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Complete guide to Charango care


The charango, a traditional musical instrument native to the Andes, is one of the most important symbols of the culture of this region. Its ancient, exotic and penetrating sound has the power to captivate even those who have never had any contact with its culture of origin.

To keep the distinctive character and charm of this sound intact, basic maintenance is essential. Like any lutherie musical instrument, the charango needs some attention, ranging from periodic care to an overhaul over the years, to make sure that no major damage or defects occur. This article is intended to guide you and point you to the most important issues to consider in taking care of your charango and its sound.

Various technical terms are used in the article. If you are in doubt, refer to this guide to understand what parts of the charango are involved.

Climate and how it affects a charango

Most charangos available are crafted by luthiers in Bolivia, in cities with environments very different from those in Italy or Europe. La Paz, Potosí, and Oruro are key cities for instrument production, located about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, in conditions of very low humidity. The wood used for these instruments has been aged and dried for years in the luthier’s workshop under these environmental conditions. When brought to a more humid environment and much lower altitude, the materials of the instrument experience considerable stress. If the charango is well-made, there shouldn’t be major issues. However, no matter how skilled the luthier, it’s impossible to guarantee that the instrument won’t undergo structural changes. Let’s explore what this entails.

Climate variations significantly affect the wood and glue joints of the charango. During the first few months or years in a very humid environment, the wood may slowly move. These movements are normal — and in fact, the sound of the instrument “matures” over time — but sometimes they can cause lifting or warping at the bridge, soundboard, or fingerboard. If these movements exceed a few tenths of a millimeter, the charango strings might end up either too far or too close to the fingerboard, resulting in dead notes, buzzing or other sound issues.

Likewise, the charango is sensitive to temperature changes. Prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, whether too hot or too cold, can significantly damage the instrument. In particular, never leave your charango in the sun, even if it is inside a case: the heat could increase the tension on the strings and soundboard, leading to cracks in the wood or the detachment of delicate parts like the bridge or the soundboard itself. I know this from personal experience: here’s a photo showing severe damage caused by this exact issue.

Charango rotto
A damaged charango: after a bump, string tension literally tore the soundboard apart

Instrument break-in

Due to the reasons mentioned above, it’s completely normal for the sound of the charango to change during the first few months to the first two years. Wood is a living, biological material that is not only affected by climate conditions but also by the vibrations produced by the strings. Over time, with constant playing, the soundboard will adjust to these natural vibrations, enhancing the instrument’s original voice. This process is known as “breaking in”: the true tone of a charango can only be appreciated a couple of years after its construction, provided it is played regularly.

During this period, it is important to monitor the height of the strings from the fingerboard, as well as the condition of the fingerboard and soundboard. If you notice any warping when looking at the instrument from the side, and if this warping tends to increase, it’s advisable to consult a skilled luthier. If you don’t have any contacts in your area, feel free to reach out to me, and I will be happy to help you find one. Any luthier who works with classical guitars and mandolins should have the necessary expertise to evaluate and repair a charango.


To keep your charango in the best condition and preserve the brilliance of the sound, it is most important to keep it clean. Dust, finger grease and moisture tend to settle not only on the board but also in the slits of the capitals, negatively impacting the sound of the instrument. The best time to clean it is at string changes: take a few minutes to go over the bridge, fingerboard, and tuning machines with a very soft brush and a slightly damp cloth. Never use cleaning products! Water – very little – is more than enough. Help with a Q-tip or some sharper tool in case of hard-to-remove deposits, but remember that gentleness is essential to avoid scratching the instrument.

When cleaning, pay special attention to the bridge and bone, which are key parts in the production of sound. It may happen that without the strings, the bridge bone comes off its housing: this is not a defect, since the bone is held in place only by the tension of the strings. Simply reposition it and reinstall the new strings. Clean them carefully, avoiding damage to the carvings or decorative details.

Charango strings can accumulate grease or sweat from the skin, which can affect the sound. Clean the strings periodically with a soft cloth or microfiber cloth and be sure not to leave them wet to avoid excessive moisture.

Cleaning frequency depends on use and environmental conditions, but generally it is appropriate to clean the instrument at least once a month.

Replacing the strings

Strings are the very core of an instrument. Regarding tuning you may have a look at this specific article, but here it should be considered that even if strings do not break it is advisable to change them periodically. Strings are made of materials that inevitably age and deteriorate. After a few months, even if you do not play the charango, it is normal for their sound to decay and for the natural brilliance and sustain of the notes to fade a bit. In this case, changing the strings is the best choice to maintain a present and clear sound. It is difficult to say how often to make a mute change-only your ear can judge. In general, if they are heavily used, strings are unlikely to maintain good performance beyond 4 to 5 months after fitting.

If you have doubts about which strings to choose, I recommend reading this article to get an idea of the tonal differences of various strings and different materials.


Minor damage and repairs

It may happen that your charango suffers bumps, falls or scratches. The most dangerous knocks are those involving the soundboard, which unlike the guitar or other plucked instruments is almost always hollowed out in one piece and has an area where the wood grain tends to be “head-on”-this is the lower part of the soundboard. A blow in that area is likely to create a great deal of damage to the instrument, and can lead to the soundboard becoming unglued or the case cracking.

Most of the time, however, the damage is minor and consists of scratches or small cracks in the surface varnish. These are cosmetic problems that do not involve serious issues and do not impact the sound in any way.

Use a case!

The best way to protect the charango is to keep it safe inside a good case. The most reliable are hard cases that are custom built for instruments. If you are asking a luthier to make you an instrument, it may be worth adding the cost of a hard case. This increases the final price and also the cost of shipping, since the weight almost doubles. However, it is the best way to ensure that your charango will travel safely to you.

Simple, soft black canvas cases, often included with instruments, do not provide adequate protection for the charango against impacts and heat. If possible, choose a padded case instead

If you don’t have a case and are looking for something, consider browsing ukulele accessories, particularly for tenor or baritone ukuleles. Their sizes often match those of the charango, and you can often find a suitable option without spending too much.