There is perhaps, no more widely used musical instrument in the various genres of Puerto Rican music, than the guitar. With few exceptions, the guitar, or one of its variations, figure prominently in ensembles small and large, with a sound that is well known throughout the world.
By guitar, we can say the six stringed instrument brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish colonists, or any of several variations developed in Puerto Rico or other parts of Latin America.
The modern guitar was developed in Spain in the 15th century but had four strings until a century later. Quickly adopted throughout Spain, the guitar displaced earlier instruments such as the vihuela. By the next century it had also become popular in the rest of Europe, where it was known as the "Spanish guitar" we know today.
Since there are many excellent resources describing the classical Spanish guitar, our discussion will be limited to those instruments widely in used in Puerto Rico and native Latin American instruments that evolved from it.
Of primary interest in the music of Puerto Rico when it comes to derivations of the guitar, is the native cuatro. But there are several interesting guitar derivatives, some of which were commonly used in Puerto Rico.
The "guitarra" is a smaller, four string verion of the classic European or Spanish guitar. It was quite popular in Spain and France. It is believed that the Puerto Rican cuatro was derived from this instrument. The guitarra became very popular thopughout large portions of Latin America, including Puerto Rico.
Also believed to be a descendant of the "guitarra", is the "tiple". Although others believe it was derived from smaller "guitarrillos", also of Spain. An instrument used in Puerto Rico since the early days of the Spanish colonial era, the tiple may have 3, 5 or 5 strings. Tuning differed widely by region.
In Puerto Rico the tiple was often used for accompaniment on sacred ocassions or together with the cuatro and bordonúa in secular orchestras for ballroom dances such as the minuet or waltz.
The bordonúa is larger than its cousins and originally designed as a bass instrument. It was virtually replaced by the classic guitar until it was revived in the 1920- 30's as accompaniment to melody instead of the bass role.
In Puerto Rico, there were several noted bordonúa artists that developed distinctive playing styles known as "lloriqueo" and "gemido", which produced a unique tremelo. Sadly, apart from special orchestras devoted to keeping folk music alive, the bordonúa has again faded into general disuse.
Although the trés is associated with Cuba, version were produced and used in Puerto Rico; meeting with some success among the many guitar variations available to the island's artists. The version in Puerto Rico had the same tuning as its Cuban counterpart but differed in its strings and shape.
Also smaller and higher pitched than the classic European guitar, is the 6 string requinto. It differes from some of its cousin in terms of its construction as well since it is internally braced and has shape much like the modern guitar.
The requinto was widely used throughout Latin America although stringing, tuning and playing techniques differed from one country or region to another.
This small instrument is actually a cross between a guitar and a cittern. It was widely known in Spain and throughout Latin America. With 12 strings, the bandurria is shaped more like a cittern and has a short neck with 9 frets. This instrument has a sound that is somewhat similar to the modern cuatro.