Even if you’ve never heard of the hurdy gurdy, there’s still a good chance you’ve heard one being played at some time or another, and it just went unrecognized.
If you’ve decided to take your curiosity to the next level and actually buy a hurdy gurdy, your first question is likely to be “where can I buy a hurdy gurdy?”, after all, it’s not an instrument you can walk into a Guitar Center to buy off the shelf, nor can you order one from Sweetwater.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide we’ll be taking a look at the hurdy gurdy, including a little about its history, how to play the hurdy gurdy, and where you can buy one for yourself. Keep on reading to learn more.
- What is a Hurdy Gurdy?
- History of the Hurdy Gurdy
- How to Play the Hurdy Gurdy
- Buyer’s Guide
- Where Can I Buy a New Hurdy Gurdy?
- Where Can I Buy a Used Hurdy Gurdy?
- Can I Make my Own Hurdy Gurdy?
- Final Thoughts on the Hurdy Gurdy
What is a Hurdy Gurdy?
A hurdy gurdy is a stringed instrument from the medieval era. It has a unique sound, because it is played by rubbing a rosined wheel against the strings. This makes a drone noise (similar to bagpipes) that can be quite haunting. The hurdy gurdy has been used in a variety of music styles over the years, from folk to classical.
History of the Hurdy Gurdy
The hurdy gurdy is thought to have originated in the middle east or central Asia. It spread throughout Europe in the medieval era, and became a popular instrument among musicians of the day. The hurdy gurdy remained popular until the industrial revolution, when it began to be replaced by newer instruments. However, it has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, and can be found in several different forms today.
How to Play the Hurdy Gurdy
1. Start by finding the right position for your hands. Your left hand should be placed on the keyboard, while your right hand should be placed on the wheel.
2. The keys are laid out just like the keys on a piano, with the lower being like the white keys, and the upper, just like the black keys.
3. To play a note, press down on a key with your left hand and continuously turn the wheel using the crank with your right hand.
4. Turning the wheel faster will increase the volume.
5. Experiment with different notes and chords to create different sounds.
6. Be sure to practice regularly to improve your skills.
If you’re thinking of buying your own hurdy gurdy, finding the right instrument can be challenging. Follow these tips to make sure you get the right hurdy gurdy for your needs.
The first limitation that most musicians have for any instrument is their budget, and the same can definitely be said for the hurdy gurdy. Because they’re not mass produced, and tend to be made by skilled luthiers and artisans, it’s rare to find new models under $2000, and it’s not unheard of to pay well over $5000.
Brand New vs. Pre Owned
One way you can save some money when buying your hurdy gurdy is to consider a pre owned model. Of course, with used models, it’s important to do your research before buying, and understand exactly what it is you’re looking at. If you know somebody who is more familiar with hurry gurdies, try and take them along with you, and remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Buying new will be a better guarantee of getting an instrument in ready to play condition. As mentioned, it will be more expensive, but these instruments are serious investments, and it’s a consideration you should make.
Remember, these instruments are hand made by skilled craftsmen. They take significant time to make – if you see a retailer with several identical looking hurdy gurdies, this is a red flag.
Fit and Finish
Just like a guitar, a hurdy gurdy is only as good as its build quality, and its fit and finish. Like anything else, cheap imitations are available, and are usually cheaply produced in the far east with little, if any, attention paid to quality control.
Even with poorly made instruments, calling them cheap is relative – a cheap hurdy gurdy may still cost anywhere from $500 to $750, and in many cases these models are best reserved for firewood.
Type of Hurdy Gurdy
Believe it or not, there are many types of hurdy gurdy available for sale. The differences usually come down to the region that the style originated from. The most common styles are the French and Hungarian.
The French style is made with 6 strings, 2 for the melody and 4 for the drones. It’s considered to be the more difficult of the 2 to play.
The Hungarian style hurdy gurdy has only 3 strings, 1 melody, and 2 drones, and is generally seen as the best type for beginners. There are 4 string Hungarian models available, but they aren’t quite as common.
