When you listen to certain styles of Latin music, be it flamenco or mariachi, you might hear a guitar with a slightly different tonality from the acoustic models you're used to. These qualities arise from two sources: the instrument's design and the techniques used for playing these particular styles.
To begin, no single mariachi guitar exists. Rather, both classic and modern-day mariachi music use two types of stringed guitar-like instruments: the vihuela, the precursor to the acoustic guitar, and the guitarrón mexicano, a larger, hollow-body stringed instrument designed to hit the bass notes but different from acoustic bass guitars.
Mariachi music itself emerged in the 18th century, bringing together Spanish and indigenous elements. At the heart of the sound is the vihuela, a five-string, lute-like instrument dating back to the Spanish Renaissance.
The guitarrón mexicano, meanwhile, has its roots in the 16th century and, while visually similar to the modern-day acoustic guitar, was developed as a separate instrument closely related to the bajo de uña. As another difference, this instrument is fretless and requires players to double notes by the octave. Due to the pitches generated, it serves as the bass within a traditional mariachi ensemble.
Other styles of Latin music employ the Spanish guitar. A type of acoustic guitar, it's also called a classical guitar and utilizes nylon strings, as opposed to steel, for a warmer tone. Setting Spanish guitar music apart from traditional classical, players utilize their fingers - and even grow their fingernails - to pluck the strings, instead of using a pick.
Performance wise, the Spanish guitar is still played in the classical form, without a strap and often balanced on a player's knee for support.
Visually, the flamenco guitar is nearly identical to the Spanish guitar. However, its construction sets it apart in a few key ways.
For one, flamenco guitars have a thinner top wood and less bracing on the inside and usually are made of Spanish cypress, sycamore, rosewood or spruce. These aspects give it a brighter tone with more of an edge and percussive quality, and help it get more volume in a live context. As well, you'll also spot a tap plate on a flamenco guitar, whereas this feature is absent from Spanish and classical guitars.
Find Mariachi and Latin Guitars at Alamo Music Center
Whatever your style, Alamo Music Center offers a selection of mariachi and Latin music guitars that help you achieve the sound quality you and your ensemble need. We support all purchases with 48-month, no-interest financing, extended warranties, and optional trial lessons.