Have you ever wondered, what is the purpose of the piece of cloth/sponge stuck below your Erhu bridge wedged in between the snakeskin and the strings?
We call that piece of thing a damper, or should we say dampener instead. It’s purpose is to dampen some of the unwanted noise created when playing the Erhu. It also makes the tone of the Erhu more compact, focused and full.
Usually without the damper, you will get this cackling sound and wolf tones at the higher registers. The dampener makes those notes sound good as well.
Material of Damper
First lets talk about the material of the damper. The normally seen type of dampers are those cloth like material and those that look like a sponge pillow.
Usually these sponge cushion goes inside the bin whenever I see them. I don’t think they work well at all.
So let’s talk about the cloth dampener instead. The material of the cloth is very important. The best materials are those thick felt-like materials made from wool.
At times, it may look like felt material, but when used, it is not effective at all. If the material is not compact enough and has a lot of air inside in between the fibres, it does not make an effective damper.
I’ve discovered a secret method on how to determine if the dampener is of good quality. I discovered this after setting up hundreds of Erhus through my Erhu selling days.
This is how it goes: You pull the damper apart and see if it stays in shape. If it does not and changes shape, the material is not good enough to be a dampener. If you pull it and it stays in shape, it should be fine.
How to Put the Dampener on the Erhu
There are various things to look out for when putting the dampener on the Erhu.
Essentially what you are doing is folding and stuffing the dampener underneath the bridge. The folded dampener should not be too thin, else it will have not much of an effect. It should also not be too thick, else the sound will dampen too much; thus creating wolf tones.
So, how do you know it is a good thickness? If you can easily slip it under the bridge, chances are it is too thin and it might not be able to reduce much of the noise. If it takes a lot of effect to squeeze it under the strings, it is probably too thick and you will get a very constricted tones and wolf tones at some notes. It should require a bit of effort to slip under, but not too much.
Due to the varying heights of each bridges, thickness of the dampener varies accordingly as well. You can either fold it into 4 layers, 3 layers or even 2 layers if your felt is thick.
After folding the dampener, ideal length should be around half the length of the distance between the bridge and bottom of the erhu. If it is too long, it will get wedged tightly at the bottom. In this instance, you may need to cut the cloth to make it shorter and fold it again.
Position of Dampener on the Erhu
So where should the position of the dampener be? If you push the dampener down to the bottom, the tone will be sharper and brighter. If it is closer to the bridge, the sound will be more dispersed and less compact. I usually would put it in the center.
Here’s a video talking about the Erhu dampener with some demonstrations:
I hope the above is helpful to you in improving the sound on your Erhu. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to write it at the comments section.
If you wish to purchase a dampener of good material, click on the link below: http://www.easonmusicstore.com/products/Woolly-Woolly-Lamb-Felt-Damper-(2pcs)/227
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