How to Tune A Hurdy-gurdy – Traditional Tuning guide


First thing is first – always ask your luthier for what your particular instrument is tuned to. Some luthiers do things different than standard tunings, and you should never tune a string to something it is not made for – or it may snap. If you want to change the tuning, change the strings! You can find information on strings on our complete string guide.

This guide is only going to discuss the 2 traditional tunings for a standard 6 string instrument.

A note on pitch notation

GurdyWorld will always use the standard “scientific pitch notation” as it is the most widely used notation available. This means that “middle C” on a piano is assigned C4, and the octave number resets on every C note.

For example, the note below C4 is B3, and the note above C4 is D4. The note an octave above C4 is C5, and the note an octave below C4 is C3. You can see a demonstration in this video.

You may see other types of notations around. Here is a helpful chart for converting from scientific pitch notation to Helmholtz notation:

There are other notations that don’t follow the same rules as scientific pitch notation, it may be important to clarify with your luthier if you suspect they aren’t using this notation.

Standard tunings

There are two “standard” tunings for hurdy-gurdy: G/C and D/G.

The label “X/X” refers to 2 things. The first letter is the note played by the open string, when no keys are pressed. The second letter is the major scale played on the bottom row of the keyboard.

There is no “right” tuning – it all depends on the sound you like, and the type of music you are interested in playing. You can note that a G/C gurdy is setup like a traditional piano keyboard, and may be easier for those familiar with this pattern (1 row of accidentals “black keys” and 1 row of natural notes “white keys”). The D/G tuning places the F# on the bottom row, and the F on the top row of the keyboard.

Note that it is traditional to use only 1 drone and 1 trompette at a time with the melody strings. The mouche is often not used.

Diagram showing string locations on the wheel, crank side forward

G/C – traditional

G/C tuning is also known as “classical”, “traditional”, or “Auvergnat” tuning. This is the tuning used in the Baroque era when the hurdy-gurdy started becoming popular in court music. It also was popular in a few regions of France, such as Auvergne and Brittany.

Melody string 1G4
Melody string 2G4 (or G3, modern)
TrompetteC4 or D4
Tenor droneC3
Bass droneG2 (or C2)

D/G – Bourbonnais

D/G is also known as “Bourbonnais” or “Berrichon” tuning. This tuning is higher pitched than G/C. It was popular in the Berry region of France.

Melody string 1D5
Melody string 2D4
Tenor droneD3
Bass droneG2 (or D2)

Other tunings

There are many other tunings available. Especially in the modern day with more than 6 strings and longer keyboards. Many makers make “tenor” instruments with keyboards in C, and have extra drones/trompettes tuned to things like E, A, F, and others. If you have a non-standard tuning – it is important to ask your luthier! Make sure to ask for the note and the octave.

How to tune the gurdy

So you know what your gurdy is tuned to, but you aren’t sure how to tune it, or are afraid of snapping strings!

The first thing you should know is that most strings should be tuned by ear. The reason for this is that a tuner can only pick up 1 string at a time, and deactivating a string stretches it a bit – possibly de-tuning it. Once a string is tuned you do not want to deactivate it to tune another string.

If you are still very new, it isn’t a bad idea to tune all the strings individually by tuner, just to get them in the ballpark. Always crank while tuning, never adjust without cranking.

After they are close, start with 1 melody string, use a tuner to get it perfectly in tune. Add strings 1 by 1 and adjust them until they sound perfect. You will know they are in tune because you won’t hear any “waviness” in the sound. When turning the tuning peg, if the waviness gets worse you know you are getting farther away.

If you are struggling with this, it is best to have someone else help you – either in real life or with an instructor over zoom. You can find someone nearby with the GurdyWorld CensusMap. Also see if there is a workshop nearby you.

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