Ringing Strings Bowed Psalteries
handcrafted by Rick Long
Copyright Ringing Strings Music 2004-2014 All Rights Reserved
This page is to show and tell the details of a special limited offering of bowed psalteries, featuring some great wormy chestnut from North Carolina.
The listing of the psalteries I have for sale, that were made from this batch of chestnut, will have had a link to this page, so you can learn the story behind the wood.
In the past, when obtaining some wormy chestnut lumber, I have only been able to locate single boards, never having a feel for how the board was used. This was a great find for me and here's the story.
I have always been on a quest for great lumber and boards of North American wood, for building the psalteries. I made a personal choice to not use any exotics for them. I decided there was enough beautiful wood here in the US to satisfy my wants and needs. That's not to say I have never bought any exotics, I do have a few boards stashed away.
In 1998 I found out there was a quantity of American (wormy) chestnut available in Asheville, NC. That's about a two hour drive from Clinton, so I headed out early one morning to go and look at it. I found what I was looking for, and it was truly great chestnut, not a problem at all with it. I've been working from those boards for years.
While in the Asheville area, there are always lots of interesting places to go. I was headed toward a shop that I knew sold folk instruments to look at what they had that was new, since my last visit. Driving down along a street close to Biltmore House, I passed by a business that was basically an old warehouse that the owner had transformed into a salvage/junk store. I saw a lot of interesting items and decided to go back and browse.
Wallking through the place I didn't see anything I thought I needed and went outside to an area where they had some more items. That's when I saw them. Leaning under the eave of the building were these two weathered doors. I got a little closer and was thrilled to see that they were built entirely out of American chestnut. The planks were very wide and I stood there mapping out the shapes of my psaltery soundboards in my mind. I knew those doors were coming home with me, and they did. I stored them away in my lumber shed until I decided just how to use them.
I was getting really close to running out of the other chestnut I had and decided it was time to get them out and study them. The problem with weathered wood is the amount of checking, or cracking, from being exposed to the elements. This can be the cause of a lot of waste. I have cut chestnut boards in the past and get them milled down to the size and thickness needed for a soundboard, only to find a crack that was not visible until then. I learned years ago to test each soundboard for cracks. It's easy enough, just flex the thin wood in both directions watching the surface closely. If there is a crack present, it will show.
The chestnut blight began around 1900, and by 1940 had killed most of the the American chestnut trees. They were majestic trees, growing to 95 feet and with a diameter of up to 9.8 feet reported. That was huge! The trees grew in the Appalachian mountain range, from Maine to Mississippi. The blight, of course, led to the use of the dying trees for lumber used in everything from houses and barns, to the outhouse. I used to kid one of my friends that his psaltery was made from one of the outhouse boards:-)
The age of those old structures now is why we have access to the chestnut lumber today. Most all of what we use has been salvaged. It's beginning to get a more scarce and also more expensive, as time wears on. I really like the thought that these old barn doors, that someone took the time to handcraft, will finish out their time singing along with someone playing songs on their bowed psalteries. That's three lives, a majestic tree, part of a useful structure, and now your new bowed psaltery.
This supply is limited, but there's quite a bit of wood here to hopefully craft bowed psalteries for as long as I want to keep doing it. I just thought it is great to know a little more about the history of this special wood, and I wanted to share that knowledge with you.