Tiple Explained

Tiple is the Spanish word for treble or soprano, is often applied to specific instruments, generally to refer to a small chordophone of the guitar family.

Colombian tiple

The Colombian tiple is an instrument of the guitar family, similar in appearance although slightly smaller than an acoustic guitar. Tiples usually have 12 strings grouped in four tripled courses, although some tiples have only ten strings. The four courses of metal strings are tuned to the same pitches as the four upper strings of the guitar: DGBE. The middle string of each of the three lowest triple courses is tuned an octave lower than the other two strings in the course.

This tiple is associated with Colombia, and is considered the national instrument. Tiple virtuoso David Pelham has this to say about the Colombian Tiple: "The tiple is a Colombian adaptation of the Renaissance Spanish vihuela brought to the New World in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadors. At the end of the 19th century, it evolved to its present shape. Its twelve strings are arranged in four groups of three: the first group consists of three steel strings tuned to E, the second, third and fourth groups have a copper string in the middle of two steel strings. The central ones are tuned one octave lower than the surrounding strings of the group. This arrangement produces the set of harmonics that gives the instrument its unique voice."

Puerto Rican tiples

The tiple is the smallest of three string instruments of Puerto Rico. According to investigations made by Jose Reyes Zamora, the tiple in Puerto Rico dates back to the 18th century. It is believed to have evolved from the Spanish guitarrillo. Most Tiples have four or five strings and most tiple requintos have three strings. Some tiples have as many as 6 strings and as few as a single string, though these types are rare.

The main types of tiple in Puerto Rico are:

Spanish tiple

In Spain the tiple has fewer strings than the guitarra, and is strummed. This tiny guitar has four strings and is found in Menorca. Other types of small guitars in Spain are the guitarra, guitarrico, requinto, braguinha, and rajâo. Actually the requinto (a 3/4 sized guitar) was developed in Latin America, the braguinha, and rajâo are from Portugal and Madeira.

Canary Island timple

Migrating from North Africa in the 16th century to the Canary Islands and then on to Murcia, the timple has become the traditional instrument of the Canaries. In the north island of Tenerife some players omit the fifth string, tuning the timple like a ukulele, though this is seen as non-traditional. The popular timple tuning is GCEAD.

American Martin tiple

The American tiple was redesigned by the famous American guitar company C.F. Martin & Co. for the William J. Smith Co. in New York. This tiple had ten Strings. The two outer string courses are doubled; the top course are unisons, and the bottom course contains an octave higher double; the two courses in the middle are tripled, with the octave lower principle in the middle and the octave higher strings on either side of the triple courses. It was first created in 1922 and is tuned like a ukulele in D tuning: ADF#B. They are still available from Martin as a special-order item.

The Tiple Cubano

The Cubano is the tiple of Cuba. There were two versions one with 5 single strings and one with 5 double strings for ten strings in all. Famous Cuban author Miguel Teurbe Tolón y de la Guardia published a book about it in the United States intitled "El Tiple Cubano y El Tiple Libre".

The Tiple Dominicano

Dominican Republic Dominicano tiples have five double strings. The soundbox looks like a bandurria. It is sometimes referred to as The Tiple de Santo Domingo (Capital of the Dominican Republic).

The Tiple Argentino

The six string Argentino tiple is found in the land of Argentina. It resembles a small guitar.

The Tiple Peruano

Peruano tiple is from Peru. There are two versions one with 4 single strings and one with 4 double strings.

The Banjo Tiple

As with the Peruano, the Banjo tiple is also from Peru. As its name says it is a tiny Banjo with 4 pairs of double strings.

The Tiple Uruguayo

The Uruguayo, also know as the Guitarra Requinto is from Uruguay. It has 6 single strings and looks like a small guitar.

The Tiple Venezolano

This Tiple from Venezuela, looks like a smaller version of the Colombian Tiple. It has 4 pairs of triple strings and is also known as the Guitarro, Guitarro Segundo, and the Segunda Guitarra. There is another tiple played in Venezuela but is a member of the Venezuelan Cuatro family of instruments, also called a Tiple and know as the Cinco y Medio or Cinco. It is very much like the Cuatro but it has 5 strings instead of four.

Non-traditional tiples

Several instruments have been developed outside of the direct Latin tradition, which either bear the name tiple, or are variants upon the Latin tiple.


The Strumbola is a tiple variant invented in 2003 by American jazz musicians, in an effort to create an string instrument on which jazz chordal forms are intuitive and accessible. The instrument is intended to serve in the rhythm section of a jazz ensemble.

Marxochime "Hawaiian" tiple

The Marxochime Hawaiian tiple bears no resemblance to the traditional tiples, instead resembling a zither. it is player with a combination of plucking, strumming, and playing with a slide similar to a lap steel guitar. The instrument is one of many zither variants marketed within the United States during the early 20th century, of which only the autoharp ever achieved lasting popularity. The instrument carries the "Hawaiian tiple" name solely for marketing purposes, as interest in Hawaiian music and culture was high in mainland America during the period when the instrument was marketed.

Resources and Sources

For the Tiple of Colombia

For the Tiples of Puerto Rico

For the Tiple of Spain

For the Timple Canario

For the Martin Tiple

For the Tiple Cubano

For the Tiple Dominicano, Tiple Argentino, Banjo Tiple, Tiple Uruguayo, and the Tiple Venezolano

For the Marxochime Hawaiian Tiple