Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

How to tune a Charango

Introduction: how Charango tuning works

One of the most distinctive features of the charango is its many strings. In its standard version, it has ten strings, with eight of them paired in unison (producing the same note). Compared to a guitar, it has four more strings, and compared to a ukulele, it has six more. This characteristic gives the charango its unique and surprisingly powerful sound, but it also means that tuning issues are more prominent, making knowledge of charango tuning essential.

The unison strings are significant. Although they produce the same note, the two strings never vibrate at exactly the same frequency: there is always a phase difference of a few hundredths of a tone. This difference creates a slight dissonance, not enough to be perceived as out of tune, but enough to add more dynamics and body to the note played. The effect is similar to that of a choir, and it’s no coincidence that in lutherie, double strings are called courses. The charango, therefore, is technically a five-course instrument. Although there are ten strings, for convenience in this article, we will refer to them as pairs of strings.

How the Charango is Tuned

The standard charango is tuned to the notes G, C, E, A, E. This means that when all strings are played open, the chord Am7 is produced. This particular tuning, known as temple natural in traditional charango terminology, is shown in the diagram below. The notes above the nut indicate the open strings, without pressing any fret. Looking at the charango fretboard from the front, the pairs of strings are ordered from the first on the right to the fifth on the left.

The first pair is tuned to E, the highest note.

The second pair is tuned to A.

The third pair is tuned to E, with one of the two strings an octave lower.

The fourth pair is tuned to C.

The fifth pair is tuned to G.

How to tune your Charango

If it’s your first time, tuning can be tricky, but it becomes very simple with time. Tuning works the same way for all stringed instruments: by turning the peg corresponding to the string, you either increase or decrease the tension. This raises or lowers the pitch of the string until it matches the desired note. But how do you know when the note is correct? There are two ways: either use a tuner or tune by ear.

Using a tuner

If you’re a beginner, I recommend buying a clip-on tuner; it’s inexpensive and very convenient. Alternatively, you can download an app that does the same thing: it detects the note being played and tells you whether to increase or decrease the tension of the string. Remember to familiarize yourself with the Anglo-Saxon notation of notes because tuners almost always use this. I find DaTuner to be very good, but any tuning app will work.

Start with the first string and proceed in order, moving to the next only after tuning the previous one. The goal for the first string is to achieve the note E. Pluck only the string you want to tune. Check which note is produced, and if it’s lower, increase the tension until it reaches the optimal frequency, and vice versa if it’s higher. The tuner allows you to tune precisely, indicating when the frequency is optimal to avoid any dissonance.

Tuning the charango by ear

Tuning by ear is much more difficult, but with time and practice, the notes become clear. There is an important advantage: to learn, you need to train your perfect pitch. Over time, you will be able to immediately tell if an instrument is in tune or not, and which string is out of tune, even during a performance. It’s challenging at first, but with practice, it becomes automatic: I encourage you to try! The secret is to listen to the sound of two unison notes and learn to recognize if one is flat or sharp compared to the other, adjusting it accordingly to reach unison.

Third String (Low E):

  • Tune using the E from the fourth octave of the piano or the highest string of the guitar.

Fifth String (G):

  • Press the third fret of the third string (Low E). This produces a G.
  • Tune the fifth string (G) to this note.

Second String (A):

  • Press the second fret of the fifth string (G). This produces an A.
  • Tune the second string (A) to this note.

Fourth String (C):

  • Press the third fret of the second string (A). This produces a C.
  • Tune the fourth string (C) to this note.

First String (High E):

  • Press the fourth fret of the fourth string (C). This produces a High E.
  • Tune the first string to this note

Verify the tuning

The best way to ensure your instrument is tuned correctly is to trust your ear: play each pair of strings open. If you hear dissonance or sense something isn’t right, it indicates one or more strings are out of tune. Use a tuner to double-check if you’re unsure.

Note: If it’s your first time tuning the instrument, it hasn’t been tuned for a long time, or you’ve just installed new strings, it’s normal for the tuning to be lost within a few minutes. Strings need time to settle and stabilize their tension. If you’re changing strings, you may need to repeat the tuning process several times consecutively. In the following days, check and adjust the tuning until the strings hold their tension consistently.

Changes in temperature or humidity can also affect tuning. If the instrument is exposed to heat or sudden environmental shifts, you may need to retune it. Strings are sensitive to these conditions.

The type and quality of strings significantly impact not just the sound but also the tuning stability of your instrument. Now that you’ve learned how to tune your charango, if you’re considering the best strings for your instrument, consult a comprehensive article that includes comparisons to help you make an informed choice.

Best of luck with your tuning!