BTW Lalou I think they have an offer on that if you're a first time buyer the postage is free on one set and if you buy three sets or more it's free postage after that. I would check that with someone more reputable before relying on the info though. :)

I've purchased from them before but thanks for the tips ;) Please report to us once you get the strings and have tuned your baritone to cuatro C! Would love to hear more about it from you and nolimits!

southcoastukes
09-27-2012, 12:17 PM
Cool! Do you have a recording or a video? :)



Yay! Then I'll try it with F tuning on my concert when the strings are available for purchase :-)
The one on the left in the picture does indeed look like a concert. Cool!
(Love how long the headstock is on the right one haha. You could almost use it as a paddle!)

The plain Cuatro String set we have available on the site now are the ones for that tuning.

They give D on a Baritone, and though I haven't tried them on smaller instruments myself, you should get E flat on a Tenor & F on a Concert (that's as far as I'd go).

Lalz
09-27-2012, 01:45 PM
The plain Cuatro String set we have available on the site now are the ones for that tuning.

They give D on a Baritone, and though I haven't tried them on smaller instruments myself, you should get E flat on a Tenor & F on a Concert (that's as far as I'd go).

Oh! I wish I hadn't already placed an order for a few other strings sets earlier today, I could have included this one in the same shipment if I had waited. Oh well, not the last time I order strings from you anyway, that's for sure! :)
So the other cuatro sets that you are about to make available, what are their characteristics? What key would they tune to on a concert? (don't tell me if you'll have to kill me afterwards though, hehe)

TheCraftedCow
09-27-2012, 08:56 PM
Dirk has heard my soprano with a low G and a low A. A long neck soprano actually has two more frets to the body than does a concert of the same neck length. If you like alternate tunings, try backing low G to F; C stays the same; pull E up to F and leave the low A the same. If you want an interesting minor, drop the A to A flat. If you play with Ab covered at the first fret you can get some very interesting trills and hammering on. I keep one instrument tuned that way.

Lalz
09-28-2012, 02:31 AM
Dirk has heard my soprano with a low G and a low A. A long neck soprano actually has two more frets to the body than does a concert of the same neck length. If you like alternate tunings, try backing low G to F; C stays the same; pull E up to F and leave the low A the same. If you want an interesting minor, drop the A to A flat. If you play with Ab covered at the first fret you can get some very interesting trills and hammering on. I keep one instrument tuned that way.

Ah nice! Thanks! I just had a try at the tunings you were suggesting and I like them a lot. Small simple changes, lots of new fun to be had :-) Just dropping one string a notch can makes such a big difference in voicing, sometimes even make certain chords easier to fret, and yes give new opportunities for fun hammer-ons. Some of my favourites alternative tunings are GCEA#, GCFG with a low 4th and generally open tunings.

All my ukes have different tunings, I love it. That's my main drive behind getting new ukes, it's to get to have a variety of tunings available and play completely different music on each of them :)

TheCraftedCow
09-28-2012, 08:59 PM
I have a big bodied Winston oval hole mandolin strung a d G B e, or C open. People who are blues players just love the sound. It is distinctively different. It is strung as a four stringer. I'll have to try it on my xx X X XX mandouke as xX XX XX Xx

ralphk
01-19-2013, 11:41 AM
I have a very nice mahogany Pono a few years old (Model PTE) and it sounds great with Worth Browns, low G. I put another low G string in place of the A and it too sounds very nice, with a much lower tone. Very good for some songs.