Mariachi, the lively and vibrant folk music from Western Mexico, is among the best known types of Mexican music. The characteristic rhythmic vitality of Mariachi music is a harmony of several violins, one or two trumpets, plus at least three guitars: an acoustic guitar, a vihuela (five-stringed rhythm guitar) and a guitarron (large acoustic bass guitar). Each of these specialized Mariachi guitars has a distinctive tone which helps create the essential Mariachi sound. How, then, are these Mexican guitars made?
While the various Mariachi guitars have different shapes and sizes, they are all typically made from mahogany, cedar, rosewood, or some combination thereof. Some 'luthiers' (guitar-builders) may also use walnut, maple, spruce, cypress or other exotic woods to make guitars for Mariachi groups. The most expensive Mariachi guitars are also frequently decorated with inlaid mother of pearl, abalone shell or exotic hardwoods.
The acoustic guitar used by most Mariachi ensembles is a "requinto guitar", but some Mariachis may have a "guitarra de golpe" in its place. The requinto is a small classical acoustic guitar, normally around 20% smaller than a standard acoustic guitar would be. Although small, Mexican-made requinto guitars generally have a slightly deeper body than standard classical guitars. The requinto guitar has six nylon strings, typically tuned with the A-D-G-c-e-a notes.
The Mexican vihuela is a small five-stringed guitar that produces a high-pitched tone. The overall length and dimensions of a vihuela are usually smaller than the requinto guitar, but the vihuela has a special "vaulted" back. This curved back increases the depth of the guitar's body cavity and helps amplify its sound. Like the classical acoustic guitar, a vihuela has nylong strings, but three of them are tuned up one octave to produce a higher tonal register.
The guitarron is an enormous acoustic bass guitar, almost the size of a cello. The giant, wooden body of the instrument achieves a loud, deep sound due to its great size. The guitarron has a flat front like other guitars, but like the vihuela it has a vaulted back made from two pieces of wood joined together at a V-shaped angle. The convex-curved back of the guitarron helps create its deep, booming voice.
Many of the world's Mariachi guitars are made in small shops in the town of Paracho in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Paracho produces thousands of guitars every year for the Mexican and American music markets, including for Mariachi ensembles. Likewise, there are a number of luthiers and guitar companies in the United States who make high quality instruments for the Mariachi market. Some widely known makers of Mariachi guitars include Candela's Guitars, Paracho Elite Guitars, Camino Guitars, Paco Castillo, Lucida Guitars, Barraza Guitars and Lauren Guitars. There are also a number of large guitar manufacturers producing instruments intended for, or at least suitable for, use in Mariachi music.
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