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main|The Cuatro Project|El Proyecto del Cuatro


A deep commitment to our traditional music

Founding members
of the Cuatro Project:

Juan Sotomayor

is co-founder of the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. His function is to conduct and collect oral history interviews; compile musical field recordings; investigator of published and archived sources; collector of recovered photographs and creator of an extensive archive of new photographs; and finally creator of a historic chronology of the cuatro, its music and craft.

Juan Sotomayor was born in New York City in 1940 of Puerto Rican parents. Until his recent retirement, Juan was a prize-winning photographer living in New Jersey and working on the New York Times staff since 1966. He is also an accomplished guitarist and cuatrista, previously a member of numerous professional groups, having recorded for the Ansonia label in 1957. Currently, he lives in Moca, Puerto Rico and is devoted full-time to the Cuatro Project, completing work on an upcoming textbook on the national instrument, and after that commencing work on a series of teaching methods for the instrument


Juan Sotomayor was the first Puerto Rian photographer to be employed by the New York Times. He is now retired--a resident of Moca, Puerto Rico, and works full time for the Cuatro Project.




Our head researcher Juan Sotomayor recorded on the Ansonia label in 1955 as first guitar for the Trio Los Duques (at left)  The trio members were: Juan Sotomayor, Filo del Moral and Vitín Pagán.

Listen to two recordings made by Juan and theTrio Los Duques in 1955

 Por Besarte a Ti

 Amor Sagrado



  William Cumpiano

is co-founder of the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. To date, his function has been as organizer and transcriber of the graphic and textual materials, and as facilitator, conceptualizer and coordinator of the project.

    William Richard Cumpiano was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1945. He has lived in Western Massachusetts for the last eighteen years. After graduating with a bachelor in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York City in 1968, he worked for several years in New York as a professional furniture designer. During this time he met master guitarmaker Michael Gurian, under whom he apprenticed as a guitarmaker. In 1974, he opened his own guitarmaking studio in Massachusetts. He has been been a professional guitarmaker and teacher of his craft since then, currently in Northampton, Massachusetts.
     In 1992, he founded the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project with Juan Sotomayor.
     He was also a founding board member and president of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA), an international professional society. He lectured before the society's conventions and also at conventions of the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL). He is co-author of GUITARMAKING: Tradition and Technology, acclaimed as the principal textbook in his field. His work has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects and the Smithsonian Institute. He has taught cuatromaking to young Puerto Rican artisans under grants originating form the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) through various regional arts organizations.

William's guitarmaking webpage here.
William's email here here.

Wilfredo Echevarria is an expert in media communications, who has directed numerous important projects for the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project, including the video documentary NUESTRO CUATRO, Volumes 1 and 2, and a series of short features. 
Wilfredo Echevarria was born in Isabela, Puerto Rico. His family came to New York in 1952. He joined William Cumpiano and Juan Sotomayor in the summer of 1994 to help produce the first Puerto Rican Cuatro Festival at the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts. That event was the beginning of what became a tradition of festivals throughout the United State and Puerto Rico. 
    Echevarria began working in media while still attending SUNY/Buffalo as a student. He hosted several radio programs at the university’s public radio station. While in Buffalo he also co-founded a Latino community newspaper, hosted a public affairs program on the ABC affiliate, worked as a production technician at the public television station, co-founded directed a children’s puppet and theater company and was a partner in starting a graphics arts business. Echevarria was teaching video workshops in a city run program when he was offered a position as assistant community affairs director for the NBC affiliate in Hartford, CT. There he produced three weekly shows, a monthly new documentary (winner of the 1984 IRIS award for best documentary) and public service announcements.
     Echevarria moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and Springfield public television. There he produced and co-hosted a series live programs from the city’s different ethnic neighborhoods. He also produced a weekly political roundtable discussion program with a journalist, produced and hosted political election coverage and a series of television documentaries, winning a second Emmy nomination for a documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen. Echevarria also worked with the Springfield Museum Association in the design of their new television studio and headed the committee to set-up the museum’s cable channel.
      Currently Echevarria produces video for computer- based training courses and other media and web related materials for the University of Connecticut School of Social work.

You can communicate with Wilfredo Echevarria here. 

