A Tango With My New Charango

My charango
My charango

“Julio, can you show me where the music shops are?”

“Oh there’s a strip of about 20 in a row right in downtown Lima.”

It was all over from there. With some child-like begging and a few temper tantrums, my plan succeeded as we headed to music central. I don’t know why that is considered immature because it is clearly a flawless technique. With a bounce in my step, I was able to regress to childhood and become a kid in a candy store again, except much less mature this time. At my first outing (obviously there were more than one – I was an experienced colic baby), I picked up a couple inexpensive instruments to hold me over, such as those zampoñas and a pair of maracas to smuggle through customs. I avoided a charango because of cost, but that inner child of mine has an ample resume for draining my bank account.

Consequently, after doing credible YouTube research, I caved and purchased one of these 10-stringed mandolin instruments that were born in what is now considered the country of Peru. It plays like a guitar, except the strings are arranged in pairs. So when you press one finger on any given note, you are really hitting two strings and playing two notes at once. You can get a better visualization from the image below:

Zoomed in on the charango
Zoomed in on the charango

It can have almost a middle-eastern touch if played one way, a ukulele sound if played another, and obviously a Spanish feel being the most prevalent. It seems very versatile and capable of many different sounds and styles. Most people play it without a guitar pick and just use their fingers and nails to strum and pluck the strings.

Check out this YouTube demonstration of how it is commonly played. I will be this good in about two weeks:

So I thought to myself, how could I be a guitar player, come to Peru (to study music nonetheless), and NOT pick up the most famous national instrument? Money has certainly been an issue, but this was surely a must-have. I was not planning on spending quite as much as I did, but I came across one that I didn’t knew existed, an acoustic-electric charango! Not only did it act as a normal acoustic charango, but I can also plug it directly into an amplifier for increased volume, effects, and perhaps even performances.

Although not my forte, Justin helped encourage my quiet bartering skills. A rare charango, a soft case, and an extra set of strings all for under $150 USD…I was practically forced into making it happen. Plus, the instrument alone is non-existent in the United States, and even if it were widespread throughout the country, the extra zeros on the bottom line of the receipt would be mind-blasting! As a result, I suddenly had in my possession a carefully-crafted block of wood with a few connected strings that gave me a unique ability to create a distinct sound upon return to the US. I am pretty sure this cuts me to the front of the line for the new superhero election, but I may have already won the position. Now let’s see what I can do with this power.

I’ve had a few days to strum the ol’ 10-string thus far and I am more than pleased with my purchase. I decided last minute not to lug my 98-pound amplifier throughout my journey of Peru, so I haven’t exactly had the opportunity to play with the electric side of the instrument other than in the store where it was purchased. But, it sounded great plugged in for those five minutes, so now I am left with the opportunity to apply my skills from the guitar to the charango. As far as I can tell, I have made a successful purchase, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will not end up pouting in tears because of some sly scam that I have been a victim of, as the theme of maturity continues.

-Andrew

Andrew Crawford

Coming all the way from the windy city of Chicago, Andrew Crawford graduated from Lake Forest College with a degree in Psychology and a minor in Music. His primary objective for the volunteer experience is to explore and write about the music throughout the parts of Peru that he can reach, primarily Lima. He also loves to play music himself on just about anything he can get his hands on, mainly the guitar, harmonica, and drums – but he wants to add some Peruvian instruments to the list. Anyone want to jam??

6 thoughts on “A Tango With My New Charango

  • Pingback: » A Tango With My New Charango [Featured] …en Perú – Travel Culture History News

  • February 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm
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    Andrew,

    Thanks for writing about your Charango. Can you tell me how you like it after a few months? I will be in Lima in a few weeks and will check out the shops. Can you tell me the name or address of the shop you bought yours at? Did you end up buying both a "regular" and the acoustic/electric? I am thinking about the electric. What do you think about a solid body electric charango? Did you look into Ronrocos also?

    Have a good one,

    Dan

    Reply
      • February 28, 2010 at 7:29 am
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        Great, Thanks Julio. That is one of the places I am planning to visit next weekend or Monday. Have a good one.

        Reply
    • March 3, 2010 at 3:37 am
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      Hey Dan-

      Sorry about the delay, my computer was having trouble. Anyway, we spent a lot of time looking for just the right charango. There were a strip of like 20 music shops all in a row (Julio can show you). Some of them better than others, but most of them were acoustic charangos. I happened to stumble across a few of the acoustic-electric ones, so I snagged one of those and not an acoustic one.

      After a few months of returning to the US, I still play it. However, I haven't really used the electric portion yet, I play it acoustically 99% of the time. The electric part has actually been tough for two reasons. First, I have moved out of my parents' house and left my Amp there because my new apartment is small. Second, because the charango is much smaller than a guitar, and the wood is fragile, there is really only one place for a plug to be located, and it is in an awkward spot. You have to hold it a little differently and it is tougher to play from that angle in my opinion, so if you grab one, definitely play it a lot before you make a decision. Solid body would be ideal I think, but you might want to contact Justin Leonard for that kind of thing, he helped me pick mine out.

      All in all, the instrument is beautiful. It sounds great, it looks great, it's very unique and not that expensive. I would tune it down a little bit because I tried to keep it at standard tuning and ended up breaking 2 strings, so I had to custom order more strings from Bolivia since I've been back. It wasn't more expensive than a decent set of guitar strings, but still annoying and I had to wait for them to arrive. Definitely get extra strings down there if you can because they are much cheaper!!

      I did not look into Ronrocos, in fact I didn't really know what they were and kind of thought they were just other charangos, but they must be slightly different. Hope this all helps!! Have a blast.

      Andrew

      Reply
      • March 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm
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        Thanks Andrew, I am glad you mentioned that having a plug for a pickup gets in the way. I went to Plaza 2 de Mayo and met Cristhian Mena ( http://www.charangoperu.com/contenido/luthiers/Cr… ) today. He seems to be a great luthier and sold me a nice Charango. I got 2 extra sets of strings also based on your suggestion!

        I am having fun watching youtube videos and playing around with it. Thanks again,

        Dan

        Reply

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