Click here to hear how this $20 hurdy gurdy sounds
The tune is called "En Roullant Ma Boulle" - a very old
French-Canadian Voyageur's paddling song

NOTE: 14 additional photos (plus 7 photos of other's instruments) and a sound sample of this instrument are available. Click here for information.
A note or two in defense of this instrument (Summer 2006):

I recently read the less-than-kind observations of a top U.S.
Hurdy Gurdy expert who severely takes me to task, on his web-site,
for promoting "inferior quality, low end and thus terrible sounding
Hurdy Gurdies". All I can offer in response is "phooey!!"  

A large part of why I so enjoy making simple musical instruments
and offering their building plans on my webpage is to counter such
artsy-fartsy attitudes.

I DEARLY love the concept of "giant-killer".


The point of this article is simply to show how one can, in a weekend 
or so, with very basic woodworking skills & for quite minimal expense 
create a very pleasing simple hurdy gurdy & in the process learn a 
lot about this most fascinating instrument. Great fun too.
The shape of my instrument here is patterned after the first hurdy gurdies, 
many centuries ago, which were rectangular in shape. "Curvy-shaped" hurdy 
gurdies were a later development.

This thing was built at a very low cost in a bit more than a 
weekend's worth of spare-time tinkering. It has proven a very playable 
& nice sounding instrument -- one which I have had no fear of playing for
hundreds of thousands of folks as part of my job with the Mackinac State 
Historic Parks (One of our sites being Fort Michilimackinac, built by 
the French in 1715).


Click here for most detailed view (49k)

Click here for top view of instrument (33k)

Click here for shot of me playing the thing (36k)

Many thanks to Bill Wilkinson for nice photo to jpg conversions!

Aside from general handyman-type tools, I did have use of a rather 
rickety table saw. The 4 1/2" diameter wheel (made of solid rock 
maple, 1/2" thick) was cut out with a coping saw as round as 
possible and a bolt/nut secured through it's DEAD-center - the 
whole mess put into an electric drill clamped into a vise & worked 
VERY round & smooth using a sanding block & files applied to the 
rotating disk. "Brace" the rasping tools as best you can so that 
they don't follow any possible depression or dip in the wheel 
surface. The wheel takes some TIME and PATIENCE to get right.