Project members and associates

David Morales

is a foremost expert in the field of vintage jíbaro music recordings, and owner of one of the largest--if not the largest--private collections of early and modern recordings of traditional Puerto Rican music. His seminal research on the lives and work of some of Puerto Rico's most admired traditional singers includes an important work on the history and career of the great poet-singer Chuíto el de Cayey--until that point, a life shrouded in mystery and destined for oblivion-- which was published in the annual journal, La Canción Popular. 
      Morales and his family moved to Lynn from Puerto Rico at a young age, speaking no English. Going through the Lynn experience, David graduated honorably from LCHS and went on to Bowdoin College.From his success at Bowdoin , he became a Budget Analyst for the Ways and Means Committee in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In 2001, Mr. Morales was appointed as Executive Director of the new Massachusetts Prescription Drug Insurance Plan.In 2003, he accepted the position as Senior Advisor the the President of the Massachusetts Senate. Early in 2009, Mr. Morales was hired by new Governor Patrick to become a Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning and Policy. In 2010 he was appointed by Governor Patrick to be Commissioner of Health Care Finance for the state of Massachusetts.

David is deeply involved with the Puerto Rican community, being past president of El Jogorio de Massachusetts, a Boston non-profit agency which trains young Latinos to become leaders, the Bowdoin College Alumni Council, and is an active member of the Golden Fleece Masonic Temple, a service organization. David Morales lives in Lynn, with his wife Samanda and son Anthony.

You can contact David Morales here.



Myriam Fuentes  is an outstanding media specialist, writer, researcher and historian who has been invited to join the Cuatro Project team to assist in the preparation and realization of educational materials for the Project. She directs her own media production company and directed the recent Cuatro Project video documentary titled "The Decima of Borinquen." She is currently working on the organization and editing on the Cuatro Project textbook, "Searching for the Puerto Rican Cuatro" which covers the history and development of the family of traditional stringed instruments of Puerto Rico. You can communicate with Myriam Fuentes here.










Carlos Flores  the polifacetic writer, photographer, historian, cultural promoter and community organizer is also Chicago coordinator for the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project. You can reach Carlos Flores here. The web page, Puerto Rican Chicago features his life and work.









Luis Torres was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He graduated from Central High School and left the island to study for his B.A. at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania. After three years of military service, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, where he earned both an M.A. and Ph.D. in modern European history, with a specialty in the history of Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries.

After several years as a history professor, he accepted a position in Washington, D.C. with the National Geographic Society. He filled various posts at the society. His last position before retirement was as regional editor for the U.S. Southwest and Mexico on the staff of National Geographic TRAVELER magazine.

In retirement, he moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he continued working as a freelance writer and editor. Torres has carried out several oral history projects under contract with the National Park Service and has written two books about San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions, one about the history of the missions and the other an oral history of the missions.

Torres states that “as a project of his old age” he began studying the cuatro. With several friends, he organized ECOS DE PUERTO RICO, a cuatro orchestra, which he directs. ECOS has achieved great success in San Antonio and the southern region of Texas.

To contact Torres by e-mail, use
txkokopell@aol.com or

Project coordinator William Cumpiano is a full time guitar-making artisan and author of the widely-used guitarmaking textbook, GUITARMAKING

William Cumpiano measures an Early Cuatro in a collection (1996)













Wilfredo Echevarría is an award-winning producer of educational programming on television and a director of video documentaries, including thos summarizing the findings of the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project.



























Cultural researcher David Morales (right) examines the personal collection of old 78 rpm records of the legendary bolero singer and guitarist Efraín Berrios, during a visit to his home in Carolina PR.





























Myriam Fuentes is often asked to organize, edit and realize educational materials for the Puerto Rican Cuatro Project.










Carlos Flores, Chicago coordinator for the Cuatro Project





Luis Torres has joined the Cuatro Project work staff as consulting editor


Support personnel


Néstor Hérnandez, professor University of Puerto Rico
Gustavo Batista, professor University of Puerto Rico
Nestor Murray Irizarry, Folkloric researcher, lecturer

Graciela Quiñones Rodriguez, instrument maker
Roberto Rivera, microbiologist, cuatro-maker, cuatrista
Benjamin Lapidus, ethnomusicologist, tresista
Ramón Gómez, architect and musician


Participating Consultants

The following have shared their time and stories to make the Cuatro Project knowledge base grow.

