What is the difference between a ukulele and a cavaquinho?

What is the difference between a ukulele and a cavaquinho?

The ukulele and the cavaquinho are two very popular instruments that still have their place in today's musical styles. However, it often happens to many people, interested (or even passionate) by one of these instruments to be mistaken by buying one instead of the other by accident. Indeed, it is quite difficult to differentiate the ukulele from the cavaquinho and vice versa. You will find in this article the few dissimilarities between the ukulele and the cavaquinho.

Their origins

If there is indeed a difference between the ukulele and the cavaquinho, it is their respective histories. Let's take the case of the ukulele first. This instrument was introduced to Hawaii in 1879 by Portuguese immigrants from the island of Madeira in search of sugar cane. According to the story, these Portuguese immigrants had come aboard a boat called Ravenscrag. On board this embarkation were the three men, namely José do Espírito Santo, Mnuel Nunes and Augusto Dias), Portuguese cabinetmakers, who took their cavaquinhos with them. According to legend, Hawaiians at that time were fascinated by the speed and movements made by the fingers and hands of the Portuguese when playing their cavaquinhos. It was then that the Hawaiians decided to call this instrument “ukulele”, meaning “jumping chip” in their language. The Madeira cavaquinho, also called machete (also classified as a form of the cavaquinho), then underwent some small changes in Hawaii and became the modern ukulele we all know. We can therefore see that the two instruments, the ukulele and the cavaquinho, in addition to sharing shapes and designs that are very close to each other, also share a story. We can thus conclude that the cavaquinho is the predecessor of the Hawaiian ukulele.

The difference in sound between the ukulele and the cavaquinho

We also notice that the sounds produced by these two instruments are not quite similar. Indeed, the typical sound of a cavaquinho is a little different from that of the ukulele. This is mainly due to the difference in the tuning of these two instruments. In the case of the cavaquinho, the tuning is most often done from bass to treble in DGBD, ie D – G – B – D (chord of G major). This linear tuning going from the lowest to the highest is opposed to the traditional tuning of the ukulele (GCEA). It must be recognized that these two instruments have in common a light and lively sound due to their relatively similar sizes and their high tunings. However, the cavaquinho sounds lighter and more temperamental, due to its standard DGBD tuning, which is a pitch higher than that of the ukulele (GCEA). The most glaring difference is that the sound produced by the ukulele is richer and hollow due to its nylon strings, while the cavaquinho produces a higher pitched and crisp sound due to its steel strings. 

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