ELZ Overview – a Comprehensive Review and History of the ELZgurdy

This post was originally written in December of 2022 on the “Hurdy Gurdy Community” Facebook group. I am re-posting it here on GurdyWorld for posterity, and with additional info I have gathered since the original post.

Preface

This article based on the discussion involving the ELZ instruments. All the information documents 5 instruments received in the last Few years, with varying levels of playability. While some had minor problems, others had nearly unplayable instruments due to rushed, imprecise craftsmanship from the maker. The ELZ hurdy-gurdy has become un-recommendable until further tests of new instruments by expert players are reported.

This document was written with help from many players and ELZs owners, making it a compilation of feedback from a part of the community. It has been written for a few reasons – to give Eduardo a list of things to consider when working on his design, to warn the community and future players of the problems that come along with ordering an ELZ, and to document the current problems to compare to future models and see improvements.

I, nor anyone else, are being payed to write this. All of it is written because of a passion for helping beginners avoid problematic instruments.

The short of it

Eduardo was originally very promising as a luthier, as he has a lot of skill from his years as a guitar maker. His original prototypes were very good, yet needed some improvements.

Once Eduardo started getting orders, he dropped quality for building speed and began to ship unplayable or defective instruments. When confronted with problems Eduardo deflected the blame as user error, or shipping issues.

While Eduardo can make a good hurdy-gurdy, he has not shown he can be trusted to mass produce a consistent product. To this day he has never taken on any blame for his failures, and continues to deflect blame or accept honest feedback.

Click here to skip to “problems with the ELZ hurdy-gurdies”.

Background

Eduardo Luz, the maker of ELZ gurdies, started his career as a luthier building guitars for 8 years before building his first hurdy-gurdy in 2018. The next year, in 2019, Eduardo build his 10th hurdy-gurdy – the first ELZ Vision model. This line of instruments kicked off Eduardo’s fame as a western hemisphere hurdy-gurdy maker.

Eduardo continued to improve his Vision models, inviting Sergio González Prats to his workshop in Brazil. Using his feedback, Eduardo created the Vision II model. Sergio posted multiple videos (now deleted) to his youtube channel about his visits and gave the ELZ high marks. He believed them to be very good, and with some more improvements – ELZ gurdy could rival European-based makers.

Eduardo Luz nowadays is one of the best luthiers of the American continent, the prototype was good but the new version of his ELZ Vision is just AWESOME, tone, projection, massive keys… and the Brazilian woods are simply gorgeous!

-Sergio González Prats, 2020

Between the good review by Sergio, the beautiful Brazilian woods, and the lack of quality instruments on this side of the world – Eduardo’s instruments exploded in popularity. The players that received them seemed to have good opinions as well, and Eduardo began to produce instruments at a quicker rate, while refining the design more and more in each batch.

Eduardo also began to produce double-keyboard instruments in the style of Chris Eaton instruments. The main difference being the nyckelharpa-style 2nd keyboard tangents do not arc with the curve of the wheel, but move similarly to standard tangents.

Unfortunately, it seems all the design refinement was directed towards improving the aesthetics of the instrument. I played 3 of the instruments produced during 2022, and spoke with at least 2 other players who have had similar issues. Multiple of these instruments now sit in pieces, unplayable instruments that cost us multiple thousands of dollars.

The ELZ is advertised to have a 12 month wait list, and later would see instruments made in batches of 7-8 on his Facebook. My instrument ended up taking 6 months, even after Eduardo spent a year being plagued by delays. This is clear that the instruments were built in a rush, without regard for precision or quality. Many of the problems (listed below) should have been obvious with basic QA – it is hard to believe they were properly played and tested before being shipped out.

After many of us expressed disappointment with the quality of the instruments, we were hoping Eduardo’s upcoming trip to festival “Le Son Continu” in France would teach him more about the instrument and improve them for future buyers, but clearly this isn’t the case as we get more reports of unplayable instruments shipped from him.

Knowing Scott Gayman would be there, we asked him to help Eduardo in any way he can – because like Sergio we saw the potential these instruments had and desperately wanted him to succeed rather than turn into the next Altarwind. Scott is one of the largest experts in the community, and he spent multiple hours of his LSC time with Eduardo going over his design. Eduardo has ignored much of the advice given to him. You can see this especially in his recent reply, he does not value the feedback (despite claiming to accept any and all feedback):

Scott Gayman well what i can say is that yes there has been some feedback about the weight and some details but about being responsive and etc just heard from you Scott, and to be honest the instrument sounds better in the hands of some than others like in the videos I posted when I was at le son continu, I’m not here to try to show anything but normally the instrument responds to the player’s skill, I don’t want to start a discussion however, what happened in France was that I had a negative feed from you and yes I heard some advice on what to change, but I repeat that in the hands of some it sounded very well and in others not so much, with all due respect. My channels always are open for anyone who talk with me!

