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William Cumpiano Workshop for the Arts

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Tiple construction manual
(in English) for William Cumpiano's treble workshops held in Chicago. Sylvia Alotta drawings

One of the new projects that the Center is currently implementing with enthusiasm and interest is linked to the study, research, rescue and dissemination of the traditional musical instruments of Puerto Rico—particularly those of strings and percussion.


This effort began in the summer of 1974 when our founder invited Pedro C. Escabi Agostini to offer, to three hundred students of the superior schools of the southwestern region of the country, a seminar to collect folklore. Hundreds of interviews were recorded on cassettes. A considerable number of these recordings were of instrument-making artisans.


In the 1990s an alliance was established with the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. With the advice and photographic material of its founders, Juan Sotomayor, William Cumpiano and Wilfredo Echevarría, the Contest for the manufacture of the early cuatro, the bordonúa and the tiple was held in 1999; in 2012 we held the Meeting of Researchers and Scholars of Traditional Puerto Rican Instruments in Ponce; In 2014 we organized the My Music exhibition at the Museum of the Americas in San Juan. Then in 2018 the exhibition was moved to Casa Paoli where it is one of its permanent exhibitions.


As soon as possible, a series of pre-vocational workshops aimed at young people who wish to learn the techniques used to assemble the suffering tiple and the future manufacture of our musical instruments will begin at the Casa Paoli facilities. We have decided that this new project be called Taller de Arte William Cumpiano in recognition of his great support and his career as a master luthier.

Assembly workshops
of Traditional Puerto Rican musical instruments


A soundboard is glued to the sound box of a tiple.


The Puerto Rico Folklore Research Center, Inc., continues to carry out educational activities for the benefit of our people. The assembly workshops of traditional musical instruments of Puerto Rico was held at our headquarters at Casa Paoli, Calle Mayor 2648 in Ponce at the end of 2022. The teachers were Professor William R. Cumpiano, a internationally renowned luthier r, and Professor Carlos I. Rosado, a prominent Industrial Education teacher in the Department of Education of Puerto Rico. It was another project of Casa Paoli sponsored by: Sociedad Amigos del Centro-Casa Paoli, Puerto Rican Foundation for the Humanities (National Endowment for the Humanities), Flamboyán Fund for the Arts and the Special Joint Commission on Legislative Donations.

The Tiple of Puerto Rico

Many of the investigations carried out on the string instruments of our country conclude that the tiple was the first string instrument that emerged among Puerto Ricans. The tiples appear for the first time with the arrival to the island of the Canarian population element, many of them were farmers and with their families emigrated from the Canary Islands thanks to a decree of King Charles II in 1695. By that time the Canaries had their own tiple and it is likely that some brought their tiples with them. During the following centuries, and as the colony grew, the new Puerto Ricans created their own tiples. Each region had its particular type. ]

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In 1997, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst honored him “for his work in preserving Puerto Rican culture through the construction of traditional string instruments and undertaking the task of teaching their art and origins to others.” That is just a recognition granted to Puerto Rican William R. Cumpiano who, from his residence in the United States, continues to spread the greatness of the country's music, especially through the construction of instruments.


Cumpiano was born on April 30, 1945 in San Juan. His first studies were at the primary and secondary school of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and at St. Joh's Preparatory School in Condado, Santurce. After graduating in 1968 from the Pratt Institute art academy in Brooklyn, New York, with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Design, Cumpiano worked as a furniture designer at the companies Knoll International and Eppinger Furniture for two years.


He began studying the art of guitar building in New York and then continued in New Hampshire, with master luthiers Michael Gurian and Michael Millard. A luthier is a person who builds or repairs stringed instruments. William Cumpiano established his first workshop in 1974. Since then he has built more than three hundred plectrum instruments, primarily by hand, for professional musicians in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Among his clients are the famous American guitarists Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Michael Lorimer, John Abercrombie, Country Joe MacDonald, the Todd Rundgren band, June Millington, and Joel Zoss.


One of the most important initiatives that this luthier uses to disseminate his art is the “Puerto Rican Cuatro Project”, co-founded by him together with journalist Juan Sotomayor. That effort received the endorsement and financial support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. As a result of that organization, Sotomayor, Cumpiano and Professor Myriam Fuentes published the book “Strings of my land, A history of the native string instruments of Puerto Rico: Cuatro, Tiple, Vihuela and Bordonúa, in 2014.


In 1987 Cumpiano together with Jonathan Natelson had published “Guitarmaking: Tradition & Technology, A Complete Reference for the Design & Construction of the Steel-String Folk Guitar & the Classical Guitar”. It has sold 80,000 copies. He is also the author of dozens of articles on guitars, string instrument construction, string manufacturing, and Puerto Rican instruments. Cumpiano is a contributor to the question column of “Acoustic Guitar Magazine.”

Renace un Olvidado Tiple Requinto Costero de 1898

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The delicate sound of native stringed instruments that in ancient times could be heard in all the fields of the island — silent sounds as a result of social changes and the disappearance of the peasants who knew how to play them — springs up again, a product of the efforts of researchers. , folklorists and artisans. The most recent example of this effort is the recent fabrication of a series of painstakingly copied trebles of genuine relics recently found in foreign archives not available to the general public.

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In April 2021, the museology student Norman. R. Storer Corrada contacted master luthier William Cumpiano, stating that during his recent visit to Washington DC as part of his professional studies at the Museum of [North] American History — one of the city's many museums under the auspices of the Institute. Smithsonian — discovered, within archives far from public view, a wonderful collection of Puerto Rican instruments dating back to the century before last — ancient fours and trebles, all protected from the ravages of time, all in virtually original condition. This was a finding of great importance among scholars of the history of traditional Puerto Rican music and crafts, because no more than six or seven native instruments of more than 80 years of existence have been preserved on the island, and among them the majority have survived in poor condition. The situation is undoubtedly due to the little value that historically has been given to the demonstrations of the island's peasants and therefore almost all their work, in terms of daily utensils and handicrafts, has been relegated to neglect and the moth.









A number of these artifacts ended up in the archives of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, all carefully documented and preserved. And that is how the student Storer Corrada found them, who presented William Cumpiano with photographs of the ancient Puerto Rican instruments that the museum preserved, along with the attached files that document their measurements and provenance. Cumpiano, a master craftsman who had participated in an intensive 25-year study of the island's indigenous instruments, created a construction plan for one of the trebles in the collection, based on photos and measurements provided by Storer Corrada.

The instrument in particular was part of three trebles donated more than a hundred years ago to the Institute by Colonel Paul E. Beckwith, who on tour of the island obtained three trebles as a souvenir, and at the same time took a photograph of it, dated 1899 to three street musicians in Ponce playing guiro and guitar, and a musician playing one of the three trebles that later ended up in the Washington DC museum. In October, Cumpiano, together with CIFPR director Nestor Murray, completed in their workshop three copies of the same instrument, made entirely of native woods, mahogany and yagrumo, faithfully following the measurements and details of the original instrument, including its wooden pegs and its frets, or notes, linked by string. Two of the instruments will be part of Casa Paoli's permanent collection of native instruments and the third will be used to raise funds for the museum.

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Hear and watch above the lecture (in English) given in June 2022, in front of the American Musical Instrument Society, AMIS, revealing the existence of collections of native instruments in North American museums, and the process of creating replicas of 19th Century Puerto Rican instruments in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The speakers are professors attached to the Folklore Research Center of PR: Norman Storer-Corrada, Noraliz Ruiz and the luthier William R. Cumpiano

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