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. Because the purpose of it is to dampen some of the unwanted noise created when playing the Erhu. It also makes the tone of the Erhu more compact and focused.
Usually without the damper, you will get this cackling sound and wolf tones at the higher registers. So the purpose of the damper is to make those notes sound good.
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. The material of the cloth is very important. The best material is those thick felt like material made from wool.
But sometimes although it looks like felt material, 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 damper 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 damper. If you pull it and it stays in shape, it should be fine.
How to Put the Damper on the Erhu
Now I am going to talk about the various things to look out for when putting the damper on the erhu.
Essentially what you are doing is folding the damper and stuffing the damper underneath the bridge. The folded damper cannot be too thin, else it will have no effect. it also cannot be too thick, else the sound will be dampen too much and also create 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. If the damper is too thin, 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. If the damper is too thick, you will get a very constricted tone and wolf tones might appear at some places. It should require a bit of effort to slip under, but not too much.
Because the height of each bridge varies, you have to vary the thickness accordingly. You can either fold it into 4 layers, 3 layers or even 2 layers if your felt is thick.
After folding the damper, ideally the 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 Damper on the Erhu
So where should the position of the damper be? If you push the damper 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 centre.
Here’s a video talking about the Erhu damper 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 damper of good material, click on the link below: http://www.easonmusicstore.com/products/Woolly-Woolly-Lamb-Felt-Damper-(2pcs)/227
If you are an Erhu enthusiast, please join our closed facebook page for more Erhu tips and tricks. Search for ‘Erhu Lessons, Tips and Tricks with Eason Music’.