If you’re looking to play contemporary hurdy gurdy music, you could also take a look at the midigurdy, which is exactly what it sounds like, a midi hurdy gurdy – this model is no longer in production, but can be found on the used market. If you want to amplify, but you’d still prefer a more traditional instrument, there are electric hurdy gurdies available, too – the best example of electric hurdy gurdy playing being Nigel Eaton’s solo performance during Page and Plant’s mid ‘90s tour.
Where Can I Buy a New Hurdy Gurdy?
As we pointed out in the intro to this guide, buying a hurdy gurdy isn’t as simple as dropping in to your local Sam Ash or checking out Musician’s Friend. These instruments are hand made by specialist luthiers, making them not only expensive, but also pretty difficult to find.
If you’re located in the US and Canada, your options are quite limited. While there are undoubtedly a number of makers across North America, there is really only one reputable name that we’d be comfortable recommending.
Altarwind, based out of Oregon in America’s Pacific North West, has been making instruments since the mid ‘90s, and offers some of the world’s most beautiful hurdy gurdies for sale. They range in Price from about $1100 for the most basic model, up to around $4500 for their top end “Full Monty” model. They also take custom orders, so the sky is the limit with this maker.
Over in Europe, a number of master luthiers continue to make quality hurdy gurdies.
The first we’ll mention is Allen and Kormylo, based out of Wales, they specialize in medieval stringed instruments, including lutes, mandolins, viols, and of course, hurdy gurdies. They don’t list prices, but as one of the world’s premier builders, expect to pay over $2000 for a basic model.
Balázs Nagy based in Budapest, Hungary is another reputable manufacturer. He is known for his Hungarian style hurdy gurdies, and makes beautiful instruments with exceptional attention to detail.
Finally, Stanisław Nogaj is a Polish luthier who makes some exceptional modern hurdy gurdies. His instruments look incredible, and many are equipped with electronics for plug and play amplification.
Where Can I Buy a Used Hurdy Gurdy?
If you’d rather start out with a used hurdy gurdy, there are several reliable places to pick one up.
The easiest way to find a used hurdy gurdy is the “Hurdy Gurdy Marketplace” on Facebook. This is a community of almost 3000 hurdy gurdy enthusiasts, who often buy, sell and trade their instruments on that platform.
Reverb is another website in which used hurdy gurdies can be found. There aren’t a lot on the site, but it’s a reputable platform with solid buyer protection, so even if you end up spending a lot on your instrument, you’ll have some peace of mind if it isn’t what you thought it would be.
eBay is global platform that often features used hurdy gurdies for sale. Buyer beware, eBay does tend to have the highest concentrations of poorly made imitation hurdy gurdies, so exercise caution before buying.
Can I Make my Own Hurdy Gurdy?
Hurdy gurdies are incredibly complex instruments, with as many as 80 moving parts, but despite this, a determined and patient individual could absolutely make one from an available kit. Not only is this rewarding, but it can be much cheaper than buying a complete instrument.
The Renaissance Workshop Company, based in Spain, sells some excellent kits with clear instructions. It’s not an easy build, but they make it as straight forward as they can.
Nerdy Gurdy is a company based in the Netherlands. They are trying to bring this instrument to the masses with their affordable kits made using precise 3D printed and laser cut components. They have also recently started selling some basic completed hurdy gurdies, too.
Final Thoughts on the Hurdy Gurdy
While this isn’t the usual subject matter here at KGR, we generally love anything with strings! The hurdy gurdy is truly a unique instrument, and we really hope more people decide to take up playing to ensure that it gets passed along to future generations.
When it comes to buying a hurdy gurdy, they can be extremely expensive, so be sure that you are fully confident in the seller before parting with your money. If you’re able to find one locally, we recommend doing so, so that you can see and feel it before pulling the trigger, especially if it’s your first.
If you still want to know more, there are some great resources out there full of helpful enthusiasts, like the Hurdy Gurdy Marketplace – we recommend joining and asking as many questions as you can!