What is a Trembulo?

11 Apr

I discovered this instrument recently called a trembulo and decided to do some more investigating.

So, what is a Trembulo?

According to Wikipedia, “The trembulo is a stringed instrument. It is thought to have been first developed in Portugal around 1600.” So it seems Portuguese in origin.

A trembulo has 4 courses of nylon strings (they were made of gut before the invention of nylon). What is unusual about the trembulo is that sometimes some of the courses are single and some are double, or they are all double, but never single. So the trembulo can have 8 strings (all double) 7 strings (1 single, 3 double) or 6 strings (2 single, 2 double). The 6 string version is called a trembulo fusao (fusion trembulo). The 4 courses are often tuned all or mostly in octaves. This obviously provides quite a unique sound!

The higher pitched courses are always doubled. It is the lower pitched ones that are sometimes single. This is the opposite to the lute, where the highest course was single (called a ‘chanterelle’).

What does a Trembulo look like?

Other than the 4 courses, little else is standardised other than the nylon strings and the tuning. The scale length can be between 40 and 50 cms (15 to 20 inches). The body shape can also vary. A guitar shape seems most common, but it can also have a lute/mandolin body shape, or one with two points at the top like a medieval Guitarra Latina. The bridge is usually fixed, like a guitar or lute, not floating like a mandolin.

How is the Trembulo tuned?

The standard tuning is ADBE, but it can also be tuned DGEA, BEAD or EADG, depending on the scale length and the type of music being played. After trying both, it seems likely that the ADBE AND DGEA tunings are designed for accompaniment, and the BEAD and EADG tunings are designed for solo or melodic playing.

Where did the Trembulo originate from?

As above, the Trembulo seems to have come from Portugal. That, with the 4 courses, suggests a link to the Cavaquinho. Although that has steel strings nowadays, it had gut in the past (hence why it evolved later into the ukulele). Also, 1600 was the era of the Renaissance Guitar, which had 4 gut stringed courses, just like the trembulo. So it seems likely to have come from the Renaissance guitar. However, there is one interesting difference. The Renaissance guitar had the highest pitched course single, like the lute. The trembulo has the opposite, as mentioned above. There is also the possibility that it could have come from trade with Italy, as it has similarities with the Mandolin family (4 courses and the mandolin previously had gut strings) and it shares one of it’s tunings with the Chitarra Battente when it still had 4 courses (the fifth was added later on). It could also be related to an archaic form of any of the Portuguese violas, which could have had 4 courses and had the fifth added later.

Pictures of the Trembulo

I have been unable to find any pictures of Trembulos with mandolin/lute body shapes, but this is probably because they are indistinguishable from a mandolin/mandola. However, here are the other two common body shapes.

1st row: Guitar body shapes.

2nd row: ‘Guitarra Latina’ or Keyhole body shapes.



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