Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries have no shortage of traditional string instruments, with such impressive staples as the vihuela, the cavaquinho, and the charango playing a special role in their musical history and evolution. And the tiple is on that list, with a longstanding presence in Latin America and beyond, as well as nearly 20 unique variations on its standard form.

Here’s what to know about the tiple, including a quick look at its many regional forms.

The tiple is the national instrument of Colombia. (Via @tiplerequinto)

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What Is a Tiple?

The national instrument of Colombia, a tiple is a stringed instrument used for traditional styles of music like bambucos and pasillos. It’s considered a chordophone, meaning it makes a sound when its strings are vibrated (other examples of chordophones include the classic guitar, the piano, and the harp). 

It’s hard to know for sure exactly when the tiple was invented, though we do know that it has been around since at least the early 1750s, when musicologist Pablo Minguet e Irol first made mention of it.

The tiple is guitar-like in appearance but only about three-quarters of the size. It ranges in size from about a soprano ukulele to a tenor ukulele, and like the ukulele, you can sometimes find the tiple used in Hawaiian music, though it is much less common for that purpose.

Number of Tiple Strings

The Colombian tiple features 12 strings divided into four triple courses, which are groups of strings that are played together as one. In three of the four courses, the first and third strings are tuned an octave higher than the middle string, which impacts both the sound and the tuning practices of the instrument. Tiple strings are made of steel and are fingerpicked or played with a plectrum.

There are some cases where a tiple will not have 12 strings. For example, there is a 10-string version known as the 10-string ukulele, with four courses arranged in sets of 2-3-3-2. The 10-string ukulele is one of the largest tiples and is similar in size to a tenor uke.

The Puerto Rican tiple is another example of a tiple with a non-traditional number of strings. This variation has four or five strings, which are arranged in single courses.

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Types of Tiples

There are many types of tiples, some of which have more in common than others. The differences between tiples mainly come down to regional influence, and different types may present with unique builds, string variations, sounds, or tuning methods.  

Colombian Tiple (Tiple Colombiano)

This is the original tiple, and it was largely influenced by the vihuela of the Spanish Renaissance. The precise origins of the Colombian tiple are unknown, but the instrument has a longstanding presence in rural Colombian culture, particularly within working class communities.

Puerto Rican Tiple (Tiple Puertorriqueńo)

The Puerto Rican tiple evolved from the Spanish guitarrillo back in the 18th century. It is one of three instruments found in the Puerto Rican orquesta jibara (a traditional mountain folk ensemble)—and the smallest, too.

Venezuelan Tiple (Tiple Venezolano)

This version of the tiple, known locally as a guitarro, is smaller than the Colombian tiple, though it shares the arrangement of having four triple-strung courses.

Tiple de Menorca (Spanish Tiple)

The five-string tiple de Menorca hails from Menorca itself, a Spanish Balearic island located in the Mediterranean Sea. These tiple strings are nylon, not steel, which creates a mellower sound that is the perfect accompaniment to the guitar for the fandango, a popular dance on the island. The tiple de Menorca is also known as the Spanish tiple, or tiple Español.

Cuban Tiple (Tiple Cubano)

On the Cuban tiple, you’ll find 10 total strings divided into five two-string courses. Along with the six-stringed Cuban tres, it holds a special place in Cuba’s musical traditions.

Tiple de Santo Domingo

Another 10-stringed tiple is the tiple de Santo Domingo, also known as the tiple Dominicano.  

Peruvian Tiple (Tiple Peruano)

In Peru, you’ll find a four steel-stringed tiple arranged in either four single-strung courses or two double-strung courses. Peru is also home to the banjo tiple, which has four two-strung courses.

Argentinian Tiple (Tiple Argentino)

The Argentinian instrument known as the tiple is actually just another name for the requinto guitar, a smaller version of the classic guitar with six strings.

Uruguayan Tiple (Tiple Uruguayano)

Uruguay is another country where the requinto guitar is sometimes referred to as a tiple.

Portuguese Tiple (Tiple Português)

In Portugal, the tiple is one of a few small, guitar-like instruments that are played; the others being the braguinha and the rajâo—both of which made their way from Portugal to Hawaii, where they went on to influence the development of the ukulele.

Canary Islands Tiple (Timple)

The tiple of the Canary Islands is known as the timple, and it is structurally quite a different instrument from the Colombian or Puerto Rican tiple. The modern timple has five strings, but some musicians still play the instrument with just four of the strings, much like a four-string ukulele.

North American Tiple (Martin Tiple)

The 10-stringed North American tiple was created by C.F. Martin & Co, a famous American guitar company, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the Martin tiple. The instrument features two double-strung courses and two triple-strung courses.

Electric Tiple

Last up is the electric tiple, which can be found in a 12-string Colombian version and a 10-string Martin version.

Puerto Rican Tiples

The tiple variations don’t stop there. Within Puerto Rico alone, there are a handful of additional tiple varieties, including these popular versions:

  • Tiple doliente: The most common variety; featuring five single-coursed strings.
  • Tiplón (tiple con macho): A large tiple with some similarities to the American banjo.
  • Tiple requinto de la montaña: A three-stringed tiple and a smaller version of the doliente.
  • Tiple requinto costanero: A smaller version of the tiplón.
  • Tiple grande de Ponce: The largest tiple in Puerto Rico.

Take Your String Skills Beyond the Guitar

There is so much more to stringed instruments than the guitar. If you’re interested in expanding your skills, try out the tiple or another Latin American chordophone. You could also try the lute or mandolin, or learn how to play the ukulele. There are so many options available, and so many beautiful string instruments to explore.

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Written by:

Laura Mueller