The hurdy-gurdy is one of those instruments that most people will have heard of (possibly thanks to Donavan’s 60s classic Hurdy Gurdy Man), but few will know anything about, and even fewer will know where to buy one!
But fear not. In this article, we’re going to give you a few pointers on where to look and also some watch-outs, as it’s easy to end up with a piece of garbage if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Table of Contents
What is a Hurdy Gurdy?
The historical hurdy-gurdy is a mechanical kind of fiddle that creates an ‘eternal’ sound made by the rosined wheel (attached to a handle) rotating along strings by a crank, which, similar to the bagpipe, is accompanied by a humming drone.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Let’s cut to the chase. These are not cheap instruments. If you’re looking for something affordable, these things are going to burn a hole in your wallet. It’s not uncommon to spend $2000 upwards for a new one – the ‘full monty’ model sold by Altarwind (see below) sells for a whopping $4495.
The reason why they’re so pricey is because of the amount of work and craftsmanship that goes into their building. These are hand-build pieces of art, not mass-produced shoe boxes. You’ll rarely find one new for under $1000.
New Vs. Used
You can save money by going second-hand, but you also increase the risk of ending up with a wall-hanging, not something you’d want to play.
Buying from a reputable maker offers reassurance that the instrument has been professionally built and setup properly.
Buying off a marketplace like eBay is another option, but tread carefully and make sure you seek the advice of an expert before you part your cash. There are lots of inferior instruments knocking about the internet just waiting to be sold to the next bright-eyed hurdy-gurdy enthusiast. Don’t be that person.
Beware of cheap imitations. As they reach such a princely sum, there are many cheap workshops (mainly in eastern Europe and Asia) who make sub-par instruments and pass them off as the real deal.
Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’re better off going with a reputable luthier even if it costs you a bit extra. They’ll appear cheap – in the $800-1,200 range – but they’ll be worth peanuts.
Typically these inferior creations are sold via eBay and other large retail sites, so watch out. Especially if they have ‘plenty of stock’, that should set the alarm bells ringing immediately (good musical instruments are typically not mass-produced!)
Following on from the point above about build quality, look out for the manufacturer’s name. Often the cheap and poorly made ones don’t have a name on them, whereas the best have a reputable name of them.
There are various options, according to Hurdy Gurdy Weekly you should opt for three of four strings only if you’re just starting out, such as the Hungarian model (that has one or two melody and two drones). The French model has six strings (two melody and four drones) and is not ideal for the beginner.
The buzzing bridge should have a string bridle-type adjustment, get someone who knows what they’re doing to check. Look for a chromatic keyboard, rather than the diatonic keyboard. It’s much easier to learn on. Consider how important amplification is. If there is any chance you’re going to want to play publicly (and you should!) buy one with a pickup already fitted, it will save you the headache later on.
Want to hang out with other players? It may not be so simple. The hurdy-gurdy community is very small – if you’re looking for a jam, your nearest hurdy-gurdy playing neighbor maybe thousands of miles away! That’s one of the reasons why finding a hurdy gurdy for sale is so hard!
Where To Find New Hurdy Gurdies
If you want to buy a hurdy-gurdy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one on Amazon, that’s for sure. They are the prevail of independent instrument makers and as such you have to hunt down the sellers.
While there are some places to buy them second hand (see further down the page) if you’re in the market for a new one, there are options. Below we’ve grouped them by the USA and Europe.
Luthiers in the USA
- Altarwind (Oregon) – Lovingly crafting instruments since 1994, their models range from the affordable ‘Aquitaine’ to the burn a hole in your pocket ‘Full Monty’.
- Olympic (Washington) – They’ve been building top-quality hurdy-gurdies since 1988, and are the only workshop in North America dedicated exclusively to this making them.
Luthiers in Europe
- Chris Allen and Sabina Kormlyo (Wales) – luthiers Chris and Sabina make a range of historic instruments including lutes, mandolins as well as hurdy-gurdies. They pride themselves on faithful reproductions both in terms of the external detail and design, but also the internal. They make reproductions based on historic examples by Colson, Pimpard, Louvet, Pajot, Nigout, Decante, and even do a Henry III style 17th-century style one.
- Balázs Nagy (Hungary) – Instrument maker Balazs Nagy has been making Hurdy Gurdies for over 30 years, and is one of the go-to people in Europe for this unique instrument. He specializes in Hungarian and French styles and does some interesting modifications (including an electro-acoustic version with geared banjo tuning heads for easier and more precise tuning.). He also makes a French-style ‘Vielle’ model and a simpler ‘Symphonia’ from romanesque times.
- Stanislaw Nogaj (Poland) – Stanislaw learned his trade from master luthier Stanislaw Wyzykowski, but since 2003 has opened his own workshop. He’s known for building instruments with outstanding sound quality, with great diversity and richness of tone.
Where To Find Used (Second Hand) Ones
- Facebook Hurdy Gurdy Marketplace – The Hurdy Gurdy Marketplace on Facebook is an active online market for used hurdy gurdies as is definitely the first place you should look if you’re shopping on a budget. It’s a good place to meet other HG enthusiasts too!
- Lazar’s Early Music (USA) – this website won’t win any design awards (possibly best 90’s looking site?!) but fortunately they’re not web-designers, they’re luthiers. Another must-stop site, especially if you’re in the US.
- eBay – The last resort. It’s worth a look, but make sure you have an expert with you before you take the plunge. There are lots of cheap inferior instruments out there.
While you can buy a kit, this isn’t for the feign hearted. Building a hurdy gurdy instrument can be a massively rewarding experience, but will also take a lot of time. It probably won’t save you much money in the long run after you’ve had to acquire all the tools you need. If you’re adamant you want to try, try either of these two hurdy-gurdy kit makers:
- Renaissance Workshop Company (Spain) – Renaissance Workshop Company sell fully assembled instruments as well as kits, and are well known for making a replica 16th-century model.
- Nerdy Gurdy (Holland) – adding a modern twist to the historic instrument, Nerdy Gurdy (gotta love that name!) use laser cutting and 3D printing to make their very affordable 4 or 6 string kits. They also sell them fully assembled.
So there you have it. Which option will you choose? If you’re risk-averse, then save up your pennies and go for a new one. You’ll pay considerably more for it, but you’ll have a hurdy gurdy that will last a lifetime.
If budget is an issue, go with a used hurdy gurdy. So long as you have an expert with you, and you trust the seller, then you could pick up a bargain.
Finally, If you’re more ambitious than that and fancy making your own, I salute you. Go buy a hurdy gurdy kit and pat yourself on the back.
Here are some useful links to other resources:
- The Hurdy Gurdy Method – Widely recognized as the go-to book for learning the instrument, this is an essential read.
- Gurdypedia.com – a veritable treasure trove of hurdy-gurdy information, covering tips on maintenance and playing the instrument to news about forthcoming events.
- Caliban’s Dream – a trio of musicians who play an exotic mix of authentic early instruments.
Now sit back and enjoy: