“Beginner’s” hurdy gurdys exist because neither the builder nor the buyer understands what the instrument is capable of. I’ve been a full-time string instrument maker for more than forty years, and although I don’t build gurdies, I have owned five of them (currently only two).
A well-made gurdy is a very sophisticated instrument, capable of a wealth of expression. It can be made to growl like an animal or sing like a bird. The drone strings can suggest anything from the snarl of bagpipes to the wind in the trees, and can recreate the delicate balance of medieval music or the searing quality of heavy metal. Adjustments to the drone stops allow the player to achieve the desired balance between the volume of the drones and the melody strings. Other adjustments can change the voicing, color, and dynamics of the gurdy, because a good builder has taken his time to master his craft and produce a well-tuned machine with all the precision of any orchestral instrument. Interestingly, acoustic analysis of the gurdy shows waveforms irregular enough to suggest three instruments rather than one. Imagine the possibilities!
And I haven’t even started on the trompette, the little buzzing bridge of the gurdy. A well-adjusted trompette allows the player to produce a rhythmic, percussive effect to accompany the tune. Just like a good drummer, the gurdy player can change the rhythmic structure of one or more measures of music by replacing simple 1-2 rhythms with a wide selection of rhythmic variations. The player can put a syncopated rhythm, a waltz rhythm, a continuous or intermittent buzz, or any number of staccato or legato, harder or softer, long or short, effects under the tune to enhance and beautify the music in unexpected ways. An accomplished player player can take a simple tune and introduce distinctly divergent rhythmic patterns underneath it to make a familiar piece new and exciting. A carefully built and sensitive trompette will allow you to explore all the wonders the music has to offer!
My point is, if you buy a cheap gurdy from a maker who doesn’t fully understand the instrument and hasn’t the skill to create these subtle adjustments, you will get none of the above and will very soon become very frustrated with the limitations of the thing. Would you buy a “beginner’s piano” that was really cheap because it couldn’t be tuned and more than half the keys were missing? You wouldn’t - because you already know what a piano is capable of sounding like. The typical “beginners’s hurdy gurdy”, is a partially functional box that will prevent you from learning any of the skills mentioned above. Save your money and invest in an instrument you can grow into rather than one that you will quickly abandon. It’s a glorious undertaking and it’s well worth the wait.
(on Facebook) Larry Brown - “Beginner’s” hurdy gurdys exist because neither the...
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