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Cuban Tres – Tres Cubano (The 3 String Cuban Guitar)

July 23, 2020

The first thing to understand about the Cuban tres is that it is a rhythm instrument. Even though it looks like a guitar, the actual playing of it is rhythmic with melodic lines. Chords are seldom “strummed”, and in many styles the Cuban tres strengthens the melody line a 3rd or a 6th above with rhythmic fills in between.


The traditional tuning of the Cuban tres is as follows G,C,E where the E string is the same as a guitar high E. In a modern context the tuning is often up a step and is A,D, F# or an open D chord.

Cuban Tres Tuning
Cuban Tres tuning

More Information

Books and other stuff about the Cuban Tres

My book Cuban Masters Series: Cuban Tres goes into much more depth about all aspects of the Cuban Tres and includes many more examples and patterns. Get it here: Cuban Masters Series: Cuban Tres

Notation Examples

Example 1

This first example is from Con Sabor Al Guaso, De Guantanamo, and features an almost Changüi feel. It is not really Changüi for several reasons.
  1. The bongo is playing martillo.
  2. The phrase starts on the beat, where Changüi would start with a sixteenth note pickup beat.
  3. There is a 2-3 clave pattern where Changüi would really have quarter notes (clave hadn’t been invented yet!).
Having said that, if you listen to the entire track, you will find that there are many elements of Changüi in the Tres part. Especially the solo sections.  
Typical Cuban Son Pattern
Typical Cuban Son Pattern

Example 2

The second example (also from Con Sabor Al Guaso) is a son pattern from the Baracoa region of Cuba. It is still considered Cuban Son because there is no montuno section. The syncopation is not as prevalent as in the prior son, and this hints of a more modern interpretation.
Son example on Cuban tres
Son example on Cuban tres

Example 3

This third example is from my private collection of recordings and is an example of a Modern Son tumbao. This example has many embellishments and also includes some double stops. Note that it emulates the piano part more than the old styles. And although clave is more difficult to discern for most people it is still 2-3.
Son Moderno - Modern Son Cuban Tres Pattern
Son Moderno – Modern Son Cuban Tres Pattern

More Cuban tres parts

Here are some more examples of playing the Cuban tres: Cuban Tres Examples – Son Montuno