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The VIHUELA MEXICANA is a traditional instrument used in Mariachi music. It is physically similar to the Guitarrón but on a smaller scale. The sound produced from this musical instrument is that of a tenor guitar. The body or the sound box is much smaller than a guitar, and the vihuela has a convex back. In Spanish, it is called “la joroba.” The tuning mechanism on the headstock is metal machine heads or wooden pegs, which is called las clavijas.

Viheula Tuning and Strings

The Vihuela Mexicana has 5 strings and is tuned similarly to the guitar. The difference is the  G,  D, and A strings are tuned an octave higher than a guitar. Thus it gives the instrument a higher pitch. Th The tension and gauge of the strings and the order of which they are applied to the instrument can vary depending on the type of sound desired from the vihuela.  These decisions have the ability to produce a soft sound or a punchy bold sound when the instrument is strummed. The strumming action is called a mánico. The strings used for the Vihuela Mexicana are monofilament nylon and in some preferred cases, nylon wound.


This instrument is strummed (los mánicos) with all of the fingernail tips to produce a rich, full and clear sound. A finger pick (la púa) on the pointer finger (1st finger – dedo índice) give it a brighter and clearer sound when strummed. Many vihuela players have longer than normal fingernails on their strumming hand to facilitate their playing technique and to get a clear crystal sound. The optimum spot to strum this instrument is between the sound hole and the point where the fretboard or neck meets the body of the instrument. This is the same linear area between the upper and lower bouts closest to the fingerboard. The frets on the Vihuela Mexicana are tightly tied nylon string.

The Function in Mariachi Music

Melodic lines are not usually played with the Vihuela Mexicana.  It is considered a stringed chordal instrument. The role of the Vihuela Mexicana functions as the secondary rhythmic support instrument to the Guitarrón. It provides the rhythmic, syncopated pulse and musical guide along with the Guitarrón and the guitar. The Vihuela Mexicana provides and maintains the tonality for the ensemble, which is the pitch preference. The GuitarrónVihuela Mexicana and Guitar together are commonly referred to as the rhythm section or las armonías).

The Vihuela Mexicana was the instrument preferred by the mariachi musicians in central Jalisco.

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