"AERIAL" VIEW ************** T (The ! bit represent the keys) X X Back _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ | | | | | | | | | T T T T T T T T T T | | |~~~~| wheel | |=O |,----------!--!--!--!--!-!--!--!-!-!------, |!~~!|<-hole | | R-> |'----------X--X--X--X--X-X--X--X-X-X------' |! !| | | | H | | X X X X X X X X X X | | |! !| B |_| o-> |o H |OIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIO| |! !| B .| |] |o H | | | | |! !| B .|~ |o H | | | | |! !| B .| |o H | | <--S f-hole here | | |!Wh!| B .| |o H | | | | |!__!| B .| H-> | H | | S--> | | |____| B | |_ _ _ |_| _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _|_|_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _| Left Front ^ Right side L side Wh = Wheel o = tuning pins (zither pins) H = Nut . = hitch pins (woodscrews) R = Key/keyblock mounting rails S = Rail & f'board mounting These make each note/key "spans" fully adjustable OIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIO = Fingerboard T!XX = Key/key mounting blocks L = Location of brace (below) B = Bridge PS: I now use several seperate bridges & nuts instead of the long ones described here. PS: Zither pins are available for about 22 cents each (2002 price) from Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan. They have a mail-order website: . NUT This measures 7/8" high by 5/16" wide & 4 1/16" long & is made of either hard or softwood. Strings ride through slotted woodscrews screwed into top of nut at a slight "back-angle" to lessen the chance of buzz. All strings should be spaced parallel & about 3/4" apart except that the chanter string (main melody string) should be about 1 1/16" from the other "wheeled" string (drone string). The nut should be glued onto the soundboard with it's center-line 2 1/4" from the left end of the instrument. PS: I now use several small nuts instead of one long one. "SPANS" These are made so that they touch the instrument's soundboard only at each end, thus not interfering with the it's vibration. The right end of the key/keyblock mounting-rails and both ends of the fingerboard are screwed to these "spans". The top-side of the left span is cut-away so that the mounting rails will just pass over & not touch it. I used hardwood for the spans. |~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~| |______________________________________________________________| '-----' '-----' Note the two 1/16" thick spacers at each end to keep span bottom from contacting the soundboard face. These spans are made 11/32 inch "tall" (including spacers) by 1/2" wide by 7 7/8" long. The span's centerlines are located like so: Left span - - 3" from left end of instrument. Right span - - 14 3/16" from left end of instrument. BRIDGE Make this of any hard or softwood 23/32" high by 5/16" wide by 4 1/16" long. Four small blocks can be glued along bridge base (& nut too) to help keep it from tipping over when glued to the soundboard. The bridge should be located so that it's center-line is 2 5/16" from the right side of the instrument. PS: I now use several small bridges instead of one long one. BRACE (UNDERNEATH) 6" long by 5/32" wide by 3/8" high softwood brace glued to underside of soundboard, just at the right hand edge of the wheel-hole. FINGERBOARD I have found the use of a fingerboard (as opposed to having the "keypad" merely touch the strings as is the case traditionally) to be an advantage in this instrument. It most noticeably makes for a cleaner, clearer & louder tone. The fingerboard is a piece of rock maple 3/4 inch "tall" by 1/2" wide by 11 3/4" long & is mounted to the two "spans". Instead of round screw-holes at each end, elongate (make eliptical) each hole to allow for a range of forward/backwards adjustment to position the fingerboard properly. Use two woodscrews with washers to secure in the desired position. Locate the fingerboard so that the fingerboard's surface is about 3 5/8" from the back edge of the soundboard. Below is an "Aerial" view of one end of the fingerboard (greatly enlarged) showing elongated adjustment hole. Through these two holes are inserted woodscrews with washers which when cinched-down firmly secure the fingerboard in the desired position. ______________________________________________________ | _ as | / \ viewed | | | from | | | TOP | | | <-- note elongated "adjustment hole" | | | | | | | \ _ / |______________________________________________________ CONSTRUCTION OF THE BODY ITSELF This is a very simple rectangular box. I used two pieces of 4" wide 3/4" thick softwood for the front & back, two 4" wide 3/4" thick pieces of rock maple for the end pieces (dense hardwood needed here for the tuning pins, good "bearing" properties etc), 1/4" plywood for on the bottom & an 8 3/8" by 19 7/8" piece of 5/16 cheap mahogany panelling, top side down, for the soundboard. Use of thick wood for the sides was on purpose - it helps keep the instrument from walking about & does not seem to appreciably effect the instrument's loudness. Cut a 1" by 5" hole in the soundboard to accomodate the part of the wheel that projects above the surface of the instrument. A 5 or 6" long simply cut f-hole really does help the volume. The soundboard is attached with tiny dabs of glue here & there which facilitates easy removal for access to the crankshaft/wheel. ------------------------------------------------------------------- KEYS/KEY-MOUNTING BLOCK & MOUNTING RAILS


