Brief history of the tiple
As happened in the rest of South America, the guitar and the vihuela were brought to the Capitanía General de Nueva Granada (present day Colombia) in the mid-16th century. Both types of chordophone were generally designated as "vihuela" and opened an interesting whole new chapter of musical instruments. One of them was the Colombian tiple, whose earliest mention dates back to 1746.
During the Independence Wars in South America (early 19th century), the tiple achieved broad popularity, after many years of being overlooked. The accounts of the military campaigns led by South American Independence leader Simon Bolivar (e.g. the one written by Luis Eduardo Avello) gave notice of several soldiers playing it at night. After Bolivar's Venezuelan troops defeated the royalist forces at the Battle of Boyacá (1819) Bolivar was able to add this territory to New Granada and form the federation of Gran Colombia with himself as president and Francisco de Paula Santander as vice-president, who is said to have been a distinguished tiplista (tiple player) according to the records of the time.
It was not until the second half of the 19th century that tiplistas and guitarists began to spread poetry and compositions in the form of bambucos, torbellinos, and galerones. Not surprisingly, between 1840 and 1870 records of and references to the tiple appeared in many literary works. At that time there also appeared the first drawings and detailed descriptions of the instrument, as well as learning methods and manuals. The earliest known representation of the chordophone is featured in a watercolour titled "Plaza de mercado de Guaduas", by the English traveller Edward Mark (1845), and was followed by a number of others. It is also featured in the "Álbum de costumbres granadinas" by Torres Méndez (1851), in the "Álbum de los Comisión Corográfica" (1850-1854) and in the picture "Camino del mercado" by Eugenio Zerda (1852).
In 1849 Caicedo Rojas published the first monograph on the tiple. His explanatory notes reveal that the instrument was much smaller than today's, it only had two or three frets and gut strings grouped in three different ways: four strings in four single courses; five strings in three single courses and one double course; and eight strings in four double courses. During the second half of the 19th century many authors confused the tiple with the bandola and vice versa, since both were guitar-like shaped instruments and had the same number of strings. However, their sizes (and tunings) were different, allowing informed authors to name the larger ones "bandolones" or "tiples" and the smaller "bandolas" or "tiples requintos". The differences between both chordophones became more pronounced after 1900, what helped make it more difficult to confuse one with the other.
Up until the beginning of the 20th century the different variants of the tiple remained the same as it can be seen in one of the photographs of the "Lira Colombiana" taken in New York in 1901. The tiple would have to wait until 1915 to achieve its current size and form, including 12 metal strings in four triple courses (the lower placed in the middle).