You might see a Tiple on eBay for sale or pictured in a vintage guitar book. Tiples were very popular in the 1920’s through the 1930’s during an era when the ukulele was all the rage.
Tiples are still utilized somewhat in Hawaiian music.
For the most part the Tiple has been replaced by the eight string Taropatch, a stringed instrument is larger than the ukulele and is tuned to an open G chord. The Taropatch has four courses of strings tuned in unison or in octaves.
Starting in 1920, Martin made some Tiples during the time period that ukuleles were popular . Production started in the 1920’s and continued for 50 years. The last Martin Tiple was in the 2000 Martin catalogue. You can also find older Tiples made by the original Washburn company and other domestic manufacturers.
Martin’s styles included the T-15, T-17, T-18 and T-28. The size was always the same, but like Martin guitars the embellishments became fancier. The early Tiples had gut strings. As guitar evolved into steel string models, so did the Tiple.
Tiple, which is pronounced “Tea – plee” is the Spanish word for soprano. The type of Tiple that is common to the United States is related to the Ukulele family. It is replete with 10 strings that are made up of four courses.
The North American and Hawaiian Tiple are tuned with the same tuning as a Soprano Uke. The first string has two strings of the same size. . The second and third course has three strings each. Of those three strings, the center string is thicker and tuned an octave below the two outer strings, which are the same diameter. The fourth course of two strings are tuned an octave apart.
Tiples are indigenous to many South American countries. Depending on which country you are in you will find them to have a variety of tunings and sizes ranging anywhere from 12 to 15 inches in length. The can have from 3 to ten strings.
Tiples date back to the 18th century and possibly have evolved from the Spanish gutarrillo or vihuela. There are several other Tiple-like instruments used in Hispanic music such as the Cuatro, the Bordonua and the requinto.
Note the string layout.