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The charango is about the same length as a tenor ukulele in total. However, a good proportion of that is taken up by the head and the scale length is closer to that of a soprano. The neck is much wider than that of a ukulele to accommodate its ten strings arranged into five courses (i.e. five pairs of strings).

The development of the charango is very similar to that of the ukulele. The Spanish brought over their vihuelas (similar to the Portuguese machetes that preceded the ukulele) which were picked up and adapted by the locals. Rumour has it that charangos were such a big hit in Bolivia because the Spanish had banned the locals from playing their traditional music. The charangos were small enough to slip inside the poncho should any unfriendly Spaniards rear their heads.

The tuning is very similar to a ukulele. It’s tuned GCEAE (the strings are in unison apart from the middle E where they are an octave apart). So you can use the familiar ukulele chord shapes to play the GCEA strings. You can just use the same fret for the top E as the other E or you can get a little more adventurous.

The scary part about the charango is that it is traditionally made from the shell of an armadillo. If you buy an armadillo charango, you’ll often find hairs still sticking out from the armadillo’s shell. However, the armadillo shell isn’t very durable (and there are also animal welfare concerns over its use) so the higher quality charangos are made out of wood these days.

On Video

Bob Brozman is a big advocate of the charango, which he refers to as the, “South American Super Ukulele.”


  1. Brooke Acker July 29th, 2011 9:18 am

    I was meandering through a local pawn/thrift store today and I saw one of these…it was pretty creepy looking.

    They also had this blue what looked like a ukulele but perfectly round and really old. The owner told me it was a charango, also, but it had only four strings. Wouldn’t that make it a ukulele?

  2. lou February 20th, 2021 12:11 am

    Anyone know if a ukulele clip on strap will work on a Charango? Or any advice on where I can get Charango straps without having to drill a hole?

  3. Nils August 9th, 2021 3:33 pm

    My parents got me a crappy Charango in 2008, but it’s become my favorite instrument (I was a bass player primarily). There are so many things I love about it, from its portability to how it is an instant conversation starter in the airport (“Is that a ukelele?”).

    I’ve gone down the rabbit hole since 2008: I’ve had three custom “Charanguitars” built for me. They are a little bigger (but still smaller than a guitar) and use the Charango tuning (I have an acoustic 10-string, an electro-acoustic 10-string, and an electric 5-string that looks like a mini Les Paul).

    I play them 5 hours a day.

    To Lou: I’d say look at Mandolin straps. There are a few custom strap makers that are easy to find online.

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