– Eduardo, in reply to Scott Gayman on Facebook

Eduardo seems to think that since Scott was the only person with outspoken criticism, it wasn’t valuable. He doesn’t understand that many players who may have had criticism are oftentimes too shy to share it. They would rather just be nice rather than potentially get into a conflict with a maker. He also seemed to imply that it was Scott’s skills as a player that caused the problems Scott found. According to some that were there, Scott wasn’t even the only person to give criticism either.

The Problems

String Lifters

Metal screws with a bend on top to sit the string. The hole for the lifters were drilled too close to the string, causing the lower strings to hit the string lifters while vibrating. This either causes harmonics, or metal smacking against metal sounds while cranking. The holes should be drilled farther away, and the lifter should be wider, or bent inwards to accompany the vibration of the string.

Additionally, the string lifters being screws mean you cannot finely adjust the height. An entire revolution of the screw is required to raise or lower the lifters. When lowered, the string touches the underside of the lifter – stopping the string from vibrating. When raised, the deactivated strings sit so high that the tangents go underneath the string, causing different amounts of string pressure on each key – makes playing very difficult. The only solution is to rotate the string lifter out of the way for activated strings, which works but is annoying and unnecessary. If these were nails instead of screws, you could adjust them up and down precisely.

Nut

The nuts are too low compared to the chanterelle bridge. Causes the chantelle strings to sit at an egregious angle on the wheel which causes plenty of problems. On top of this the nuts are extremely fragile and one of them shattered while screwing it back in. I got a new blank from Eduardo and cut it as high as possible, but still it wasn’t high enough to manage the string angle without a TON of string pressure on the wheel.

The string angle could also be caused by the wheel axle angle being incorrect, usually the axle slops down towards the head of the instrument slightly (due to the conical nature of the instrument) – but I’m not sure if this is the case with the ELZ.

Additionally, the strings are flat at the nut while being curved at the wheel. The center nut should be higher on a 3 chanterelle instrument. Since there is no height difference between the nuts, the angle at the wheel is inconsistent and difficult to adjust.

Bridges/Ears

None of the three bridges or ears are curved in the same arc as the wheel, on one Vision model I played that had 3 drones, the top drone couldn’t even touch the wheel while adjusted all the way in. The owner had to set the drone string on the threads of the screw to get it touching the wheel.

Recently a new notch was cut into the drone bridge screw, you can see where the new notch is vs the old one. It looks like the drone bridge on the new model suffers the same issues, but cannot be sure without holding one.

Chanterelle Bridge

The bridge height adjusters are much too high to meet the wheel. This is a weak point that will kill the sound and may fail if too much lateral pressure at the top of the bridge is applied. The bridge adjuster wheels are not straight, the adjuster wheels spin on a tilt and only lift one side at a time. The high spot just rotates to a new place as you turn changing the balance of the bridge with each turn. Finally, the screw for the bridge adjuster are too small, and not drilled straight in.

See video below for details of the bridge adjusters.

Handle

Handle is chunky and flat. Not easy to play or hold comfortably. My handle came with a squeaking sound and does not spin smoothly.

Capos

The capos are horrible. The nut comes loose every few days and the string pressure just bounces the capo off. The screw to stop the capo movement is also wobbly so it rattles while playing, and needs to be screwed in every few days as well. That’s 8 things to tighten every few days so 4 capos work and don’t rattle. These capos are made in-house, when nicer harp levels could have been bought online for cheap.

Some of the capos aren’t drilled in the right spot, so they don’t actually tune to the correct note while fully activated. You have to partially activate them for them to be in tune, no fast switching! Another ELZ I’ve seen the capo isn’t positioned right up/down, so the capo doesn’t even hit the string at all!

Hard to see in the photo, but the spacers behind the capos (the fixed post) are not tall enough to space each string an equal distance from each capo so the top one is okay and the farther down it goes the distance between the capo and the lever moves toward the lever. This means that when you engage the lever it stretches the string and changes the pitch. This is pretty easily remedied by adding a spacer on the capo mount to move it out and closer to the fixed capo.

Tuners/Peghead

The tuners are not the best quality, and as a result are not smooth turning. The angle at the head is incorrect for the strings, so that the strings wrap down the tuner head and slip off.

The piece of wood on which the sympathetic strings tuners were fixed on wasn’t glued to the gurdy, so they were kind of hanging on the side.

The peghead is too far forward making the forelength on the strings excessive. The length is important because it creates a weak fulcrum point at the joint to the body. This usually doesn’t present a problem except there is a lot of pressure on a 9 string instrument at that point.

Sympathetics

The shortest sympathetic string had to be removed because there was not a single string that was wound on properly and they were all much too short. They need at least 2 or 3 good wraps on the pin before they start taking any kind of pressure. Every string had a single wrap and they all backed out when tuned to pitch. Every sympathetic string is the same diameter which means that they are either all in one pitch or they are too loose or too tight if brought above a G.

They appear to all be guitar strings with the end loop fixed. Eduardo would be better served making the end loop himself and just using nails to hold them in place. He could then use harpsichord wire or mandolin strings in a bunch of different diameters. The current setup puts a lot of pressure on the 2 small screws he uses on the string holds.

