Mastering the strings: how to select the perfect erhu for your musical journey

Mastering the strings: how to select the perfect erhu for your musical journey

The erhu, sometimes called a Chinese two-string fiddle or Chinese violin, is a traditional string instrument that possesses a unique and expressive sound capable of evoking a myriad of emotions. Revered in Chinese culture, it has transcended its folk origins to gain international recognition. For the aspiring musician or seasoned performer looking to embark upon or deepen their musical voyage, selecting the right erhu is paramount. Navigating through the complexities of wood types, string materials, sound quality, and craftsmanship can be daunting. Let us delve into the intricacies of choosing an erhu that will not only suit your needs but also serve as a conduit for your musical expression.

Understanding the erhu

Characterized by its hauntingly resonant tone, the erhu is a versatile instrument primarily used in solo performances as well as ensembles and orchestras. Constructed with two strings and a long neck attached to a small resonator body usually covered with python skin, the erhu produces sound when its strings are bowed with a specialized horsehair bow.

Materials and craftsmanship

Choosing the Right Wood: The erhu’s sound is significantly influenced by the wood used in its construction. The top choices are usually red sandalwood, black sandalwood, and rosewood, each offering a different tonal character. Red sandalwood is prized for its bright and penetrating tone, black sandalwood for its deep and mellow sound, and rosewood for a balanced tone. Examine the wood grain, integrity, and color for indicators of quality. A dense, even grain typically results in a superior sound resonance.

Python Skin Selection: The python skin that covers the resonator should be of high quality, as it greatly affects the instrument’s timbre. A good-quality skin is generally even in thickness and free from blemishes, with a lustrous and unblemished surface, ensuring both aesthetic appeal and optimal vibration.

Sound quality and resonance

Sound Testing: Listen keenly to the erhu’s sound before making a purchase. The instrument should deliver a clear, stable, and rich tone. Pay attention to the initial response, sustain, and decay of the notes. The best erhus resonate well across their full range and remain articulate in fast passages.

Harmonics and Overtones: Superior erhus often produce pleasing harmonics and overtones that enhance the auditory experience. These subtle acoustic phenomena contribute to the erhu’s signature sound and should be a consideration in your selection process.

String material and tension

String Varieties: Modern erhu strings are mainly made from metal, silk, or nylon, each conferring a distinct sound. Metal strings tend to be bright and loud, silk provides a warm and gentle tone, while nylon offers versatility and resilience. Consider your personal taste and the musical contexts in which you’ll perform when selecting the string material.

Tension and Set-up: The tension of the strings and the setup of the instrument play crucial roles in playability and sound quality. Ensure the strings are set at a comfortable height from the fingerboard to allow for smooth playing techniques. High tension can improve projection and clarity, while lower tension might offer a richer, softer sound.

Types of erhus

Beginner’s Models: Beginners should seek an affordable yet decent-quality erhu that allows for a fundamental understanding of the instrument’s capabilities without a significant financial outlay. These may have simpler construction and materials but perform well enough for basic learning.

Advanced Models: Advanced players and professionals typically require instruments with premium materials and exquisite craftsmanship to meet the demands of intricate repertoire and performance settings. These erhus are handcrafted by master luthiers and mirror the player’s expertise and performative nuances.

Budget consideration

Allocating Funds: The cost of an erhu can range from affordable student models to expensive professional-grade instruments. Determine your budget in advance, taking into account not only the purchase price but also potential maintenance costs and accessories.

Value for Money: Strive to find the best instrument within your budgetary constraints. Sometimes, an instrument at a medium price point offers the best balance between quality and cost, especially for intermediate players. Remember, the most expensive erhu is not necessarily the best choice for every player.


Cases and Bows: Protect your erhu with a durable case, and select a bow that complements your playing style. A good bow can vastly improve the sound, and various types are available, differing in weight, balance, and flexibility.

Rosin and Fine Tuners: The right rosin will ensure smooth bowing and clear sound production. Fine tuners can aid in achieving precise intonation, especially for players who are still honing their tuning skills.

The importance of a good teacher

Guidance: A seasoned instructor will not only teach technique and repertoire but also assist in selecting an erhu that fits your ambitions and skill level. They can provide valuable insight into the nuances of various erhus and help determine the right fit for you based on their extensive experience.

Final thoughts on selecting an erhu

Mastering the erhu is a journey of musical discovery that begins with choosing the right instrument. The depth and warmth of the erhu’s sound capture both the heart and soul of audiences, making it an endeavor worth pursuing with dedication and care. Remember to take your time, perform thorough research, and seek advice when necessary. Your choice of erhu should resonate with your personal aspirations and enable you to convey your deepest musical expressions.

Embark on an exploration of sounds, techniques, and musical cultures with your chosen erhu. Embracing the erhu’s rich history and cultural significance can transform your musical practice, opening up a world of new possibilities. Engage with the community of erhu players and enthusiasts and immerse yourself in the continuous learning process that comes with mastering a traditional instrument. By selecting the perfect erhu for your journey, you lay the cornerstone for a potentially lifelong engagement with music that transcends boundaries and speaks to the very essence of human emotion.