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Musical instrument maker
Two cuatros, Musical instrument maker, 2001; William R. Cumpiano (b. 1945); Easthampton, Massachusetts; Wood, metal strings; Collection of the artist; Photography by Jessica Payne
Two cuatros, Musical instrument maker, 2001
William R. Cumpiano (b. 1945)
Easthampton, Massachusetts
Wood, metal strings
Collection of the artist
Photography by Jessica Payne
William Cumpiano playing one of his guitars; Musical instrument maker; 2001: Easthampton, Massachusetts; wood, metal strings
Modern Puerto Rican bordunua; Musical instrument maker; 2007: Easthampton, Massachusetts; Spanish cedar, ebony, Canadian spruce; 38 x 11 x 7
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William R. Cumpiano
Easthampton, MA
Web Site
William Cumpiano is a luthier whose work has become inseparable from an all-consuming quest to recover the social history, music, and traditional construction of the cuatro, a ten-stringed instrument that is the national cultural icon for Puerto Ricans all over the world. Fifteen years into his career as a guitar maker, Cumpiano began to wrestle with issues of his own cultural identity. He became aware of a struggling population of Puerto Rican migrants near his studio in western Massachusetts. Their lot, in his mind, was summed up by a rustic cuatro brought in by a customer to be restored. Dry New England winter air had hopelessly ruined the tropical instrument, yet it remained a beloved possession of the immigrant family. Cumpiano stumbled through broken Spanish, attempting to tell the man that he knew nothing about playing, tuning, stringing, or even building this instrument. Handling it, William remembered its sound, which accompanied many memories of his youth in Puerto Rico. Yet, despite his expertise as a guitar maker, he had no idea how to begin to bring the cuatro back to life.

The experience compelled him to reconnect with his native cultural roots. He traveled to Puerto, seeking out the Island's most prominent cuatro makers to learn from them. Fifteen years later, he has become a master cuatro maker, bringing new innovations to the craft. He is a founding The Puerto Rican Cuatro Project which preserves and promotes traditional Puerto Rican cuatro music and the art of cuatro making. As practitioner and scholar, William Cumpiano is a valued cultural resource in the Puerto Rican community and beyond.
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