Sierreño Requinto Guitar Setup
Sierreño Requinto Luthier Services
A requinto-style guitar setup for Norteño music, especially Sierreño style music, is unique. A guitar setup for this genre requires a unique string configuration, custom tuning, and guitar modifications.
What Is Norteño Music?
Norteño music is a regional Mexican genre, as the name implies, originated in northern Mexico. The music is characterized by its waltz/polka tempo with socially relevant lyrics.
Sierreño is a particular style of Norteño music, typically played by three instruments (acoustic guitar, bass guitar, and accordion. Some Sierreño groups use two acoustic guitars,(bajo sexto and bajo quinto), plus a tuba, electric bass guitar, or drums. The popular guitars for Sierreño music are a bajo sexto and bajo quinto.
Example of Norteño Music
The Requinto (12-String Guitar)
A requinto guitar, often with a cutout body, is a smaller version of a classical acoustic guitar. For Requinto guitar tuning, the guitar is tuned a fourth higher than a standard classical guitar, to A2-D3-G3-C4-E4-A4. Regarding the Requinto, an article on Reverb.com states, “In Sierreño music, the 12-string guitar or requinto is preferred in part due to its higher range, allowing players to approximate the sound of a bajo sexto and play melodic arrangements in clusters of 16th notes, usually in the first two courses.”1.
Sierreño Style Tuning
The traditional bajo sexto and bajo quinto are tuned to standard E but with the first two string courses tuned 1/2 step sharp. Uniquely, the bajo quinto does not use a low E-string. Requinto guitar setups usually require a unique string configuration using matching strings in every course. This unique stringing method often requires other modifications to the guitar.
Modify At Your Own Risk
Per the staff at Takamine, they offer the following advice, "The unique string requirements create a substantial increase in tension on the guitar’s neck. It is a fact that the increased tension can severely damage an acoustic. An article on the Takamine website states, “Unless you are tuning down the guitar a whole step, this is just not a good way to treat your guitar. You would most likely cause problems that could severely, and possibly permanently, damage the guitar. If you are tuning to standard pitch, it is a much better idea to go with two extra-light six-string sets…”2
Our shop has completed many Requinto setups, all on Takamine guitars, and we’ve never had a problem. Our opinion is that the key is using the proper brand of strings, as even with the same size strings the tension varies a lot between manufacturers.
NOTE: Requinto modifications may void your guitar manufacturer’s warranty.
Strings, Tension, and Tuning
On a standard 12-string guitar the tuning, from low to high, is E A D G B E, however; the thin string on E A D G is tuned one octave higher, and the B E pairs are tuned to the same pitch. The typical string set for a standard 12-string setup includes one set of 10-47 and one set of 10-27 strings.
For a Requinto setup, you use two identical pairs of 10-47 strings, with each pair tuned to that same E A D G B E pitch. Our preferred strings are D’Addario XTAPB1047, XT Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings (extra light 10-47), which currently run about $15 per pack. This setup produces a fuller and richer sound, however; it comes with a price.
The necessary pair of 10-47 strings will substantially increase the amount of tension on the neck, and tension stress on the bridge. For this reason, it is highly recommended to have your luthier shop install a Bridge Doctor kit to counter the effects of this type of setup. Additionally, the nut slots will need to be modified to accommodate the new string sizes.
Common Guitar Modifications Required
There are luthiers, mainly in Mexico, that build guitars that are designed for the stresses of this type of setup. Many people purchase a standard acoustic 12-string guitar to modify for this style of music. If you are converting a standard guitar your luthier must do these tasks as part of their setup process:
- Install a Bridge Doctor to strengthen the guitar to withstand the increased string tension.
- Replace or modify the nut slots to match the new string sizes.
- Create a custom set of strings from 2 packs of strings.
- Adjust the truss rod (if so equipped) to counter the effect of string tension on the neck.
Popular Requinto Guitars
The best guitars made in Mexico for Sierreño music are the hand-crafted Paracho Elite Guitars. Per the Craftsmanship Initiative website, “In fact, the indigenous artisans in the town, already accomplished woodworkers, began making instruments in the mid-16th century when Spanish missionaries taught them the techniques. The first bishop of Michoacán, Vasco de Quiroga, famously assigned crafts to different pueblos surrounding the central town of Patzcuaro, which continue to be known for their fine copper, ceramic, weaving, and other arts. Paracho, with its stands of pine trees, became a wood-working town, and soon after the invention of the modern guitar, it specialized in lutherie.”3
In America, popular 12-string guitar brands used for a requinto guitar are Takamine, Hohner, and Oscar Schmidt.
If you enjoy learning, Sierreño music is a genre worth exploring. If you’re interested in playing a requinto you should contact a requinto guitar setup luthier to discuss your options.
FOOTNOTES & CREDITS
- 1 Pablo Dodero, “A Guide to Norteño and Sierreño Instruments”, April 29, 2020, Available from Reverb.com
- 2 Takamine Staff, “TAKAMINE 12-STRING SETUP – REQUINTO-STYLE”, June 23, 2020, Available from Takamine Guitars
- 3 Laura Fraser, “Mexico’s Master Guitar Makers”, Summer 2019, Available from The Craftsmanship Initiative
Photo Credit: MexicoDesconocido.com.mx