- Also Known As: Wheel fiddle
- Dates: 14th century – present
- Size: 1.5'; varies by region
- Range: 2+ octaves; depends on region
- Voice: As if a bagpipe mated with a violin; timbre can be manipulated
The hurdy-gurdy is more mechanically complex than the organistrum, but the overall idea hasn’t changed. Most hurdy-gurdies today have two or three melody strings, and anywhere from two to six drone strings (most models tend to stick with four). Drone strings may be turned off by placing them on heightened sections of the drone bridges, which are located on either side of the main bridge.
Strings, often made of gut, are sounded with a larger rosin wheel than that of the organistrum. The larger wheel allowed for more strings, and aided in the execution of the “buzzing bridge”; a drone bridge that lifts slightly off the soundboard causing a distinct, rhythmic buzzing during play. The buzzing bridge – also called a “chien” or “dog” – is triggered by a quick acceleration of the wheel crank. (If the rotating wheel was smaller, a player would have less control over this technique, because the wheel would already be rotating at a quicker pace.) The sensitivity of the buzzing bridge can be adjusted with the turn of a small head near the bridge known as a tirant.
Types of Hurdy-Gurdies
Hurdy-gurdies vary widely by region. The most widely-known varieties include:
French (Vielle à roue): Instrument bodies resemble either a guitar or a lute, and have a slim keybox. Four drones are the standard, while melody strings vary from the traditional two to the modern three or four.
German (Drehleier): Teardrop-shaped body; often quite ornate. Two melody strings with a chromatic range, along with two or three drones.
Hungarian (Tekerőlant): Guitar-shaped body, often with intricate wood-carving and a wide keybox. Traditionally, the instrument has two drones and one or two melody strings with a chromatic range.