Joaquín Rivera Family
Norberto Cales Family
Maso Rivera (deceased)
Yomo Toro
Pedro Guzmán
Efraín Ronda (deceased)
Edwin Colón Zayas
Emma Colón Zayas
Nieves Quintero
Modesto Nieves
Sarraíl Archilla
Elba Lugo
Gladys Jiménez
José González
Alvin Medina
Roque Navarro (deceased)
Ismael Santiago
Tulio Kercadó
Neri Orta
Jim Pérez
Nicanor Zayas
José Pérez
Totín Vale
Tito Báez (deceased)
Millito Cruz
Tuto Feliciano
Tony Rivera
Paco Marrero
Pancho Cintrón
Pedro Guerrero
Paul Kaplan US
Bob Zentz US



Rosendo Acosta Family
Familia Franquiz descendientes]
Miguel Méndez
Eugenio Méndez (deceased)
Miguel Acevedo
Antonio Rodríguez Navarro
Julio Negrón
Jorge Santiago Mendoza
Jaime Alicea
Efraín Ronda (deceased)
Juan Reyes Torres
José Reyes (deceased)
José Pérez
Eleuterio Quiñones
Epifanio Valentin
Vicente Valentín
Cristobal Santiago
Heriberto Rivera
Felix Haddock
Fidencio Díaz

José Rivera, MA,
Tito Báez, NY (deceased)
Natividad Tirado, DE
Andrea Restivo, NJ
Marcos Matías, NJ
Diómedes Matos, NJ
Vicente Esteves, NJ

Roberto Rivera, NJ

Roberto Márquez
Francisco Lluch
Jose Manuel Dufrasne
Ratito Prieti
Marcelino Canino
Ricardo Alegría
Mario Ramos
Phil Skyler
Walter Murray Chiesa
Ted Solis
Héctor Vega Druet
Cristóbal Diaz Ayala
Gustavo Batista
Juan Carlos Montalvo
Amilcar Tirado, film maker (deceased)
E. Cruz Andino
Edgardo Delgado Figueroa
Michael Kasha
Pedro Malavet Vega
Henry Geddes


Administer the site



Cultural archives                Folkloric research              Cultural Events 

Our premiere Puerto Rican
traditional music ensemble
awaits its second Grammy nomination

Oue most polished and tasty exponents of the Puerto Rican mountain music traditions, Ecos de Borinquen, has just released its second recording for the Smithsonian Institute—their first one being Jibaro hasta el hueso, which was nominated for the Latin Grammy award. You can sample and buy their latest noble effort visiting their page at the Smithsonian Folkways website.

Puerto Ricans mourn the passing
of the senior cuatro-maker
Vicente Valentín

Foto de Juan Sotomayor para el Proyecto del Cuatro Puertorriqueño

Adios, maestro...

It grieves us to have to announce to our followers the death late June 2015 of the renown senior Puerto Rican traditional instrument-maker Vicente Valentín Rivera, who lived and worked in the town of Vega Baja. Don Vicente was a principal source for our Cuatro Project. With great humor and generosity, he made himself available to our cameras and constant questions. His rustic and prosaic manner hid a brilliant and profound understanding of his field, the traditions of his craft and a propensity to share and educate his compatriots around them.

In celebration of the life of Vicente Valentín, we present a short video featuring him and his work, produced by the Cuatro Project [no subtitles, sorry]

A recent photograph of the maestro:

Foto cortesía Diario Vegabajeño de Puerto Rico







poster by Rafael Rivera Rosa

My Music

an exhibition of Puerto Rican
traditional instruments

From the Casa Paoli collection
Museo de las Américas in Old San Juan
opening December 6, 2014


STRINGS OF MY LAND: A History of Puerto Rico's native stringed instruments: Cuatro, Tiple, Vihuela and Bordonua.

Hardcover, 300 pages, 350 photos and diagrams
In Spanish, including a 15-page chapter summary
of its content in English


The culmination of 22 years of field research and oral history in the field of Puerto Rican folkloric music and music craft traditions.
"This book is the most complete encyclopedia of our native stringed instruments": Nestor Murray Irizarry, director Center of Puerto Rican Folkloric Investigations, Casa Paoli, Ponce PR.


