The cuatro is a family of Latin American string instruments found in Central and South America, Puerto Rico and other parts of the West Indies, derived from the Spanish guitar. Although some have viola-like shapes, most cuatros resemble a small to mid-sized classical guitar.
Cuatro means four in Spanish; the instrument's 15th century predecessors were the Spanish vihuela and the Portuguese cavaquinho, the latter having four strings like the original cuatro (modern cuatros often have more than four strings).
Certain variants are considered the national instrument of some countries (e.g., Venezuela). The cuatro is widely used in ensembles in Jamaica, Mexico, and Surinam to accompany singing and dancing. In Trinidad and Tobago it accompanies Parang singers.In Saint Lucia the cuatro is used as an accompanying instrument in traditional Sewenal music at Christmas time. In Puerto Rico and Venezuela, the cuatro is an ensemble instrument for secular and religious music, and is played at parties and traditional gatherings.
Modern cuatros come a variety of sizes and shapes, and number of strings. Cuatros can either have single-strings, like a guitar, or double- or triple-coursed strings like a mandolin, and vary in size from a large mandolin or small guitar, to the size of a full-size guitar. Depending on their particular stringing, cuatros are part of the guitar or mandolin subfamilies of the lute family.