Different types of mariachi guitars

Mariachi music, with its vibrant melodies and infectious rhythms, is synonymous with Mexican culture.

At the heart of every mariachi ensemble are the guitars, each with its own unique role and sound. 

In this comprehensive article, we embark on a journey to discover the diverse types of mariachi guitars, unraveling their origins, playing techniques, and contributions to the enchanting world of mariachi music.

From the traditional Vihuela and powerful Guitarrón to the classic Acoustic Guitar and lesser-known variants like the Guittara de Golpe, Requinto, Bajo Quinto, Jaranas, and Leona, we delve into the captivating details of these instruments that shape the mariachi sound.


The Vihuela is a five-stringed instrument resembling a small guitar, originating from the aristocracy before the 18th century.

While it shares its name with the European Vihuela, the Mexican Vihuela used in mariachi bands differs in construction and sound. It serves as the high-pitched harmony instrument, complementing the traditional guitar’s melody.

With its mini-guitarrón-like body and high tuning, the Mexican Vihuela produces a sharp and quick attack, perfect for the rapid triplet strums characteristic of mariachi music.


  • High-pitched complementary sound adds brightness and harmony to the ensemble.
  • Sharp and quick attack ideal for rapid triplet strums.
  • Mini-guitarrón-like body and high tuning create a unique sound.


  • Limited melodic range compared to other guitars.
  • Learning the specific tuning can be challenging for guitarists.


The Guitarrón, a large stringed instrument, serves as the bass foundation of the mariachi ensemble. Although resembling a guitar, it originated in 16th-century Spain and has since evolved into a unique instrument.

The Guitarrón’s considerable size allows it to project its deep bass sound without amplification, although it may be miked in certain situations. Played with the thumb and index fingers, the Guitarrón produces rhythmic walking lines and melodic elements that add depth and richness to the ensemble’s sound.


  • Provides a powerful bass foundation to the ensemble.
  • Deep and resonant sound adds richness and fullness to the music.
  • Large size allows for projection without amplification.


  • Requires physical strength to handle due to its considerable size.
  • Limited melodic capabilities compared to other guitars.

Acoustic Guitar

The Acoustic Guitar, smaller in size compared to the Vihuela and Guitarrón, plays a vital role in grounding the mariachi ensemble and carrying the melody.

It serves as the recognizable instrument that provides a solid foundation for the range of pitches produced by the band.

The Acoustic Guitar shares captivating stories of love, manliness, politics, death, and rural living through its enchanting melodies found in ballads, romantic songs, lively tunes, and marching rhythms.


  • Carries the melody and provides a recognizable instrument in the ensemble.
  • Offers a versatile range of pitches and tones.
  • Provides a solid rhythmic and harmonic foundation.


  • Smaller size may result in less projection in larger venues.
  • Limited bass response compared to the Guitarrón.

Guitarra de Golpe

The Guitarra de Golpe, another traditional mariachi instrument, resembles the standard acoustic guitar. Although it has been mostly eliminated from modern mariachi bands, some traditional ensembles still prefer its authentic sound and appearance.

The Guittara de Golpe is used like the Vihuela, serving as a slightly smaller alternative.


  • Authentic sound and appearance in traditional mariachi ensembles.
  • Similar playing style to the Vihuela.


  • Less commonly used in modern mariachi bands.
  • Limited availability and recognition compared to other guitars.


The Requinto, a smaller version of the classical guitar, features six strings and a higher pitch. Known for its intricate fingerpicking patterns and delicate melodies, the Requinto adds an expressive and emotional quality to mariachi music.

With tuning similar to a guitar capoed at the fifth fret, the Requinto often plays melodic solos and fills the gaps between vocal phrases, infusing the ensemble with a vibrant and energetic sound that adds depth to the overall musical arrangement.


  • Delicate melodies and intricate fingerpicking patterns add an expressive quality to the music.
  • Higher pitch provides a bright and lively sound.
  • It offers an opportunity for guitarists to explore new sounds.


  • Limited range compared to standard guitars.
  • It may require modification of standard guitar techniques to accommodate the higher tuning.

Bajo Quinto

The Bajo Quinto, although not officially considered a mariachi instrument, plays a significant role in norteño and Tex-Mex conjunto music.

With its ten strings tuned in perfect fourths, the Bajo Quinto offers both rhythmic and melodic versatility.

It is a modernized version of the bajo sexto, featuring a baritone 12-string sound that produces powerful bass notes and resonating chords.


  • Powerful and versatile instrument for rhythmic and melodic duties.
  • Offers a rich baritone 12-string sound.
  • Adds depth and floorboard-rattling power to the ensemble.


  • Not officially considered a mariachi instrument.
  • It may require adjustment of playing techniques due to altered tuning.


Jaranas belong to a family of small, eight-stringed instruments used in the traditional music of Veracruz, known as “son jarocho.”

There are several types of jaranas, including the jarana primera, jarana segunda, and jarana tercera, each with its distinctive size and tuning. These instruments are played with a strumming technique called “rasgueado,” creating an energetic and driving rhythm that is characteristic of son jarocho music.

Jaranas contribute to the lively and festive atmosphere of mariachi performances, adding a unique flavor to the ensemble’s sound.


  • Adds a unique flavor to mariachi performances.
  • Strumming technique creates an energetic and driving rhythm.


  • Primarily used in specific regional styles of mariachi music.
  • Limited recognition and availability outside of traditional contexts.


The Leona is a larger bass version of the jarana, featuring four to six strings and a deep, resonant sound. Like the jaranas, it is also used in son jarocho music and provides low-end harmony in the mariachi ensemble. The Leona’s body is similar in shape to a jarana but has a longer neck to accommodate the lower-pitched strings.

Its rich and warm tones add depth and complexity to the overall sound of the mariachi band.


  • Deep and resonant sound contributes to the low-end harmony.
  • Adds complexity and richness to the ensemble’s sound.


  • Less commonly used compared to other guitars.
  • Limited recognition and availability outside of traditional son jarocho music.


Mariachi guitars encompass a diverse range of instruments, each with its own characteristics and contributions to the melodic tapestry of mariachi music.

From the bright and rhythmic Vihuela to the resonant and powerful Guitarrón, and from the melodious Acoustic Guitar to the traditional Jaranas and the bass-like Leona, these guitars play a vital role in shaping the unique sound of mariachi ensembles.

Whether strumming vibrant chords or delicately fingerpicking intricate melodies, these guitars come together to create lively and beautiful music that has captivated audiences for generations.

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