Eugenio Méndez:
Remembering a great maker 
of the Puerto Rican cuatro

Eugenio Méndez four months before his passing in 2003                       Photo by  Xiaomin Xiong

Spurred by the recent receipt of this wonderful photograph of the great builder, we pause to remember the passing of the man believed by many to be Puerto Rico's finest cuatro maker—precisely 10 years ago this December. Read about his craft in his own words here.

In memoriam for a great Puerto Rican icon

The Highbridge section of the Bronx celebrated the street re-naming of Ogden Avenue on 162nd & Summit to YOMO TORO PLACE on Saturday, July 27, 2013 on what would've been the King of the Cuatro's 80th birthday.  Known as the Jimi Hendrix of the small, ten stringed Puerto Rican cuatro, the "funky Jibaro" (hillbilly) was an icon of Puerto Rican culture and a Fania All-Star bringing the national instrument of the island into the commercial "salsa" world with his many recordings and compositions.
      It was the love of his daughter Denise Toro the engine for organizing this event in three weeks with no budget but with the help of a community and Yomo Toro's friends in the industry the small Bronx street that a superstar called home was re-ignited with the excitement, joy, and hope that many brought with them on this day. 
Even Paul Simon sent this statement:  “Yomo Toro was the fastest left-hander since Randy Johnson and Johnson couldn't play "Quitate Tu" or "Asalto Navideño" on the cuatro even if he wore a red felt hat. God bless Yomo Toro. May his street be as joyful and wondrous as his music. “
     Orq. Broadway's Eddy Zervigon sent a statement as well as Oscar Hernandez of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and Adalberto Santiago sent a recorded message as well as the noted Fania All-Star em cee: Paco Navarro.  Ismael Miranda telephoned and spoke live to the crowd as he was patched in through the sound system before the street was unveiled to cheers from the many who attended & spoke about their memories of Yomo Toro.  Among the many were: Jose Alberto, El Canario; Larry Harlow, El Judio Maravilloso; Eddie Montalvo & Nicky Marrero, Jose Mangual Fania All-Star alums; Frankie Morales, Papo Vasquez; Benny Bonilla, Rene Lopez, Johnny Cruz, Chembo Corniel, Bobby Sanabria, Junior Rivera,  and Alex Masucci.  Even Congressman Jose Serrano recalled his days as an em cee at the Bronx's Club Cubano when he would announce and pall around with Yomo Toro alongside Lorraine Montenegro who recalled the many times Yomo would sit all day on two milk crates playing his little guitar next to her mother Evelina Antonetty who was registering Latinos to vote in the Bronx.

 Notes by Aurora Flores

 A video of the event can be found here.  


Mario Hernández

Representing the third great loss to Puerto Rican culture within barely five months, the gifted elder tresista [tres player] Mario Hernández (born Mario Casanova Clemente in 1925) passed away during the first week of January 2013, ending a long, illustrious career that established in great measure the manner in which his instrument is played today. Over the years we have built an archive of not only the accomplishments of the great master but also a history of the instrument he so wonderfully cultivated.

 Listen to a sample of the great master's work during a solo of the guaracha, Yo no me marcho de aquí [I'm not leaving here] by Mario Hernández and his group Sexteto Borinquen

 Welcome to the Cuatro Project!

We're a small, diverse group of music lovers of Puerto Rican descent who set out almost 20 years ago to discover all we could about the the musical and craft traditions surrounding the entire family of native Puerto Rican stringed musical instruments--with a special focus on the cuatro--the island's "national instrument." This website represents a summary of our twenty years’ (and ongoing) search. Please enjoy, share and participate!


What did Puerto Rican music sound like in 1909? 

No, you won't need a time machine to hear Puerto Rican singers and players playing and singing at the beginning of the twentieth century. That's because those real sounds were captured and recorded on wax disks and cylinders--the earliest recording technology. These lay mainly hidden to the public in private collections.

Would you like to hear an early four-string cuatro, or an actual bordonúa, or a tiple--just like they sounded 100 years ago? An expert in the field of early Puerto Rican recorded music, David Morales, is a valued member of our Cuatro Project. Recently he gave us digitized copies of extremely early recordings in wax of early singers and players, which we offer here.

