Unless you’re in Mongolia, you won’t find a morin khuur for sale in your local shop! The traditional “horsehead fiddle” might be popular on the Mongolian steppe, but it’s not well-known in most other places. In order to buy a morin khuur, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Luckily, there are plenty of places to find a good morin khuur for sale online. Whether you’re looking for something basic or a top-level instrument, here’s our guide to buying one!
But first, some inspiration from the great Batzorig Vaanchig:
Buying a New Morin Khuur
Thanks to the power of the internet, you can order a morin khuur from a few different makers in Mongolia and China. This is great for anyone who wants to make sure they’re getting a real-deal instrument meant to be played, not just looked at. While it’s great to be able to buy directly from the source, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
The most important is that you will probably be very much alone after buying your morin khuur. Unless you live in an area with a lot of Mongolian immigrants, you probably won’t have another player near you. If your morin khuur needs repairs, you’ll need to send it away or repair it yourself. If it needs new strings, you’ll have to order them from Mongolia.
This means that you should try to get the best quality morin khuur you can, from a reputable dealer. You can find a lot of morin khuurs for sale on eBay, Amazon, and elsewhere from anonymous brands or big instrument wholesalers. Some of these will be very inexpensive, and may be enticing to a beginner. However, if you don’t buy from a reputable maker, you run the risk of buying something that isn’t worth playing.
As the historical area of Mongolia is split between the country of Mongolia and the region of Inner Mongolia in China, you’ll sometimes see the morin khuur referred to as a “Chinese instrument.” This is a touchy subject, because many Mongolians see this as cultural appropriation. Politics aside, there are plenty of good morin khuur players and makers who live in China. Ultimately, while the morin khuur is very much a Mongolian instrument, this is one case where “made in China” could actually mean it’s authentic!
Mongulai sells a wide variety of Mongolian products in the US, all made by Mongolian artisans. They sell through their own website, but also have a big presence on Amazon. Buying through Amazon does give you some of their customer service benefits, which is always nice when you’re buying internationally. Mongulai has a bunch of different models available, broken up into three different levels.
“Beginner” instrument are designed as affordable entry-level instruments aimed at novice morin khuur players. They’re very basic, made from standard woods with no extra carvings or designs. They’re also made more quickly, by a group of craftspeople, rather than by a single artisan. Overall, the beginner morin khuur is a great value for an instrument to learn and practice on.
The next step up is the “Standard” level, which offers a great compromise between value and performance. It’s made with nicer woods than the beginner morin khuur by a single master craftsman. There are some extra flourishes in the carving, especially on the headstock, and they both look and sound good enough for an intermediate to advanced player to play in a concert or recital.
Mongulai’s “Master”-level instruments are meant for more advanced players, but can also make learning much easier for the beginner. Handcrafted by an expert, they are designed for maximum sound and playability. To that end, they use premium tonewoods and feature some beautiful carvings.
Two Dutch men married two Mongolian women, and the four of them have teamed up to make and sell morin khuurs. It’s not a combination you might expect, but like Mongulai, it means that they have a great connection between traditional Mongolian culture and the West. They sell through their own website, which is easy to navigate and offers a few different models of morin khuur for sale.
Like Mongulai, Morin-Huur.com has three levels of instrument, “Beginner,” “Semi-Pro,” and “Professional.” These roughly align with Mongulai’s categories, and are a good guide for which morin khuur you should buy. If you’re looking for value, the “Beginner” line has some very affordable prices on well-made instruments. For more advanced players, the “Semi-Pro” and “Professional” lines offer upgrades in sound, looks, and playability. As with any instrument, it always pays to get the best one you can afford.
The Sound of Mountain Music specializes primarily in traditional instruments from China, and has a range of morin khuur models available. Most of them are labeled as “professional” models, with little description as to what that means. Like the Morin-Huur.com and Mongulai instruments, they come in a variety of designs. Some of them have some really spectacular headstock carvings, which are a nice touch. Sound of Mountain Music morin khuurs are all made mostly out of sandalwood, with a pine soundboard.
Medieval Workshop “Morin Khuur”
Medieval Workshop specializes in early music and folk instruments. Their morin khuur is a relatively new offering, but they’ve built a good business through Etsy and Amazon building hurdy gurdies, bagpipes, and other niche instruments.
One thing to note is that they are very much not a Mongolian company. Their morin khuur has some non-traditional touches. This includes the fact that they use guitar strings rather than the usual horse hair. Purists will balk, and it’s definitely not an instrument for someone who wants the traditional experience. However, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get guitar strings in the US than it is to get horse hair morin khuur strings. So if you’re just looking for an approximate solution to play around with, this may be a good solution.
Buying a Used Morin Khuur
Buying any instrument used can help you save some money. However, if you’re new to the morin khuur, you should be very careful when buying used. You want to make sure that it’s in good working order, and won’t need replacement parts or repair. As a beginner, you might not notice any problems yourself until it’s too late to return.
Always make sure that the person you’re buying from is a morin khuur player. Ask for sound samples, videos, and extra pictures. Make absolutely sure that it is in fully playable condition. Chances are, you don’t have a morin khuur repair specialist around!
eBay is definitely the best-known option for buying anything used. It’s not common to see a used morin khuur for sale, but they do come up. eBay also sells new morin khuurs from a few different makers. As usual with eBay, you should do your due diligence before buying. There’s some amount of buyer protection if you get scammed, but many instruments are sold “as-is.”
Local College/University Collections
If you’re just looking to try the morin khuur out, it’s worth checking in at your local college. Many schools have instrument collections for the purpose of lending hard-to-find instruments out to students. Ethnomusicology is a growing field, and more and more schools offer lessons in non-Western instruments. You may be able to find a morin khuur to try out or even borrow for some amount of time.