The Hurdy Gurdy is an instrument that some may have heard of, but a lot of people will just go, “what on earth is that man playing?”. It has a very strange reputation, some of which is deserved. Other parts have been elaborated on. Are you looking for a Hurdy Gurdy for sale? If so, it’s a good idea you know a bit about this wonderfully strange instrument first.
Many people today will only know of this fascinating instrument because of the 1968 song by Donovan, “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”
The song, which was written by Donovan, is a strange tale influenced by two dreams. It was written while he was in India meditating with the Beatles. So, one can only speculate why and from where the dreams were forthcoming.
He originally wanted to give the song to Jimi Hendrix because of its psychedelic feel. But, he was persuaded to record it himself. Interestingly, a bit of inside info here, along with him on the sessions, were some interesting characters.
He had Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones playing on the track. All doing their thing in CBS Studios in London. But Donovan wouldn’t have quite fitted at the front of Led Zeppelin a year later, would he?
Where Did The Hurdy Gurdy Originally Come From?
It is believed that the Hurdy Gurdy was descended from the early fiddles/violins that came from the Middle East to Europe. Instruments like the Rebab may have influenced its development sometime around the 10th century.
The very first form of the Hurdy Gurdy instruments was called an “Organistrum.” It had a guitar-shaped body and a long neck where the keys were located. The instrument covered one diatonic octave.
Played By Two People
It was an interesting instrument in many ways, but not least because it was played by two people. It had just one string for playing the melody, which was supplemented by two drone strings. Similar to the drones on bagpipes that are blown.
The melody string and the drone strings ran over the same bridge and a wheel. It was operated by two people, one whose job it was to turn the crank. The other pulled the keys. Pulling up those keys was difficult and very awkward. Therefore, the instrument could only play slow music.
There are mentions of it in manuscripts from the 10th and 11th centuries, but it wasn’t until the 12th century we had the earliest depiction. This is on the wall of a church in Santiago De Compostela in Northern Spain in the 12th Century. Two people are playing it shown in a carving.
To The Modern Day
As all instruments do, it had improvements and developments. It was popular throughout the 16th-18th centuries in Europe, and especially Eastern Europe. And in that period, it took on the form we see today.
It was especially popular in Ukraine. It was used by blind street musicians, and every town and village had their “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” That was until the 1930s when stalin (small ‘S’ deliberate – capitals are reserved for those that deserve respect) arrived.
He purged the country, including the street musicians and their Hurdy Gurdy’s. Funny how tyrants seem to arrive and do the same things again later, and we all stand and watch. You won’t find too many instruments around from that period.
They all but died out, but there has been a resurgence in the last 60 years. Possibly helped on by Donovan. There are now Hurdy Gurdy societies and concerts in most European countries. And it has been used and played by the most unlikely of musicians. Here is just a brief list of the UK users:
- Richie Blackmore with Blackmore’s Night on the DVD “Paris Moon.”
- Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin in the film “The Song Remains The Same.”
- Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin on “Gallows Pole.”
- Nigel Eaton with Page and Plant on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”
I could go on, but you get the point. It is especially popular with musicians who also like Folk Music because that is the root of the instrument.
An Illustrious History
It certainly has that and has survived just about everything to still be with us. Now your appetite has been wetted, and you want to follow in the steps of some great musicians. So, you want to know where to buy a Hurdy Gurdy.
Here comes the difficult part. As I already intimated, there are not that many around. There aren’t that many people who have heard of one or know what it is. And there are even fewer that have the faintest idea where to buy one. But if you are hell-bent on getting one, then let’s give you a little help.
Let’s start with more bad news. The Hurdy Gurdy is not a cheap instrument. Like most instruments, there are the basic versions, and then there are the “all-the-bells-and-whistles” instruments.
You would expect to pay on average for a good instrument around $2000. If you want the “all-the-bells-and-whistles” Hurdy Gurdy made by Altarwind, you will be looking at close to $4500.
Why So Expensive?
These are not mass-produced instruments turned out in the thousands. These are all hand-built using quality materials. And the amount of work and level of craftsmanship necessary to build one is staggering. That is the reason you will not see too many bargains.
Do You Buy New or Used?
The Hurdy Gurdy is not the sort of instrument you are going to find new or used. You aren’t going to find a new one on the usual online buying options. That means going to a reputable manufacturer. We have already seen that it is not going to be a cheap option.
However, if you do go down the manufacturer route for a new instrument, there is one big advantage. You will know that it has been well-made and set up by professionals.
The Used Marketplace
If you don’t want to pay new prices, then the used Hurdy Gurdy market is an option. But it is an option that has plenty of potential dangers.
You will likely be buying from an online marketplace like eBay. They do not check the quality of what is being sold and are not interested in doing so. With an instrument like this, you might wonder why it is being sold online at all.
One of the reasons you will find them on those marketplace websites is that they are poor-quality copies. They are constructed cheaply and then described as the real thing at a much-reduced price.
