A tiple (English pronunciation: /'t?p?l/ or /'t?pli/ ; Spanish pronunciation: /'tiple/ , literally treble or soprano) is a plucked-string chordophone of the guitar family. A tiple player is called a tiplista. The first mention of the tiple comes from musicologist Pablo Minguet e Irol in 1752. Although many variations of the instrument exist, the tiple is mostly associated with Colombia, and is considered the national instrument.
The tiple Colombiano (Colombian tiple) is an instrument of the guitar family, similar in appearance although slightly smaller (about 18%) than a standard classical guitar. The typical fretboard scale is about 530 mm (just under 21 inches), and the neck joins the body at the 12th fret. There are 12 strings, grouped in four tripled courses. Traditional tuning from lowest to highest course is C E A D, although many modern players tune the instrument like the upper four strings of the modern guitar: D G B E. The outer two strings of each of the three lowest triple courses is tuned an octave higher than the middle string in the course (giving C4 C3 C4 o E4 E3 E4 o A4 A3 A4 o D4 D4 D4 in traditional tuning, or D4 D3 D4 o G4 G3 G4 o B4 B3 B4 o E4 E4 E4 in modern tuning). An 18 or 19 fret fingerboard give the tiple Colombiano a range of about 2-2/3 octaves, from C3 - G#5 (or A5). The tiple is used for many traditional Colombian music including bambucos and pasillos. It serves both as an accompanying instrument and for soloing. One of the main composers of tiple music is Pacho Benavides.
David Pelham says of the Colombian tiple: "The tiple is a Colombian adaptation of the Renaissance Spanish vihuela brought to the New World in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadors. At the end of the 19th century, it evolved to its present shape. Its twelve strings are arranged in four groups of three: the first group consists of three steel strings tuned to E, the second, third and fourth groups have a copper string in the middle of two steel strings. The central ones are tuned one octave lower than the surrounding strings of the group. This arrangement produces the set of harmonics that gives the instrument its unique voice. Outside of Colombia the "copper" strings are more often standard brass or bronze wound steel guitar strings.
Another variant, the tiple Colombiano requinto is often simply called tiple requinto. This instrument is about 10-15% smaller than the tiple Colombiano, and the central octave strings of the larger instrument are tuned in unisions, giving either a C4 C4 C4 o E4 E4 E4 o A4 A4 A4 o D4 D4 D4 tuning (traditional), or a D4 D4 D4 o G4 G4 G4 o B4 B4 B4 o E4 E4 E4 tuning (modern). The tiple requinto is sometimes made in more of a violin or "hourglass" shape, than a guitar shape. These differences give it a generally thinner, higher-pitched sound than the tiple Colombiano, even though most of its tuning is in the same range as the larger instrument.
The tiple is the smallest of the three string instruments of Puerto Rico that make up the orquesta jibara (i.e., the Cuatro, the tiple and the Bordonua). According to investigations made by Jose Reyes Zamora, the tiple in Puerto Rico dates back to the 18th century. It is believed to have evolved from the Spanish guitarrillo. There was never a standard for the tiple and as a result there are many variations throughout the island of Puerto Rico. Most tiples have four or five strings and most tiple requintos have three strings. Some tiples have as many as 6 strings and as few as a single string, though these types are rare.
The main types of tiple in Puerto Rico are:
The tiple that is now most often played in Puerto Rico is the tiple doliente. It has recently acquired a more or less fixed body shape narrowing at the top and having 5 metal strings (see the accompanying photo). It is usually made like the cuatro, so either constructed like a guitar, or from one piece of wood hollowed out. The bottom half of the body is rounded like a guitar, however the top half is square, or triangular. All other features (like neck and bridge) resemble the construction of a normal Spanish guitar. The peghead has tuning machines either from the side or from the back. The strings of the tiple doliente are tuned: E3 A3 D4 G4 C5.
This tiple from Venezuela, looks like a smaller version of the Colombian Tiple. It has 4 pairs of triple strings and is also known as the Guitarro, Guitarro Segundo, and the Segunda Guitarra. There is another tiple played in Venezuela but is a member of the Venezuelan Cuatro family of instruments, also called a tiple and known as the Cinco y Medio or Cinco. It is very much like the Cuatro but it has 5 strings instead of four.
A tiple Cubano, has five doubled courses of strings, ten in total.
The tiple de Santo Domingo, also known as tiple Dominicano or tiplet, also has five doubled courses, for ten in total. The strings are steel. It is tuned C4, F4, A#4, D5, G5. All of the courses are tuned in unison.
Peru has a tiple with four single or doubled steel strings. It is tuned A3, E4, B4, F#5.
In Uruguay and Argentina, sometimes the requinto guitar is called a tiple.
The tiple was redesigned in 1919 by the American guitar company C.F. Martin & Co. for the William J. Smith Co. in New York. This tiple is compared in size to the Colombian tiple requinto, but closer in size to a baritone ukulele. Compared to earlier Colombian variations of the tiple, it has ten steel strings in four courses of 2, 3, 3, and 2 strings, It is tuned similarly to a D-tuned ukulele: A4 A3 o D4 D3 D4 o F#4 F#3 F#4 o B3 B3.
Martin produced mahogany and rosewood bodied tiples, following a model-identification system similar to its guitars: T-15 and T-17, mahogany top, back and sides; T-18, spruce top, mahogany back and sides; T-28, spruce top, rosewood back and sides; T-45, spruce top, rosewood back and sides, fancy abalone inlay. Martin's tiple production continued off-and-on into the 1970s. 
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Similar instruments were made by Regal and other companies during the early decades of Martin production.
In the 21st century, the Ohana ukulele company began manufacturing an all-mahogany tiple similar to the Martin, but calling, anomalously, it "a vintage reproduction of the Colombian Tiple." The company recommended tuning with the lowest note a C like contemporary ukuleles. (G3 G4 - C4 C3 C4 - E4 E3 E4 - A4 A4)
Tiple strings and tuning: Guitar-style metal strings are used, and in addition to the original ukulele-style tuning (above) used, the American tiple is sometimes tuned like the upper four courses of the guitar.
Electric tiples usually follow either the Colombian (12-string) or "Martin" (10-string) tuning and string arrangement.
Migrating from North Africa in the 16th century to the Canary Islands and then on to Murcia, the timple has become the traditional instrument of the Canaries. In Palma and in the north of the island of Tenerife some players omit the fifth string, tuning the timple like a ukulele, though nowadays this is often seen as non-standard by players in other regions where five strings are preferred. The popular timple tuning is GCEAD.
The word "tiple", basically means "treble" or "high pitched", and has been used occasionally for the names of other instruments not directly members of the tiple-family proper. One such is the Marxochime Hawaiian tiple, which bears no resemblance to the traditional tiples, but looks like (and is) a variety of zither. It is played with a combination of plucking, strumming, and playing with a slide similar to a lap steel guitar. The instrument is one of many zither variants marketed within the United States during the early 20th century, of which only the autoharp ever achieved lasting popularity. The instrument, also known as the "Tremola", carries the "Hawaiian tiple" name solely for marketing purposes, as interest in Hawaiian music and culture was high in mainland America during the period when the instrument was marketed.
Puerto Rican tiple:
Tiple Dominicano, Tiple Argentino, Banjo Tiple, Tiple Uruguayo, and the Tiple Venezolano:
Marxochime Hawaiian Tiple: