The Guitarra de Golpe is one of the original Mariachi, however, it is rarely seen in today’s schools and professional mariachi ensemble. Historically, this instrument is the only rhythmic instrument in the mariachi ensemble of old. It pre-dates the Vihuela Mexicana and the use of the Guitar in Mariachi music. The Guitarra de Golpe was an accompaniment to the harp. The Guitarra de Golpe was the instrument preferred by the mariachi musicians in southern Jalisco and Michoacán.
The size of this instrument is between the Vihuela Mexicana and the modern acoustic classical guitar. The sound box is deeper and has a flat back. This instrument has frets; however, instead of using nylon for the fret material, the Guitarra de Golpe utilizes fixed bronze strips.
There are several tuning schemes for the Guitarra de Golpe to give it the pitch and timbre between the Vihuela Mexicana and the 6-nylon string acoustic classical guitar. The most common tuning is as follows for the 5-string Guitarra de Golpe:
From the 5th string to the 1st string – D – G – B – E – A (also known as the “Tecalitlán tuning”)
Playing the Guitarra de Golpe
It is strummed with the right hand using all of the fingers. Traditionally, it is strummed without using any type of plectrum or púa. This strumming technique produces a rich, bold percussive sound. The optimal spot to strum this instrument is close to the sound hole.
The Guitarra de Golpe doesn’t play the melodic lines. It is more of a strummed, percussive instrument with pitch. It is considered a stringed chordal instrument. The role of the Guitarra de Golpe functions as the secondary or tertiary support instrument to the Guitarroón of the mariachi ensemble. It provides the rhythmic, syncopated pulse and musical guide along with the Guitarrón, the Vihuela Mexicana and the guitar. (These instruments together are commonly referred to as the rhythm section or las armonías).