Useful tips and information
Cavaquinho - product guide
A little bit of history:
The cavaquinho started its long journey around the world in Portugal. Not only because of its handy size it was a perfect travel companion for many sailors and globetrotters. The small 4-stringed instrument travelled via Madeira, the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands all the way to Brazil and further on to Hawaii where it became the Ukulele. In Brazil it is manily played in the Choro and Samba, either with a plectrum or just picked with the fingers. Whether used for solo parts or for accompaning vocals, the cavaquinho has become an elementary part of Brazilian music!
How can I tune my cavaco? There are 2 popular ways of tuning cavaquinhos:
Traditional tuning: d'-g'-b'-d“ (ré'-sol'-si'-re") - the widely spread 'afinação natural'.
Modern tuning: d'-g'-b'-e" (ré'-sol'-si'-mi") - those of you who already play the guitar will probably prefer this way to tune as you don´t have to learn much new. With the modern tuning, the cavaco basically uses the 4 highest notes of your guitar one octave up, so simply play like on your guitar, but without the 2 lowest strings.
Depending on what the musician prefers, there are of course other personal ways of tuning.
What differences are there in terms of the sound?
Typically the sound of a cavaquinho varies between an ukulele-like thin, light sound up to the more voluminous, warm and full sound of a guitar. Those different types of sounds that originate from the way the instrument has been built and its materials, are commonly used to represent certain styles and their pieces. The materials used for building the cavaco are the most important factor of sound influence. For example, a cavaco with a solid soundboard will have a stronger and clearly more differing sound than an instrument with a laminated board. Top-class instruments are completely made of solid wood.
What different kinds of Cavaquinhos are there?
Of course the is a wide range of different cavacos. First they differ from eachother by their construction and the material used for building them:
- Body and soundboard made of laminated wood
- Body made of lamitated wood, soundboard made of solid wood
- Body completely made of solid wood
Do the design and the material affect the sound?
Definitively! Though it is difficult to make a general statement whether a tone is warmer or softer or more brilliant due to the cavaquinho´s construction. In any case, a high percentage of solid wood will provide a higher-grade sound quality. As in the case of guitars, for making the sound boards of cavacos, conifer wood is often used. Laminated wood is the cheaper version - no doubt, still, in terms of sound quality this version remains remarkable! Another factor of influence is the body sides and, of course, the processing of the instrument. The cavaquinhos we offer are all approved and of reasonable up to high-end quality made by renowned brands for the different needs of musicians ranging from the professional soloist to the cavaco-learner.
Also Cavaquinhos have different technical equipment:
- acoustic (without pick-up)
- with piezo (passive)
- with piezo and additional volume- and sound control (passive)
- active sound control
Active vs. passive pick-up:
- active pick-ups have an integrated preamp, passive ones don´t.
- active pick-ups need electricity to function, passive ones don´t.
- active pick-ups are a bit more expensive, but therefore have clearly better sound quality, less feedback, practical integrated tunding devices and additional sound control systems directly on the instrument.
Acoustic or with pick-up?
If you start playing a cavaquinho, you will quickly notice that already in a small pagode ensemble a little amplifying does not do any harm and is often quite necessary in order to stand out between all the percussion instruments and the vocals. If you invest just a little more, the electric version is practically essential. Anyone who has once stood on a stage with a bateria knows how much more fun it is to play a cavaco with a well reachable volume control button.
In Brazil it is unusual to amplify cavaquinhos with integrated microphones. The danger with microphones is that the pick-up is strongly influenced by the very loud percussion instruments. That is the simple reason why especially in Samba schools the most common and popular version for pick-up systems without nasty feedbacks and technical reactions is the piezo pick-up.
Cavaquinho or banjo?
Another close friend of the cavaquinho family is the Brazilian banjo. It is actually not so different in it´s size and shape, but does indeed have a very different sound: Concise and a lot more percussive than a cavaco, rich middle tones, penetrating and a lot louder due to its resonator. Traditional instruments have a wooden neck and body, only the resonator is made of metall. The sound is transmitted through a goatskin head. You play and tune it exactly like a cavaquinho, typical for playing a banjo are the fast and percussive rolls inbetween.
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