Guitarra Baiana

This site is dedicated to a musical instrument from Brazil known as the Guitarra Baiana.
It originated as an electrified hybrid between a Brazilian cavaquinho — a small guitar of Portuguese origin also ancestral to the ukulele — and a mandolin, using the string gauge and the short scale of the former and the tuning (GDAE) of the latter. Initially referred to 'Cavaquinho Elétrico' or 'Pau Elétrico' (='electric log'), it came to be called Guitarra Baiana (=Bahian Electric Guitar) in the late 1970s. The instrument is intimately connected to Brazilian Carnival, where it is used extensively, especially in the Carnaval da Bahia of Salvador, Bahia State.

Nowadays, the Guitarra Baiana is usually manufactured to resemble a miniature electric guitar, very similar to the mandocaster, sporting a strat-shaped body with cutaways and a whammy bar, frequently also a (low) 5th string. Few people know, however, that the little instrument is by no means a copy of anything at all: With it's birth going back to the early 1940s, in Salvador, Brazil, where it apparently evolved in isolation from the efforts of contemporary US developers like Les Paul or Leo Fender, the Guitarra Baiana can claim to descend from it's own distinct line of prehistoric solid body electric guitars.


To the degree in which the instrument counts as a mandolin — in spite of the differences in measure and the lack of double strings, just like in the case of the mandocaster — the Pau Elétrico built by Osmar Álvares Macêdo and Adolfo 'Dodô' Nascimento around 1942 or 1943 (left) constitutes the eldest known solid body electric mandolin, as until then North American developers and manufacturors hadn't applied the principle of solid or almost-solid bodies to mandolins to the same extend as they had to guitars. In addition, it also stands out as the first headless solidbody electric plucked instrument. Seen with todays eyes, side by side with the Chapman Stick or the headless bass models of Ned Steinberger the Pau Elétrico appears almost incredibly modern.


The fact that the Pau Elétrico surfaced so distantly from the United States, the epicentre of general electrification at the time, adds charisma to a fascinating paragraph in the history of electric instruments that the Guitarra Baiana certainly deserves. More importantly though, it's creators must be credited with having set important accents in Brazilian popular music, by inventing an 'endemic' Brazilian version of the modern solid body electric guitar, and by supplying it with an indiicidual musical language and style before anything of such could be imported from abroad. Finally, the Guitarra Baiana is responsible for revolutionizing Bahian Carnival in the 1950s, as essential ingredient in of the Trio Eletrico tradition which since then became the single most important trademark of the Carnaval da Bahia and Brazlian Street Carnival.

This site intends to inform about the world of ths unique little devil, from its beginnings to present day, as well as its players and its builders.


Hope you enjoy.
The authors.