It is unlikely that you will be anywhere near the seller to go and see it and try it out. The first time you see it will be when it is delivered, and it’s a little bit late then.
Some knowledgeable individuals would see through them straight away. Maybe they will either see that there is not a manufacturer’s identification. Or, maybe there is, but they have never heard of it. If you are not one of those, then it’s best to avoid these sites.
Paying A Bit More
If you are not an expert, then it is going to be a better bet to pay a little more. Seek out a reputable luthier who will not only give you advice but may have just what you are looking for.
Things To Consider When Buying a Hurdy Gurdy for Sale
- If you are just learning, go for three or four-string models that might include two melody strings and two drones.
- The French 6-string Hurdy Gurdy will be too complicated for a beginner.
- The bridge should be fitted with a bridle adjustment.
- Try and find an instrument with a chromatic keyboard rather than a diatonic; they are easier for the starter.
- If you want to play in public at some stage, try and find an instrument that has a pick-up already fitted.
Where Can You Buy A New One?
We’ve already said it is not going to be easy to find a Hurdy Gurdy for sale. You won’t find a new Hurdy Gurdy on sites like Amazon or similar. They are almost the sole domain of private manufacturers. As such, you have to go out and find them.
You will find that the majority of luthiers and others who have an interest in this instrument are always willing to help. There is this ‘Hurdy Gurdy Community’ feeling about them. Not something you find very often but a very big plus. Let’s make a few suggestions to get you started.
They have been a high-quality Hurdy Gurdy maker since 1994. They do have some new models that are slightly cheaper. But, of course, they also manufacture the ‘bells and whistles’ models as well.
Olympic Instruments, Washington
This is a company that only manufactures Hurdy Gurdy’s and nothing else. They have a range of instruments at different prices.
Luthiers, Chris Allen and Sabina Kormlyo, manufacture a range of instruments from days gone by. They have a reputation for sticking rigidly to original designs and details. They make Hurdy Gurdy’s but also Lutes, Mandolins, and other instruments.
Balazs Nagy is one of the most respected Hurdy Gurdy manufacturers in the world. He has been manufacturing them for over 30 years. Renowned for his Hungarian designs, suitable for beginners.
And for his French ‘Vielle’ model, suitable for more experienced players and the “Symphonia” a throwback from Romanesque days.
Stanislaw Nogaj. He was a student of master luthier Stanislaw Wyzykowski where he learned his trade. In 2003, he opened his workshop. He is well-known for building his instruments to have a rich and warm sound.
Finding A Used Hurdy Gurdy
If you don’t have the budget or the inclination for a new instrument, then you can try second-hand instruments.
Hurdy Gurdy Marketplace on Facebook
Contrary to the opinions of many, Facebook does have its positive uses. Here you will find a very active market for second-hand Hurdy Gurdy’s.
This is the first place you need to try ahead of all the others. Not only a place where you might find the instrument you want. But also a place where like-minded people can offer advice and help.
The Hurdy Gurdy Community generally is an active, positive one, as I have said. You will find it to be the same on Facebook as well.
Lazar’s Early Music, United States
Don’t be put off by the website. These people build instruments and are not web page designers. If you happen to be in America, this place should be second on your list to try. A good company with a solid reputation for instruments of quality.
If you are not lucky at either of those places, then contacting people through them might be another way forward. But don’t rush into anything, take your time and meet some people. Word of mouth is often a good way to establish contacts.
As the Eagles sang, “The Last Resort” – If all else fails – but be careful. There are an awful lot of very poor products out there.
There Is Always Another Way
And so it is here. If you are a practical person, then you can buy Hurdy Gurdy Kits to make one for yourself. That could be a worthwhile project, but you’d better be brave and somewhat adventurous.
It isn’t a cheap option as there will be tools to buy as well as the kit. You can find kits at the following companies.
- The Renaissance Workshop Company in Spain.
- Nerdy Gurdy in Holland. They sell 4 and 6 string kits and also offer them completely assembled, and also win my vote for a fantastic company name.
Some interesting items might interest the Hurdy Gurdy fan. You could listen to The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan, which helped revitalize interest in this amazing instrument. Or, you could build a replica with this Wood Trick Lyra da Vinci 3D Hurdy Gurdy – Wood Model Kit.
Interested in Unique Instruments?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Ocarinas, the Best Melodica, the Best Bagpipes, the Best Kalimba, the Best Hammered Dulcimers, the Best Mountain Dulcimers, the Best Djembe, and the Best Mandolins you can buy in 2023.
And don’t miss our handy articles on Bowed String Instruments You’ve Never Heard Of, How Hard Is It to Learn Accordion, How Hard Is It to Play Bagpipes, and the Easiest Musical Instruments for Adults for more useful musical information.
Hurdy Gurdy for Sale – Final Thoughts
As I keep emphasizing, finding a Hurdy Gurdy, whether new or second-hand, will not be easy. However, if you can find a Hurdy Gurdy to buy, it is going to be a very worthwhile, enjoyable, and fascinating instrument to own.
Until next time, let your music play.