I found this funny instrument in a box with random stuff from my parents’ house. My uncle brought it back from his travels when I was a little boy, I think. As far as I know it’s from Argentina.
This would probably be illegal today, I know. I’m pretty sure these armadillos are on some endangered species list. And if I tried to cross a border with it, I’d probably end up in jail for violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora…
But since there’s absolutely nothing I can do for this poor animal now, I could as well try to at least give it back its second life as a musical instrument...
But the question is: what kind of instrument is it?
The scale length is about 25 cm (9 7/8 inch – even shorter than a sopranino uke) and it sounds, well, pretty thin. Actually it doesn’t even sound that bad considering how tiny its body is (rarely has the word ‘body’ been more appropriate for a part of an instrument – it’s really kind of macabre to play the carcass of an animal…).
Two of the pegs are broken and a third one is completely stuck, so I’d have to carve new pegs (which sounds like a pain in the ass) or maybe put some ukulele tuners on it. And I’d probably have to change the strings. It’s strung with very thin nylon strings. They all seem to be the same gauge (fishing line, I guess?) The string spacing is weird: two single courses, a double course in the middle, and two more single courses. And at the nut the string spacing seems to be totally funky (or maybe just random?)
Does anybody know what kind of instrument this is and how to tune it?
(And what kind of fishing line to to string it with? - I know absolutely nothing about fishing and I'm sure there's like three billion different kinds of fishing line one could buy...)
That's a charango, though they are usually 10 strings (five double courses, tuned GCEAE) and are 370mm scale. Probably yours was meant to be a souvenir rather than a playable instrument but don't let that stop you from having fun experimenting with it.
Thanks, guys! Could just have googled "armadillo guitar", of course, but it's much nicer to get info from you folks here on CBN...
... so this is the toy version of a charango, I guess. Most likely made out of a pichi or dwarf armadillo native to Patagonia (thanks, Wikipedia!) You're probably right, Korrigan, that this was a cheap souvenir, something to bring back home to boast about the exotic places you visited without setting you back too much... and my uncle never struck me as the musical type.
The funny thing is that while some things seem to be done very sloppily (the string spacing at the nut and the fret markings for example) other things seem to be properly crafted (the neck and soundboard are carved from a single piece of wood and have a nice shellac-ish finish on them).
... anyway: I'll probably not put more tuners on it because I'm not sure the headstock would withstand that. And I'll have to stick with the two single courses, double course in the middle, and two more single courses, because otherwise I'd have to make a new bridge. But I'll put a properly spaced nut on it and figure something out for the pegs. And then I'll tune it G-C-EE-A-E to emulate the standard charango tuning.
As for burying it: I agree with you, Richard, that one should not kill wild animals for the sake of building instruments, of course. But who knows what the story of this thing is. Maybe the armadillo's meat served as a family dinner? And the armadillo charango thing seems to have a long and venerable tradition. So burying it instead of using it might also not be the respectful thing to do... plus I have to admit that since I caught the CBG bug I can't help the urge to make every strange broken instrument I find (and every remotely box-like object) playable...