Vielle a Roue (Wheel Fiddle)

You might know it by the name Hurdy Gurdy, and you might not. The instrument has local names from country to country and we know it by the derogatory name Hurdy Gurdy which is taken from the British Hurly Burly, an old English term for noise or commotion. Most folks never heard of the thing, not unlike the Traditional Dulcimore. I’d been fascinated with the instrument for many years, I made my version of the Wheel Hog Fiddle some time ago and found out why they never took off! (They really don’t work that well for a full scale.) You fret the strings and deflection doesn’t work with a set wheel because it causes that angry cat sound associated with these instruments.

A few months ago I was scrolling through the YouTube videos looking for what not and happened upon a video of a Russian gentleman playing a folk Vielle tuned in a minor modal tuning. WOW, I was hooked. I believed the instrument was too complicated to make. The tangent box has a lot of parts, and the instrument is temperamental at best on a good day. I had made a Wheel Hog Fiddle a few years back and already knew the wheel aspect of the instrument so I decided to look into the tangent box. I downloaded every image I could find and it looked like fun. I like tinkering and there would be a lot of that involved! I looked to make a “simple” minimalistic folk piece.

My first Vielle’s parts  were up cycled to another.  I found you didn’t need three strings for “that sound” like you do in the Traditional Dulcimore diatonic modal play. Two strings create that “bourdonnement” as HUBERT G. SHEARIN, M.A., PhD. describes it in his book, British Ballads in the Cumberland Mountains, and gut strings. You lose a lot of volume but gain a warm timber that the steel strings lack. I tune the drone agin the melody string to set the mode just like I do with the Dulcimore.


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