Hurdy Gurdy maintenance

Keyboard overlay.

Printing this <<<>>> in landscape mode should provide an overlay that can be taped to the keybox of a 345mm scale hurdygurdy. There are two overlays, one for G/C and one for D/G . They may help note location in the early stages.

Setting up the Hurdy Gurdy . 1(2)

Tuning guide

Follow this link to get notation and audio examples of the two main tunings :

This series of articles is designed to expand on the information contained in the 3rd edition of the Doreen Muskett Method ( ISBN 0 946993 07 6)and there is little point in repeating the valuable information it contains. Reference can also be made to "The Hurdy Gurdy adjustment and maintenance" book by Philippe Destrem and Volker Heidemann. ( ISBN 2 9507682 0 2 )

The Chanterelles

The main component of a well set up Hurdy Gurdy must be the chanterelles because inaccuracies in pitch or tone will work against the drones and the quality is lost. It is vital that a quality string is used and many novice players have bought "bargain " gut strings from their local music store only to find them unresponsive and impossible to use. This is due to the fact that all natural substances will change over time and those cheap strings have probably been in the drawer for years. I have helped many players over their initial setting up problems simply by fitting a good string. I personally do not find that nylon or steel make good chanterelles.I have consistently used strings made and supplied by Northern Renaissance Instruments of Manchester and have had no problems. They have a catalogue of strings specifically for the Hurdy Gurdy.

Having said above that steel strings are unsuitable, string technology has improved over the years and I have found that in D/G tuning, Pirastro Eudoxa violin E ( aluminium wound ) number 3141 makes a very stable 1st chanterelle, and D'Addario Helicore violin D ( H313 ) is good for the second chanterelle. One big advantage of using these is that they  "bend" at a similar rate , allowing a better vibrato. They need less pressure on the wheel and careful tangent adjustment but altogether they seem to be far less prone to changes in intonation at the high end of the keybox. The tone is slightly brighter than gut.

The first place to begin setting up the Hurdy Gurdy is also the chanterelles. This is because the keybox is not adjustable and therefore the angle of the wheel edge must be aligned to this first. The string sizes mentioned in the method, while giving a good average, may not be ideal for all instruments. Using a string of one or two thou. lighter or heavier can have a marked effect on the sound. Too light and volume and tone is lost, too heavy results in strong volume but a tendency for the notes to not pick up cleanly. The correct wheel edge angle is essential as is perfect trueness. Any major corrections in these areas are probably best left to an experienced maker . having said that, the only tool required is a sharp cabinet makers scraper and the information on page 95 of the method.

Once the above choices and adjustments have been made, all that is left is to set the scale and tune the tangents. To set the scale length, play the first chanterelle open and compare this with the pitch at the octave key. With the octave tangent in line with the key, the octave must be true when the normal playing pressure is applied. Too much pressure will sharpen the pitch and give a false impression. If the octave sounds flat, the nut should be moved away from the wheel and vice versa. The third and fifth intervals may now be set to a meter by twisting the tangents towards the wheel if flat, away if sharp. The rest of the tangents may also be adjusted to a meter but they are best done by ear with a drone playing as the required scale is a compromise of the two normal playing keys.

Here is a table of some recommended tuning variation from equal temperament.

The numbers below the notes represent cents variation

(Written for G/C tuning but equally valid on D/G )

G    G#    A    A#    B    C   C#    D    D#   E    F    F# G   G#   A    A#     B    C    C#     D    D#     E     F     F# 
0   +12   +4  +16    -14  -2  -10   +2   +14  -16  -4  -12    0  +12  +4  +16   -14   -2    -10    +2   +14   -16    -4  -12

Thanks to Ernic Kamerich for the above information. A fuller dissertation on the subject can be found here :


With one chanterelle playing correctly, the second must now be matched to it. Engage both chanterelles and repeat the operations above. Adjust the tangents so that no beats are heard. An easy way to do this is to play the strings and if a beat is heard, press the second chanterelle behind the tangent while holding the key in. This has the effect of sharpening the string. If the beat is reduced, twist the tangent towards the wheel and check again. If the beat is worse, twist the tangent towards the nut. The higher positions will always be more tricky as they are more sensitive to variations in cotton application. These are best checked by alternately stopping the strings with a finger while turning the wheel. Any pitch difference will become readily apparent.

The tangents should contact the chanterelles at the same time, it may be necessary to trim the edge of one to achieve this.


 It is important that a long strand, impurity free cotton is used. Suitable cotton, known as cotton slivers is available from Airedale Yarns, Shipley. UK. Website page :  

Correct application of cotton is essential if the chanterelles are to play properly.

  1. First, rub the string with rosin in the wheel contact area, twisting it to ensure an even coating.
  1. Pull off a small piece of cotton - about postage stamp size. It is held between left hand index finger and thumb.
  2. Turning the wheel continually, lift the string using the left hand ring finger and grip it with the little finger on top of the string. This allows the string to be "bounced " on the wheel.
  3. Lift the string and introduce the end of the cotton under it. As soon as the end is under, bounce the string on the wheel repeatedly. This movement will draw the cotton through and it will wrap loosely on the string. Only allow enough cotton on to just cover the string . Ensure the right hand edge contact point is covered.
  4. Grip the string between index finger and thumb, lift it away from the wheel,  roll it by pushing the thumb forwards then press it onto the wheel and roll it the other way. This will cause the wheel to catch the cotton and tighten the wrap. Continue this until the cotton is smooth and even.
  5. The wheel is constantly rotated from point 3 to completion.

That all sounds complicated but is quite straightforward with practice and ensures a consistent standard of application to be maintained. It is this consistency which will result in rarely needing to touch tangents to maintain perfect intonation.

I have included a short video sequence in  of the procedure >>>HERE <<< It is over 7 mb so you can practice the trompette while it's loading ! My apologies for those who don't use Windows - I don't have any other way of doing it.

There is now a plugin available that will permit playback of WMV files on an Apple Mac via Quicktime.

It's a free download called Flip4Mac available from Microsoft at: 

The upper octave is more sensitive to cotton variations. If too much is applied, the string will play flat and it is tempting to point the tangents towards the wheel to retune. It is better to reapply the cotton, using less, and noting the effect this has.

One major factor affecting the chanterelles is the type of cotton employed. The modern cotton wool balls supplied for household use are not suitable for use on the Hurdy Gurdy . This is because the strands are too short and they are full of lumps. The now sadly out of production Mc Donalds SnoDrops were 100% Polyester and could have been made for the job. ( If anyone out there knows where to obtain some I'll buy a few bags!) . The French players seem to routinely use brushed cotton which works well but wears out quicker than polyester. I have found that raw cotton straight from the bush winds on more easily than the processed stuff . The amount of cotton required depends on the string diameter, generally as little as possible to give a complete covering. It is important that consistency is achieved when applying cotton. It is much better to learn the technique than to have to continually adjust tangents for intonation. Incidentally has anyone given any thought to what the early players used before cotton was available ?

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