Trompette Bridge Adjusters

Both get stuck constantly on a few ELZs I’ve seen, and it takes a ton of effort to remove with a pair of pliers, only for them to get stuck once again. They also do not match the arc of the wheel. The bottom one is way out and the top one had to be cut way in to make the dog the correct dimension.

Threads on all of the threaded adjustable parts are poor. Either too tight or too loose.

Keybox

The keybox is not secure on the wheel end, and it is not strongly attached at the pegs. It is flat mounted to the body with 2 screws (one of which was actually not screwed in all the way, short by 3/8 of an inch to actually being seated). Eduardo needs to inset the head block or secure the tail end of the keybox.

The open lid rests on the top row of keys, meaning you can’t press the keys with the keybox lid open, making tangent adjusting awful. The back of the keys are also sharp angles and have actually dug into the lid, causing awful looking marks to appear on the keybox lid.

Drone/Trompette Pins

Guitar pin style string holders are not fit well and tend to come loose. They are also not necessary if a simple flat support is used. On mine one is completely loose and I cannot attach a 2nd drone string without it coming out.

Tirant Pegs

The taper holes for the tirant pegs are not finished properly. They are uneven so they are difficult to adjust cleanly.

When you have three trompettes, the way the tirant pegs are placed on the tailpiece makes it impossible to adjust them correctly. They are in the way of each other, you cannot turn them without lifting one and then, you have to readjust them again.

General Sloppiness

Everywhere that a hole had to be drilled, multiple holes were drilled. Under each nut there would be 2-3 holes in the same area. One nut no longer screws in at all, because the 3 holes are touching each other which creates one large, long hole with no threads. The string lifters have an extra hole drilled in randomly. Bad gluing in a few places. The felt inside the keybox is applied pretty sloppily. Many of us have removed or replaced the felt completely. Finally, the strings are not properly spaced at the bridge.

The strings are not equal distance at the bridge. This bridge has a 3.61mm difference between the strings.

Custom Pre-amp

9 knobs + multiple buttons/levers are not labeled. I constantly forget what all of them do. Some of them are for “midi” control, but mine doesn’t have that, so I have useless buttons as well. Some of the individual pickup volume control are really bad. It’s super quiet for 80% of the dial, and the last 20% of the dial is really the only “fine tuning” that can be done.

Chiens

They just aren’t well made. Trompette is sloppy sounding, even for the “modern sounding” trompette with chien platforms. On some ELZs, We were never able to get a clean trompette sound, even with the help of multiple experienced players.

These little side pieces had to be added onto the “adjustable” dog to allow them to be straight and not twist side to side when the strings are tuned. He seems to have fixed this on the new model he has up but I can’t be certain.

Wheel

The acrylic wheel doesn’t take rosin well, you have to constantly apply it. It gets very frustrating because you cannot even play for 15 minutes before the gurdy stops making sounds. The wooden wheel hold rosin well, but is too thin to be a properly functioning bow. The thickness has been fixed on the new Evo model wheel, but it still uses an acrylic band.

General Ergonomics

The gurdy is extremely big and heavy, so it is uncomfortable. The keys are also very heavy, which makes it tiring to play, especially if you have joint problems. The keybox lid is flat and unshaped. The hard edge on the front is uncomfortable to play on and is not ergonomically set up for comfort.

Sawdust and Wood Scraps

Many of us have experienced our instruments covered in sawdust upon arrival. Like it was drilled and then immediately shipped with no dusting. The inside of the gurdies are not cleaned and has little scraps of wood, which sometimes stick to the wheel and cause further problems.

Already Cracked Soundboards

We had one instrument taken to a non-gurdy luthier to see if soundboard cracks could be repaired, and were informed by them that the soundboard had previously been cracked and glued back together. This instrument was sold outside of the wait-list, and I wonder if it was a cracked return originally, or if it just cracked during construction.

Shipping

The shipping container described as “custom Wooden bomb proof crate” is actually a 1/2″ – 3/4” thick wooden case with felt lining on the inside. There is a ton of extra room in the case, and does not serve as a usable case for transport by itself. There is over 2” of space up and down, 6” of extra space length wise, and 1.5” of extra space on the width (thickest part of the body). The head of the instrument can pivot side to side, and would bang around if let loose inside the case.

By itself this isn’t a bad thing if properly padded, but Eduardo’s packing involves a single wrap of bubble wrap, and setting the soft case on top or bottom of the instrument. I often see the problems in shipping blamed on customs, but lack of care in packing is definitely a large part of this, and goes alongside the lack of care put into the instruments.

Strings through head

Drone/trompette strings on both sides of the head rub against the edges as they pass through the hole. These could be simply wound the other direction to provide the proper clearance.

Crooked tailpiece

The tailpiece isn’t flat. It is higher on the left side which puts uneven pressure on the melody strings and the bridge.

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