Liutaio Mottola Stringed Instrument Design



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Colombian Andean Tiple

The tiple (pronounced TEE-play) is a guitarlike instrument from the Andean region of Colombia. It is a steel strung instrument, with a scale length approximately 80% of that of the guitar, with strings arranged in four courses, each with three strings. It is tuned like the top four strings of the guitar. The E string course contains three identical strings. All other courses contain a wound string at the nominal tuning and two plain strings tuned one octave higher. This stringing gives the instrument a ringing, harmonically rich sound which is well suited for use as a single instrument to accompany vocals. This has been one of the main uses of the instrument over its approximate 100 year history. It is also used as the alto instrument in the Colombian plucked string quartet, which consists of two bandolas (flattop mandolinlike instruments), a tiple and a standard classical guitar. In recent years a number of players have developed a solo melodic style of playing, taking the tiple out of its traditional musical roles.

Initially appeared: July 6, 2016
Last updated: March 29, 2017


About the Instrument

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The tiple pictured is modeled after those built by Alberto Paredes, considered by many to be the top builder of this type of instrument as well as guitars and bandolas. Although essentially retired from a long career of plucked instrument lutherie, Sr. Paredes now focuses his attention on violin construction. Daughter Anamaría and son José Alberto carry on the family tiple building tradition. The Paredes tiple is the subject of a detailed plan drawn by Alberto Paredes and available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

The instrument pictured features a bolt-on neck with an adjustable trussrod but otherwise stays pretty close to the original Paredes design. The top is made of western red cedar. Back and sides are made of ipe, a hard and very dense wood usually used for decking and not often used as an instrument wood. I wanted to try this species after hearing what remains for me one of the finest sounding classical guitars I've ever heard, an instrument built by Robert Ruck with ipe back and sides. Fretboard and bridge of this tiple are Indian rosewood.

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Tiples frequently make use of fan-braced tops. Although this construction is more commonly found in nylon strung instruments, it works very well in the steel strung tiple.

I was very fortunate to attend a presentation Alberto Paredes gave at the 2008 Guild of American Luthiers convention on the traditional Colombian Andean stringed instruments. As part of the presentation he showed a short video of a guy playing solo tiple. The virtuosity displayed in this short clip was amazing, and I later asked Alberto who the player was and where in Colombia he lived. His name is Fabián Gallón and it turns out he lives here in the USA.

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Plans and More Information

Although I do not offer downloadable plans for this tiple here, as mentioned the plans on which this instrument are based are available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

Construction Notes

The tiple is essentially a small steel string guitar and is constructed accordingly. Action is set at approximately 3mm on the D string at the 12th fret. Care must be taken when setting saddle intonation. The instrument is short and the primary strings are under low tension. This means small changes in tension and saddle location have big effects on intonation. Note that the octave strings will not share the same saddle locations as the primary strings. The saddle locations of the octave strings need to be moved forward (toward the nut) from the location of the primary string in each course. Note that although human musical pitch interval sensitivity is not all that great (with the exception of the unison), it is at its best for the octave interval. All this by way of saying that it is not likely that a tiple builder can get away with simply crowning the bridge saddle straight across. Each string will have to have intonation set individually.

Strings for the Tiple (Cuerdas para el Tiple Colombiano Andino)

Although there are string sets available for this instruments from a couple of manufacturers I find these to be lacking in general quality. Also the string size generally found in these sets for the B course octave strings is too thin and is easily broken during tuning. I put together my own sets out of high quality D'Addario single strings, as shown in the following table.

Tiple String Set
# Primary string (all strings in E course) Octave strings
Note Diameter D'Addario Part# Note Diameter D'Addario Part#
1 E .009" PL009
2 B .018" NW018 B' .008" PL008
3 G .020" NW020 G' .008" PL008
4 D .025" NW025 D' .010" PL010