Cuatro Shaped Object

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Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Karl Wicklund » Mon Aug 26, 2013 4:27 pm

This showed up at a local shop this weekend. I only had a few minutes to look at it, but it sure is curious.
wcuatro.jpg

The main feature of this instrument is the sadly 'repaired' crack running deep and wide from the side of the neck to the heel. Just inside the sound hole, the crack has been reinforced with what appears to be a paint stir stick; the repairman's C-clamp left a dimple in the top, just visible at the upper left of the picture below.
wcuatrobridgerepair.jpg

In this picture you get a better look at the rough putty smeared into the crack. Examining the bridge, we realized it had been carved out in one piece with the top.
wcuatro bridgesadde.jpg

Looking closer, we saw that it wasn't just the bridge and top that were a single entity - the entire thing was hollowed out of one piece of wood. Neck, top and sides had been carved from a solid chunk. The growth rings are visible both at the neck at at the lower bout. The block was cut chiseled out of this piece as well. The back of the instrument is a separate plate from all appearances, but perhaps came from the same wood. It was hard to follow the grain lines. The sides and top had been thicknessed by hand, so far as we could tell. It was a fairly consistent 1/8 inch.
wcuatroheel.jpg
wcuatrotailfigure.jpg
wcuatrotailfigure.jpg (26.08 KiB) Viewed 4597 times

The tuners had been scavenged from some other instrument. The black inlay is roughly fit, but consistentwe suspected it to be piano keys. That made us think the saddle could be ivory from the same source. Grooves for the strings are clearly in five double courses, but oddly spaced. The headstock inlay is plastic chopped down from ...? The binding is painted on, with an engraved edge. The frets (also salvaged) are spaced unevenly.

Obviously some amount of care was put into the building of this thing. Thing that impressed us most was that the piece showed no signs of power tool work on it. This fellow knew *something* about working wood. However, this fellow did not know instruments. Did someone string this up and feel proud or terribly disappointed? It seems far too much work to have been a wall-hanger for tourists, but who knows. I find oddballs like this fascinating.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Warren May » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:58 pm

It does appear to be a cuatro. William Cumpiano would probably be able to tell you about it and he might be interested if it does have historical value for his Cuatro project. The cuatro rim and neck assembly would be like you are describing but the top and bridge from a single piece would make it very rare and unique. Being so careful with the thickness may mean it was meant to be played. Here's Cumpiano's site where he builds one in case you havent' seen his site...

http://old.cuatro-pr.org/Home/Eng/Instr ... othin1.htm

You might try contacting him with the pics to see if he's got any information. Neat instrument even for a wall hanger.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Yuri Terenyi » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:20 am

The unevenness of the frets might be from unequal temperament.... Though I doubt it myself, still, it's not impossible.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Karl Wicklund » Tue Aug 27, 2013 7:35 am

No, this wasn't systematically off. It's pretty clearly ill-spaced. For instance, the first three or four looked good, but the space between five and six was perceptibly wider than between four and five.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Simon Chadwick » Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:45 am

"the first three or four looked good, but the space between five and six was perceptibly wider than between four and five." - isn't that what you would expect from a non-equal temperament? i.e. the diatonic semitone from 3rd to 4th of the scale is wider than the chromatic semitones?

Carving the box from one piece is a very old tradition that was used for all instruments in early medieval times - glueing them up gradually took over in the centuries that followed. My vote would be on this being a genuine instrument made by a very traditional maker.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Karl Wicklund » Thu Aug 29, 2013 6:55 am

I'll see if I can pull out a picture of the fret board. Please explain more about unequal temperament; it must not be what I think it is.

I took a look at a few other cuatro sites, including the project Cumpiano is associated with, and this piece does seem more in line with traditional high-quality instruments than I initially assumed. I'll see if I can lay hands on it again, and get some real measurements - maybe get a look at the bracing inside.

Thanks for this input!
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Yuri Terenyi » Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:04 am

Simon Chadwick wrote:"
Carving the box from one piece is a very old tradition that was used for all instruments in early medieval times - glueing them up gradually took over in the centuries that followed. My vote would be on this being a genuine instrument made by a very traditional maker.


Quite true. Except I never heard of the entire front having been carved out of a solid piece of wood, and then the backplate added. Usually it's the other way round, the back and all carved, then the soundboard added, normally from a different type of wood.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Simon Chadwick » Sun Sep 15, 2013 9:59 am

Interesting comment Yuri. The instruments I'm most familiar with are the medieval harps, both Irish/Scottish and Continental, which have the soundbox hollowed out so the opening is at the back, and with a separate press-fit back board. But you are right, I can't think of a necked (lute-style) instrument hollowed out this way round. I have however seen Finnish kanteles carved in one piece with no back board at all - made with an open hollow back.

As for unequal temperament, it's not really a sensible name, as it would refer to any temperament or tuning that is not equal, and there must be hundreds of different ones! But the basic idea is that you have an octave which is fixed, and then you divide it into 12 steps. If they are all the same size you have equal temperament. If they are not all the same size, then some will be bigger than others.
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Re: Cuatro Shaped Object

Postby Josh Humphrey » Thu Oct 03, 2013 1:51 am

Interesting! I did some repair on a jarana Veracruzana the other day, all carved from a single bock but with the top glued on. It was striking to me indeed.
1260891_662982033724862_1845781973_n.jpg
jarana Veracruzana front


Here you can clearly see the grain continue around from the back through into the sides and neck:
993345_662982027058196_1387616161_n.jpg
Rear

I admire the work it must take to produce instruments this way!
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