Key slides in Side view: mounting block <--- ---> .-------------. _ .-.--------------' - - - '-----------' | : :--.-----------' - - - '-----------, |<-K Put leather : :<--T | | ~ pad on this-> : : B--> | |_ _ _ _ surface :____: | | | <--R | |- - - -' | |_ _ _ _ <--S | | | <--R `-------------`- - - -' K = Keyshaft with glued-on "fingerpad" B = Mounting Block through which the key slides T = "Tangent" - this pushes string against the fingerboard R = Key/keyblock mounting Rails S = Woodscrew with washer goes thru this slot to mount the key/keyblock at the desired position/pitch along the rails Key-mounting block (Made of any hardwood) ________ glue '--------' <- cap on _ _ | | | | <- this | ~~~~ | notch body --> | | is for (END-view) | | keyshaft | | Pilot-hole for mounting screw --> | o | (11/32" from bottom). It's best | | if this screw does not go into ~~~~~~~~ end-grain. Dimensions are 1 3/32" tall, 3/4" deep, 1/2" wide. "Notch" is 3/16" deep by 11/32" wide (make JUST larger than dimensions of key-shaft). Making the notch to these dimensions will mean that the thickness of body-wood on either side of the notch will be about 3/32" & is thus fragile, until the cap is glued on top.The pilot-hole for the mounting screw should be located about 11/32" from bottom & in center. Make the top cap 1/16" thick or less. I made these blocks all together in a strip & then cut them into 1/2" wide blocks. keys The shafts are made of any hardwood & are 5/16" wide by 11/64" thick, cut 2 1/16" long. Very slightly round off the 4 long edges & "adjust" shaft dimensions until they just nicely slip in & out of the keyblock "notch" without any binding or excessive play. Glue a 5/16" square (*) piece of wood to shaft end as a fingerpad (a small channel chisled or routed into pad's bottom so pad can grip the shaft end before glueing keeps them from getting knocked off). Amply round-off all corners & edges of fingerpads. * LATE PS: AFTER USING THESE SMALL PADS, I NOW RECOMMEND MAKING THE FINGERPADS LONGER SO THEY CAN BE MORE EASILY HIT WHILE PLAYING. MAKE THE PADS LONG ENOUGH SO THERE IS ONLY A 3/32 TO 1/8 INCH GAP BETWEEN ADJACENT KEYPADS. THIS MEANS THAT SOME OF THE PADS WILL BE AS LONG AS AN INCH OR SO, WHILE OTHER PADS WILL BE ONLY HALF THAT LONG. WITH THESE LONGER KEYPADS, IT MIGHT ME A GOOD IDEA TO MAKE THE KEYPAD THICKER & ALSO MAKE THE "GROOVED CHANNEL" ON THE UNDERSIDE OF EACH ONE DEEPER - FOR BETTER GLUEING GRIP. IT IS NOT NECESSARY THAT THE PADS BE CENTERED ON THE KEY-SHAFT -- JUST ARRANGE THEM SO THE 3/32 TO 1/8 INCH DISTANCE BERTWEEN ADJACENT KEYS IS MAINTAINED. / ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~/| / / | / / / <-- Fingerpad (greatly enlarged) .----------------, / |_____:~~~:______|/ /\ end of key-shaft inserts in here "Tangents" are small blocks of any hardwood 5/16" wide by 11/16" high by 3/8" deep notched to accept the end of the key shaft (& thus provide a better glue joint). Small pads of leather (shiny side out) are glued to each blockface. These pads are what contact the strings. I made these "tangents" all together in a strip & then cut them into the 5/16" wide pieces. /~~~~/| / / |________ /____/ / /| | | /Notch / | | |/_______/ | <-- "Tangent" (greatly enlarged) | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | / | | / |______________|/ PS - On certain high notes (ie. 10th - 12th keys) where keys have to be placed very close together to achieve proper notes, the leather pads can be offset a tad right or left on the tangent blocks. Slightly wider tangent blocks can a help in this case as well. rails This instrument is a bit unique in that these rails allow each note to be completely adjustable pitchwise. The sketch above at the top of this section shows an end view of these mounting-rails upon which the key/key-mounting blocks are mounted. The keys/keyblock are secured at exact position by tightening the woodscrews once they are properly placed/pitched along the rail length. Each of the two rails is 1/4 inch "high" by 15/32" wide by 14 1/2" long & are made of any hardwood. Below is a side view of these two rails & how one key/keyblock mounts to it: The () is the woodscrew/washer location (screw-point pointing towards you -- screw screws in from the rear in this sketch). Only the keyblock shown here, not the key itself - for clarity. ______ cap ||__|| _______________| |___________________________________ |_______________| |___________________________________| |____|__________| () |______________________________|____|<-Spa- |_______________| |___________________________________| cers |____| '----' (on <-- --> each adjustable end) The above also shows how the rail assembly is mounted to the instrument. Right end is screwed to the right "span" & left end has a 3/16" thick spacer glued to bottom. This spacer is used to keep rails parallel to the soundboard. Seperate the 2 rails by glueing two 5/32" thick spacers between rails, at right & left ends. This creates the slot in which the key/keyblock's adjustment screw slides. Notch out the bottom right side of the lower rail where it contacts the right span so that the top side of the rail assembly measures 7/8" from the soundboard surface. Locate the rail assembly so that the centerline of it is about 1 9/16" from the back edge of the soundboard.


