The charango is a small Andean stringed instrument of the lute family, originated in Quichua and Aymara populations in post-Columbian times, after America met the stringed instruments as they were known in Europe, and surviving in what are today the Andean regions of Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, north of Chile and the northwest of Argentina, where it is widespread as a popular music instrument.
About 66 cm long, the charango was traditionally made with the shell of the back of an armadillo (quirquincho, mulita), but also it can be made of wood which is informed as a better resonator than the first one and it’s the most common material found today, eventually there can be found charangos for children made of any of these or of calabash. Many contemporary charangos are now made with different types of wood. It typically has 10 strings in five courses of 2 strings each, but other variations exist.
The charango is primarily played in traditional Andean music, but is sometimes used by other Latin American musicians. A charango player is called a charanguista.
The typical construction is a one-piece body and neck, classical guitar style peghead and machine tuners (occasionally positioned perpendicular to the headstock), spruce top, and some degree of ornamentation. Variations include a separate glued-on neck, palisander or ebony vertical tuning pegs, guitar-style box construction, or even a hollowed-out neck. Another variety is a neck with two holes bored 3/4 of the way through, parallel to the fretboard and close to the headstock (an innovation said to color the instrument’s tone). The size and shape of the soundholes is highly variable and may be dual crescents, round hole, oval hole, or even multiple holes of varying arrangement.
More recently solidbody electric and hollowbody acoustic-electric charangos are coming on the scene. The solidbodies are built very much as miniature electric guitars, whereas the acoustic-electrics are usually more like a standard acoustic charango.
In his book The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara describes an instrument that he identified as a charango while near Temuco, Chile in 1952. It was “made with three or four wires some two meters in length stretched tightly across tins fixed to a board. The musician uses a kind of metal knuckle duster with which he plucks the wires producing a sound like a toy guitar.”
Wikipedia, Charango http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charango
Youtube videos about charango instrument