Portuguese guitar

Discover fascinating facts about the guitarra portuguesa

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017

Picture by Luis Benard da Costa Ghude


12 strings

  • The Portuguese guitar is a pear-shaped plucked string instrument with twelve steel strings that are strung in six courses of two. It’s used for solo music as well as accompaniment.
  • It was first used in the 13th century, amongst troubadours and minstrels. Since the 19th century, the Portuguese guitar has become unmissable in fado, Portugal’s best-known folk music. Outside Portugal, the instrument sometimes makes an appearance in Celtic and western folk music.


Coimbra & Lisbon

  • Just like two different fado styles, the Lisbon and the Coimbra style, the Portuguese guitar also makes the distinction between these cities and thus comes in two models.
  • The Coimbra model is usually of simpler construction. It has a longer string length and its head ends in a tear shape decoration. With the Lisbon model, the ornament on the head of the guitar is spiral shaped. This model has a larger soundboard, a narrower neck profile and a brighter sound. Learn more about the history and transformation of the Portuguese guitar here.



  • Playing the Portuguese guitar is traditionally done with the dedilhadotechnique. In this technique, only the thumb and the index finger are used; the other fingers rest below the strings, on the soundboard.
  • The strings are only picked with the corner of the fingernail, not with the fingers themselves. After crossing the string, the index finger changes direction and hits the string with the back of the nail. Instead of their finger nails, some players use a plectrum. These guitar picks were originally made of tortoiseshell, but nowadays they’re usually nylon or plastic.


Makers & musicians

  • Portuguese guitars are still built in Portugal the traditional way. Families have passed on their knowledge and craftsmanship from generation on generation of guitarreiros. Instruments made by the Grácio family and Álvaro Ferreira are considered one of the best.
  • Pictured in the background is the Portuguese fado guitarist António Chainho. Other famous musicians who’ve played the Portuguese guitar include the late Armandinho, Artur Paredes and his son Carlos Paredes, who was the most internationally known Portuguese guitar player.


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017


Portuguese guitar

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