The traditional Puerto jíbaro instrumental ensemble
or "orquesta jíbara" 

Puerto Rico's traditional "orquesta jíbara," from right to left, consists of: guitar, cuatro, güiro (scratch gourd) and bongo. (Jíbaro is a term that refers to early agricultural workers and subsistence farmers who lived predominantly in the island's central hills, considered the creators of the earliest forms of native Puerto Rican musical culture.) The Cuban bongo drum is a relatively modern addition, as is the Spanish guitar. The guitar entered the ensemble in the early 20th century as a replacement for the orchestra's original cumbersome, large, old folk guitars, the bordonúa and the vihuela. During the 19th century the jíbaros also configured their native folk instruments to perform creolized versions of European Salon or "art music"--genres such as the mazurka, waltz and polka. Jíbaros traveling to the towns and cities to sell their produce heard this music, liked it and took it back with them to the hills. They played their own version of these styles on their own stringed instruments configured into a grouping we now call the Orquesta Jíbara Antigua. The Orquesta Jíbara Antigua then comprised a cuatro, a tiple, a bordonua and güiro. The photo above shows a contemporary jíbaro orchestra based in Western Massachusetts, with Junior Martínez on the cuatro and Victor Ríos on the guitar.

The "Queen of the Mapeyé"
remained true to her native cultural traditions
even while living away from the island

The mapeyé is a type of Puerto Rican folk music

Felita Oyola: A life dedicated to art and culture. We regret to note the recent passing of the great Puerto Rican troubadour who preserved our cultural traditions in New York and especially in Boston, Massachusetts, in a career that spanned some sixty years. Felita’s career began with her debut in 1948 in the long-running radio program “Tribuna del Arte” (Showcase of the Arts) hosted by Rafael Quiñones Vidal, who gave her the name “The Queen of the Mapeyé.” Later in her life, accompanied by such famous traditional instrumentalists as Yomo Toro and Nieves Quintero, Felita became an institution in the city of Boston. We have created a page dedicated to this famous artist here.

 Marcelino Quiñones
and his "southern cuatro"

                                                                           Photo courtesy Luciano Quiñones

We have just added this beautiful historical photograph to our archive. It shows don Marcelino Quiñones and his "southern" cuatro. Our cuatro has adopted several different shapes during its history. More about Marcelino Quiñones and his cuatro here.

Immediately above is a historic photograph of Eusebio Gonzalez Ocasio, "El Indio de Sábana Grande," playing a transitional cuatro (a cuatro with the 10 metal strings of the modern instrument, but with the early keyhole shape) from an 1898 newspaper. We searched and found his son (an opera singer!!) and interviewed him about his father, whom Efraín Ronda--an early cuatro researcher--called “one of the great cuatristas playing before 1925." 
                                                        digital colorization by William Cumpiano


The native stringed instruments
of Puerto Rico...


Our small island of Puerto Rico has not only its famous cuatro, but several different kinds of cuatros, plus an entire bouquet of other distinctive string instruments which have all but disappeared. See them all here.



If you have a copy of our
Nuestro Cuatro Vol. I DVD, there is a hidden gift video! When viewing the menu screen, press the enter/play key when no button is selected.


Now available 
Puerto Rican Tiple
Builder's plan drawing
at the Cuatro Store



Search within our site here

NOTE: Many of our song samples play in a pop-up. Please turn off your pop-up blocker.

A prized endorsement:

"I admire your great dedication to your web page and your eagerness to make known our national instrument as well as the musical genres, musicians and composers connected to it."

Luis Manuel Álvarez, ethnomusicologist, University of Puerto Rico

What have we added to our site since your last visit?

We're on

Here you can see clips from our 
Cuatro Project video documentaries!

Accomplishments  of the Cuatro Project--And there are many!

The cuatro's story in a nutshell

Giants of the Cuatro
the great players, young, old; past and present.

New!! Researcher David Morales'  comprehensive Ramito discography

Flor Morales Ramos, "Ramito" was believed by many to be the greatest jíbaro troubadour of all time.

The décima and its great interpreters
The cuatro's main role was to accompany décima singers.
So, what's a décima and who were the great décima singers


Why is the Cuatro Project necessary?

"Too many of these youngsters think that just putting a Puerto Rican flag on their pants makes them Puerto Rican. We have lost a great deal. We are on the verge of becoming extinct."