Cavaco aka Brazilian Cavaquinho

old Di Georgio Cavaco Brazilian Cavaquinho
1930's Di Giorgio
2007 Rozini Estudante Acoustic Cavaco Cavaquinho Ukulele Corner
My 2007 Rozini Estudente
Marques Cavaco Brazilian cavaquinho
Marques (less traditional)
Del Vecchio type 7 Cavaco Vibrante brazilian cavaquinho
Del Vecchio Cavaco Vibrante
Clave Banjo Cavaquinho Brazilian Cavaco
Clave Banjo Cavaco
Prism Electric Cavaco brazilian Cavaquinho
Prism electric Cavaco
The Brazilian Cavaquinho or Cavaco as it has become known, is not directly related to the Ukulele but does come from the same Portuguese root instrument the Cavaquinho. As the name suggests it is produced and used mainly in Brazil, but the idea was exported to the Cape Verde Islands in the 1930's where there is now some production of Cape Verde Cavaquinhos, and the big Chinese chordophone makers have started to produce some for export, (mainly back to Brazil)

The instrument itself has a scale of around 350mm (14in) is usually steel strung, (some of the Chinese made ones are nylon strung), and is suppose to be tuned D~G~B~D. Though the scale length can vary from about 330mm to 370mm (13½ to 14½in - so in Ukulele terms between a large Soprano and a small Concert Scale) they are all considered the same scale and there are no larger or smaller variants. The instrument usually has a thinner, more Mandolin like neck than a Portuguese Cavaquinho or Ukulele and comes with a zero fret, no truss rod and a fretboard that overlaps the body and runs down to the sound hole. The body itself is noticeably larger that an equivalent scale Portuguese Cavaquinho or Ukulele, being much wider, a bit longer and usually deeper too, (though I have seen some Ukuleles that have an equally deep body). For most of its existence and still the majority made today there is a very traditional look; Figure 8 shape, large central circular sound hole with a large rosette around it, saddled bridge glued to the soundboard, slot head headstock, spruce, cedar or occasionally pine soundboard with darker mahogany, rosewood or similar back and sides. This tradition is breaking down a bit now with things like moving the sound hole, cutaways and decorated soundboards, but its still not as free as some of the Guitar and Ukulele designs. There are also some solid body electric Cavacos being made and these definitely go more along the electric guitar line in terms of design.

Though there are no alternative scales for the Cavaco there are two major variants, the Banjo Cavaco and the Cavaco Vibrante.

The Banjo Cavaco was developed like all Banjo related instruments as a way of making it louder in the era before electronic amplification. Banjo Cavaquinhos are also very traditional in their look but their tradition goes back to the Portuguese Banjo instruments so they are all bracketless and enclosed with a metal resonator extension grill that is set flush to the, (usually quite large), Banjo head.

The Cavaco Vibrante was also developed as an attempt to increase the acoustic volume in much the same way as in Cone Resonator instruments, however it is a truly Brazilian invention and nothing directly to do with John Doperya's inventions, (it may have been inspired by them?). Quite how it works I don't know? but apparently it doesn't work as well as a resonator cone which is the main reason the technology has never traveled outside of Brazil and these days you often see them with a pickup as well. That said I have never seen a Cavaco with a cone resonator?

The Cavaco is still very popular in Brazil, far more so than the Ukulele, and so is widely made there. It is much easier to find them on sale or find local luthiers who make them than it is a Ukulele. However because the Cavaco is much less famous outside of Brazil that the Ukulele, as soon as they are taken from Brazil they are assumed to be Ukuleles.

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