Ancient Instrument Goes Digital: The Digi-Gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy is a fascinating string instrument dating from sometime around the 10th century. There is an active community of modern enthusiasts, but one can’t simply walk into a music shop and buy one. That’s where [XenonJohn] and the Digi-Gurdy come in, bringing some nice features while maintaining all the important elements of the original.

The mechanical keys and crank of the Hurdy-Gurdy are preserved in this modern digital incarnation.

The hurdy-gurdy works by droning strings with a rotating wheel, and the player applies pressure to those strings via keys to play combinations of notes. Here’s a video demonstrating what it sounds like to play one, and one can see a conceptual resemblance to bagpipes, among other things.

The Digi-Gurdy is a modern electronic version that maintains the mechanical elements while sending MIDI signals over USB. It has options for line-out or headphone output. A thriving online community has shaped its development since its inception years ago.

We hope this leaves you wanting to know more because [XenonJohn] has loads of details to share. The main website at is jam-packed with information about this instrument and its construction, and the project page on has more nitty-gritty design details and source files for those who crave hardware specifics.

If [XenonJohn]’s name sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve admired his work on DIY self-balancing vehicles over the years. He also submitted an earlier version as an entry into the Hackaday Prize. His careful attention to detail shines through. Check out the two videos (embedded just below the page break): the first demonstrates the Digi-Gurdy, and the second shows off the construction and insides. You’d think a MIDI hurdy-gurdy would be unique, but, actually, we’ve seen more than one.

11 thoughts on “Ancient Instrument Goes Digital: The Digi-Gurdy

  1. A friend of mine has one and plays it a lot (almost every day, pour neighbors). It’s estimated to be 300 years old. I’ve played it a few times and it’s so amazing. The biggest issue is tuning, it’s a very difficult process.

    1. I guess the tuning is mostly difficult because, being 300 years old, it’ll have tuning pegs rather than machine heads? I play violin and still don’t understand why violinists at large haven’t transferred over to machine heads (there are a lot of poor excuses).

  2. Well that’s interesting but not what I was expecting. I was expecting an electric hurdy-gurdy, you know using electric guitar pickups on a real hurdy-gurdy? Has anyone done that?

  3. I’ve got one of his earlier prototypes, biggest difference is it uses a stepper motor for the crank. After my mom cited my dad teaching himself the occarina in her divorce, any instrument I learn has to be compatible with headphones

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