About the Hurdy Gurdy

by by Franz Wild • in Blog Bookmark et Partager

About the Hurdy Gurdy


About the Hurdy Gurdy

I suppose you all have been exposed one time or the other to the beautiful song of Donovan "Hurdy Gurdy Man".  

While talking about the subject few years ago I was surprised to discover the origin of the name in the song. An old instrument. Yes, very old. But what else? Let's see further what lies behind the name of this amazing  instrument.


The previous form of the Hurdy Gurdy, its ancestor was born a thousand years ago, in the west. This instrument has a wheel turned by a crank who rub the strings. It's like a perpetual archer. Its ancestor was called in latin the Organistrum. You can find it in roman sculptures, in Europe, most of the time in the hand of old ones in Apokalypse. The keyboard with pull action and require the usage of two hands. The instrumentalist is given assitance by someone who turn the wheel. The instrument is made of three strings who plays the melody added by the fith and the fourth. Its reduced possibilities limits the usage to backing sacred vocals in churches.

Starting on the 14th century, the instrument progress with a larger caisse of resonance. The number of string increase. The add of a trumpet, a moving easel who knock the table and create a strong rythm over the melody, will help the instrument to cross over popular dances. It becomes chromatic at the end of the 15th century. In all the Europe we find it in the end of musicians on the street, especially the blinds who plays it while singing.  

In France at the begining of the 18th century, it will be the instrument in fashion in high society. It's barock's time: Beautiful sculptures of heads above the pegbox are added along with marquetry. To a new shape of guitar, the caisse of resonnace will adopt the one of a lute. Then begins a lot of changing and improvements and the sonority is a lot more enjoyable. It is used in concert for elaborated music. This is its the golden age. During the French revolution all the luthiers flee in the rest of the country. Instruments taken during the castles looting inspire a dynasty of luthier-peasant. It will remain the instrument of dance everywhere in France until its decline by the end of the 19th century. Then it will struggle to survive within folk music at every corner of the Europe. In the 1970's, the french folk movement will start a rebirth. Taught by older ones, some pionners open class of Hurdy Gurdy and lauch into the conception of new instruments. In the 90's added with numerous strings and bourdons, it becomes electro-acoustic. New generations seize this traditionnal instrument to create jazz, Rock prog, traditionnal music, tribal, ethnic, etc... 

At the dawn of the 3rd Millenium the Hurdy Gurdy has real good times ahead. Let's say it will keep on turning for the next thousand years.

Informations by Corinne Duchêne (traduction by myself - Send a message to correct - Thanx!): http://www.corinne-duchene.com/qui_je_suis/historique_vielle_a_roue


 The making by photos

For more details about follow the link:


In Video: how does it sound?

Caroline Phillips:

With Led Zeppelin live:



Tuning for this hurdy Gurdy (Chord G/D):

Sympathetic strings
4 x G2
0.40 mm
E-string 1 & 2
0.95 mm
E-string 3 (octave)
G medium  for violin
Big bourdon
ref BFA 1232 Savarez
Little bourdon
BFA 532 Savarez
Trumpet G
nylon, B of a guitar
Trumpet G
nylon, G of a guitar


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