------------------------------------------------------------------- CRANKSHAFT/CRANK/WHEEL ASSEMBLY A 5/16" diameter, fully threaded 7 1/4" bolt proved to be a great crankshaft! inside bracket for ! ! <-mounting crankshaft | | ! ! __ | | !!~~~~| ! ! Wheel--> | | | | !!----' ! ! | | | | !! ! !_ _| |_ | |_ _!!_ |~~| ! \_ _ _ _ _ / | | \_ _ _ _ _ _ _| | \ _/ !! \ _ |--! ! N | bolt | N |Wh| N | bolt | | N || N !! N | | |__| ! /~ ~ ~ ~ ~ \ | | /~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~| | / ~\ !! / ~ ! !~ ~| |~ | |~ ~!!~ ! ! | | | | ! ! | | | | ! ! |__| | | <-- right side ! ! | | of box ! ! | | (frame) The center-line of the wheel should be 4 1/2" from the right side of the instrument. Use locking nuts everywhere N appears above (lockwashers are not recommended). Tighten these nuts very tightly on wheel and crank. Use plain (non-locking) flat washers on BOTH sides of the "inside bracket for mounting crankshaft" & another on the one locking bolt associated with the "right side of box (frame)". (altho a bolt here is unnecessary I put one on here for cosmetic reasons). DO NOT tighten at these places very tightly -- you want a good deal of "slip" here. Graphite dust lubricates. The crank-arm can be made out of any 1/16" or so thick scrap of metal. Mine is 3/4" wide by 2 1/2" long & is bent slightly into an "s" to get the knob out a bit further from the body of the instrument. Any knob or stub of wood will act as a crank-handle. Obviously, don't tighten the handle too much. The "inside bracket" for mounting the left end of the crankshaft bolt is simply a length of 3/4" by 2" rock maple fitted, glued & screwed on the inside between the front & back - a hole drilled through the middle to allow the crankshaft bolt to just pass (this hole carefully positioned midway between the instrument's front and back & 1 3/8" from the top surface of the soundboard to the center of the hole). Very carefully drill a corresponding hole in the right side maple body end-piece (any "off-centerness" here will result in an intolerable wheel wobble & resulstant wavery tone). The crankshaft is inserted through these two holes. It might be argued that no real bearing exists here - undeniable, but zero evidence of elongation exists nor is likely to exist to any debilitating degree for a good length of time*. I had planned to utilize pieces of teflon here (left over from my telescope making days) but this (so far) has proved unnecessary. (* late report: 1/21/00 & still not the slightest sign of wear after years of heavy playing) STRINGS, SETUP & TUNING This instrument's strings consist of two strings which are sounded by the rotating wheel (the chanter & a lower drone) and three sympathetic strings that do not touch the wheel, but sing nicely by sympathizing with the two wheeled string's notes. Sympathetic strings on any instrument must be tuned as precisely as possible to achieve maximum sympathetic effect. A "buzzing bridge/dog string" was not (yet) utilized on this instrument. Further experiments are planned & I will post the results if successful. I had good luck using primarily classical nylon guitar strings. I happened to have a set of inexpensive Savarez brand strings from France & they worked nicely. Having said this, I have found 50 thousandths weed-whip nylon line to make an excellent chanter string (main melody string). The irridescent yellow color is hardly "authentic looking", but after trying myriad other strings here, the weed-whip beauty was best. Here's my string setup: Chanter -.050" weed-whip line - from K-mart garden department. This string is tuned to G. Wheeled string next to chanter -.031" wound nylon, from Savarez guitar set. This string is tuned to the first C below the chanter pitch. Sympathetic string next to above -.030" plain nylon, from Savarez guitar set. This string is tuned to G that matches the chanter pitch with the 3rd key pressed. Sympathetic string next to above -.033" wound nylon, from Savarez guitar set. This string is tuned to C, in the octave below the above string. Sympathetic string next to above -.041" wound nylon, from Savarez guitar set. This string is tuned to G, in the octave below the above string. Wispy strands of preferably long-fiber cotton must be tightly wound around each string where they contact the rotating wheel. The purpose is to mellow out the tone & to keep the wheel from quickly abrading through the string. I happened to have several bolls of raw cotton - right from the field & this worked great. Simply pull out a fine wisp of cotton strands from a clump of the material & introduce it to the rotating wheel/string contact point. The rotation should pull the wisp onto the string & wind it round and round. This process can be encouraged by at first placing the wisp end underneath the string, atop the wheel. Don't get too much cotton on the string -- or too little. Experimentation while listening to overall tone is the key. Add (or subtract) small pieces of paper of varying thickness between the bridge & each string to raise or lower the two wheeled strings so that they might ride over the wheel with just the right contact tension. This is a bit fussy, but not all that difficult. Rosin the wheel by applying a cake of rosin & rotating crank a half dozen times or so. Use the back (wood) part of the rosin cake to smoothe out the rosin on the wheel for a rotation or two. Too much rosin causes the tone to be raspy & with too little the tone sounds anemic. To play the instrument, hold it securely it in your lap tilted forward so that the soundboard tilts away from you at about a 45 degree angle. There are no return springs necessary on the keys -- they are returned by gravity. Adjust each key/keyblock's woodscrew along the rail assembly so that when playing in the key of C (the main key) the first note of the scale ("do") starts by pressing the third key. The secondary key of G can be played as well by starting it's scale ("do") by playing the chanter string (melody string) open (un-keyed) -- the key of G in this configuration has a flatted 7th note. Dennis Havlena - W8MI northern Michigan Click here to return to my homepage.

Click here for information about adding a second melody string to the above instrument.