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Woodworking with Diego de Assis

  Gotcha, Cavaquinho! 1 of 6  


Diego de Assis


 Gotcha, Cavaquinho! or  ďApanhei-te, Cavaquinho!Ē in Portuguese, is the original title of the song composed by Ernesto Nazareth and others in 1914.

 The cavaquinho is one of the string instruments of the flat top family, like guitars, violas and mandolins.

In Brazil, itís a traditional instrument that belongs to sessions of choro or samba, but it hasnít a defined origin: some might say itís Portuguese; others, itís Greek. It can be also found in Hawaii as a popular instrument.

The cavaquinho can be described as a small acoustic guitar. It was named like this because of its size: ďcavacoĒ in Portuguese, is a wood leftovers or a small piece of wood.


In this article, Iíll describe some techniques for the cavaquinho building, according to the experiences acquired from the Luthieria Classes Iíve been teaching.


Just as in the furniture building, the woods used in musical instruments building must be dry and mature in order to avoid movement. The woods for the back and the sides have less than 3 mm of thickness. Woods not seasoned well will easily crack at this thickness. In addition to that, we have to take into consideration the sound quality of these woods, tapping it.

To build a cavaquinho, we use several kinds of wood, according to musician and luthier needs. The most expensive and tone colored instruments are usually made of noble wood such as rosewood, maple, spruce, mahogany, cedar, among others. Some have national source (Brazil), others are imported, like ebony and other timbers.

Each kind of wood has its own function in the instrument. In order to achieve a large extend and a good sound handling, we have to use hard and soft woods. The soft woods from the soundboard are responsible for the sustainably of sound since they vibrate more than the hard ones. The hard woods from the body (the back and the sides) must reflect the sound, being, therefore, responsible for the volume.

The neck and the fretboard must proportionate good structure in order to sustain the strings and they are made with hard wood. These combinations determine the lightness, the sonority and the esthetic of the cavaquinho.

For the cavaquinhos construction in the Luthier Classes, Iíve made a varied selection of woods, all of them from Brazil and easily found in the lumbers of Rio de Janeiro city:

  • Top: Simaruba, Cedar or Curupixa;

  • Back, Sides, small pieces and Neck: Cedar or Curupixa;

  • Fretboard and Bridge: Amaranth;

  • Peghead veneer, Rosette, Purfling and others: Brazilian Walnut, Pau-Marfim, Caviuna, Brazilian Tulipwood and various other.

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