View Full Version : Cavaquinhos and Braguinhas

06-09-2013, 03:16 PM
So, I'm giving a couple of talks in Lisbon, Portugal, in about three weeks. In related news, yeah, my job is pretty nice.

Anyway, I'm thinking about picking up a cavaquinho or braguinha while I'm there. I haven't looked around too carefully, but this place is right around the corner from my hotel, and seems to have a pretty good selection: http://www.salaomusical.com/en/ukuleles-cp159

I have a bunch of questions, and would love to hear anyone's thoughts, experiences, or advice!

Anyone played one of these? Tuned as a uke, or with the banjo tuning? Will they work with ukulele strings, or are the steel strings needed to get good sound out of them? The brands I'm seeing are APC and Artimúsica—anyone know anything about these manufacturers? Should I stick with Salão Musical, or does someone else know someplace else or someplace better to go in Lisboa?

Incidentally, if anyone else is interested, there's a seller on eBay with some, including this good looking, cheap braguinha (http://www.ebay.com/itm/Braguinha-Ukulele-Madeira-Island-Portugal-11170-/370810099792) and this more expensive but stunning cavaquinho (http://www.ebay.com/itm/Genuine-PORTUGUESE-UKULELE-Cavaquinho-Hand-made-11101-/370630105235).

Hippie Dribble
06-09-2013, 04:00 PM
My advice would be to email Dirk Wormhoudt at Southcoast Ukes. He knows all about these things, as well as strings, tunings etc. He'll steer you right with very sound and knowledgeable advice. He's also a member here: 'southcoastukes'


06-09-2013, 04:11 PM
Will they work with ukulele strings, or are the steel strings needed to get good sound out of them?
Generally speaking, instruments built for steel strings have thicker tops and heavier bracing to handle the higher string tension. While using nylon strings won't damage such an instrument (like using steel strings on one built for nylon could), they won't have enough "oomph" to adequately power the top, and the sound will be weak and anemic. Doable, but the sound won't be optimal with the lower tension nylon strings.

06-10-2013, 12:10 AM
Thanks for this good advice!

Related: just came across this:


06-10-2013, 08:01 AM
Not put nylon strings on any of my instruments from Salao Musical, but I can tell you that IMHO the instruments sold there are some of the best value for money instruments in my collection. I have had two of their Cavaquinhos (a four string and an 8 string. The eight string was excellent - but it was sold to fund my UAS). The 4 string Cavaquinho sounds great as a Cavaquinho, but that high treble sound is not that useful for the music I make. I wanted to try a nylon soprano uke conversion on that, but would need to get the holes in the bridge enlarged. (Looked very delicate and didn't want to risk it with my clumsy fingers. If you manage, tell me how it went and if it works).

I also have a Viola Braguesa from them that doubles as a Cittern. Lovely instrument. I had a Portuguese Guitar from them that was great value for money, but I rarely used it (couldn't come to terms with traditional tuning and it really didn't sound the same in any other). But the gem from my Salao collection is their Bandolim (Portuguese wider bodied mandolin) - That baby is incredible for the hundred euro or so they were selling it for last time I looked! It has had real mandolin players (unlike dilettante me) dropping their jaws.

BTW if you buy anything with the traditional (beautiful) fantail tuners, then make sure you also buy a string winder. You can't change strings without one!

Note that there are two branches of Salao Musical in Lisboa, one is in the old town and is more atmospheric, the other, a more standard music store, with a wider range of stock, is in an area which has a lot of street walkers plying their trade at night. (Big police presence after dark). That's where our hotel was. The staff in both Salaos were really friendly and understanding of someone wanting to try everything in the store! :)

Lisboa is an incredible town! Ride the old trams for one of the best experiences in the city. I'm sure you'll fall in love with the place as we did.

06-10-2013, 08:20 AM
The little I know is about brazilian cavaquinhos, but I guess portuguese ones are pretty similar.

Cavaquinhos are usually tuned DGBD, one octave higher than the baritone ukulele. Some people tune it DGBE, so it's possible to use the same shapes of the 4 top strings of the guitar (or ukulele in our case). I've seen some soloists tuning it like a mandolin as well.

5 years ago, when I was starting getting interested in ukes, they were very very hard to find around here, so the easier way to play one was getting a cheap cavaquinho and putting ukulele strings on it. Every single one I played this way sounded like crap. Total crap. It was playing a shoebox with strings. The low tension that the nylon strings + the heavier construction of the cavaquinho don't work well.

If you want one, and want to play with ukulele shapes, try DGBE. I believe I read somewhere that in one part of portugal they tune GCEA, but I guess you'll need heavier strings then.

About APC: I think it is the same factory that makes Cordoba ukes. APC stands for Antonio Pinto de Carvalho. They make ukulele too.

06-10-2013, 10:10 AM
Just looked through their catalogue and boy have the prices taken a hike since we were last in Lisboa about five years ago. The Mandolin (Bandolim) I have cost me less than a hundred euro. It is now priced at €181 - still a great price for an amazing mandolin.

My Braguesa (http://www.salaomusical.com/pt/violas-braguesa-boca-raia-carrilhao-artimusica-20022-portuguesa-p425), which was about €98 now costs just under €200.

06-17-2013, 04:22 AM
Thanks for all the helpful advice and feedback! I guess I'll go by Salão and see what happens! I expect I'll get a cavaquinho or braguinha—probably won't be room in my luggage for anything else!—and tune it to DGBE . . . but we'll see.

06-17-2013, 04:28 AM

This post made me buy a used cavaquinho (Brazilian version). I got the "Paulistinha" model, with a smaller body. I tuned it DGBE but this way it doesn't sound "cavaquinho". Chords with open strings doesn't sound right as well. Guess I'll need to learn the chords for DGBD tuning.

06-17-2013, 04:39 AM
Well, g'dgbd' is the standard tuning for a 5-string banjo. So, if you learn the chords for dgbd' cavaquinho, then you've got a good excuse to get a 5-string . . .

06-17-2013, 11:13 AM
Caution - Portuguese cavaquinhos are *not* like Brazilian ones. I was given a Caquinho de Braga, very like this one:


by one of my PhD students. It is steel strung and tuned gdgb (the g is equivalent to the g re-entrant on a uke). A bright and tinkly sound - good for Portuguese folk music, but not for samba or 20s pop.

There are a couple of other Portuguese models, tuned differently but none DGBE so far as I recall.

I did try to put a set of DGBE strings on mine, but they didn't fit the bridge holes well and the tension seemed more than the construction might stand, so I abandoned the trial at around ADF#B.