FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Do you have any help making your bowed psalteries?
I work alone in my home workshop, from the rough lumber to tuning and have the privilege of playing the first tune on each psaltery I build.
Why should I buy a bowed psaltery from you?
I have built bowed psalteries since 1980. That is currently over 3000 psalteries. That's quite a bit of building experience from which you will benefit. I also play these psalteries, and through that have come to understand which properties are desirable for playability and comfort. All edges are rounded over for comfort while playing, even on the bows. Speaking of the bows, I craft each bow to be extremely lightweight and a good length for playing the bowed psaltery. A longer or heavier bow will hinder your playing, especially on faster tunes. I teach you on the DVD the techniques and things you should practice for getting the best sound out of your psaltery. I handcraft all the bows. I have put together a full package with the psalteries I offer. I include everything you need to play and care for you new psaltery. The exception to that is you will need something to give you the pitch while tuning. Folks that play other instrument probably have an electronic tuner, which is what I recommend. You could also match pitches to a piano, electronic keyboard, or an inexpensive chromatic pitch pipe.
Do you have a store?
I don’t have a retail space. I do all the work out of my home workshop including filling direct orders. I do sell at several craft demonstrations at the Southern Highlands Craft Guild shops each year. You can find a list of dates and locations under the "Events" tab.
What kind of wood do you use?
I choose wood for its tonal quality and beauty. I have never used laminated, or plywood, and veneers on my psalteries. More glue joints would equal more weak points for the psaltery to come apart with age. I use glue in two places on the psalteries I build, those are attaching the soundboard to the body, and gluing in the octave markers. The exception here is the big baritone bowed psaltery which has a separate back. The body of the psaltery has to be strong enough to support the tension the strings exert on the instrument. I use only walnut, maple, birch, or cherry for the body. The top can be made from a variety of woods, some of which I choose for the beauty of the grain. Highly figured grain is sought for it’s unique color and pattern. I have made a personal decision to use only wood from North America. The only exception to this would be if it were to be some wood that I obtained years ago in the early eighties. No reason to let that go to waste. I have a few boards of figured mahogany and lacewood.
Why don't you use soundhole rosette's or any inlays on the wood of your psalteries?
Someone asked about this the other day. In my quest to build bowed psalteries with the very best tone I feel it best to not have the soundhole blocked in any way. A rosette can be pretty, but if it blocks the area of the soundhole I would think you lose some in volume. I will only decorate around a sound hole using a carved, sandblasted, or pyrographic design. These can in no way hinder the volume. That soundhole is there for a reason. That is also why I correct folks that think the small sound hole in the back is an aid for holding the psaltery by placing a finger there. The purpose of this small soundhole is additional volume. I always will recommend that you don't touch the wood on the back while playing. Keep your hand cupped and support the psaltery along the sides. This will insure you get the full tone and volume.
Inlays in the soundboard or back will also lessen the volume or tonal quality of a psaltery. The whole purpose of these thin pieces are to vibrate along with the strings to amplify the sound. I also feel the use of plywood and veneers would do the same thing. My decision is to never use any of these in my psalteries to bring you the best sounding product I possibly can.
Does the type of wood affect the sound?
The vibration of the strings to the wood gives the instrument its tone. Due to the small surface of the soundboard and back, on the soprano psalteries, there is little difference in tone between instruments. The tone of my psalteries range from a mellow to a somewhat brighter tone. One type of wood will not always have a mellow versus a bright tone. You can take three or four instruments made from the same wood and still have differences in tone. I will give you a sound clip of each psaltery so you can compare them.
What is included with the bowed psaltery ?
A Case and all the accessories you need. The few exceptions are an electronic tuner with clip-on pick-up, tripod holder and extra bow (for the tenor), and the camera tripod ( to use with the baritone or tenor).
Who can play the bowed psaltery?
This is the ultimate instrument for most anyone in all age groups. It is as easy to play as using one finger to sound out the melody on a piano. Using my songbook you can play songs by number. You don’t have to learn to read music (and if you do that’s all the better). It is a great instrument to play by ear. Once you learn where the notes are, most people can sound out the melody of a song in a very short time.
What if I am left handed?
I don't sell many left hand models, but I can certainly build one for you. Let me know if you are interested. I do occasionally have one in stock and it will be listed with the other psalteries.
Why don’t you play the strings in the middle?
This one confuses a lot of people who see the bowed psaltery for the first time. Each of the strings are attached to one of the tuning pins and to one of the hitch pins. When you play, you bow the string close to the hitch pin. Keeping the bow at a 45 degree angle off the top you are able to access a single string. The instrument is designed to be played one note or one string at a time. The exception here is if you have it mounted to a tripod for double bowing. If you try to bow across the top on all the strings it sounds similar to taking your hands and pushing down on several keys of the piano at the same time.
What if I don’t play any other instruments?
You don’t have to be a trained musician. There are folks with no musical experience who can sound out a tune on a piano, one key at a time using just one finger. If you can hum the tune, you can play it on the psaltery.
Is it hard to keep in tune?
You should always store your psaltery in the included case rather than leaving it out on display. This will help to keep it in tune for a longer period. Instructions on how to tune the psaltery are shown on the included instructional DVD. For the most accurate tuning I recommend a chromatic electronic tuner with a clip-on tuner pick up.
How do I care for my bowed psaltery?
I use a lacquer finish on the psalteries I build. The only thing you might have to do is clean the wood if it gets dirty from handling. Take some 4/0 steel wool and lightly polish the finish. When you want to clean the rosin dust from under the strings, use a soft bristle paint brush to loosen the rosin dust and then blow it off. You can use a can of compressed air like you would use to clean a computer keyboard, just be sure not to tip or shake the can. You don’t want to get any moisture on the strings. Never expose your bowed psaltery to extreme temperatures such as leaving it in a hot car. Another way to think of this is don’t leave the psaltery anywhere you wouldn’t be comfortable. Extreme heat from a hot car could damage the wood. Keep the bow well rosined. Apply some rosin each time you take it out of the case to play. I use a synthetic bow hair that won’t stretch, so you never have to adjust or release the tension. Should you ever need the bow re-haired I will provide that service.
What is the hole in the back used for?
The small hole in the back is something I started adding in 2001. It is a second sound-hole that adds to the overall quality of the sound. It is not a finger hole used to hold the psaltery. When the psaltery is held properly your hand should be cupped to prevent coming into contact with the thin wood on the back. It is just as important for this wood to vibrate as the soundboard.
What is the history of the bowed psaltery?
The ancient psaltery as mentioned in the bible, was a strummed or plucked instrument. The bowed psaltery is a more modern instrument, about one hundred years old. Some folks say it goes back much further. The written reference I found states that it is a Tyrolean folk instrument. Tyrol is a section of the Alpine region of Europe that has borders in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. There it is called the "streichpsalter", which translates to “stroked psaltery”. The reference also states that it was used in schools to teach children about music. To me, the history of the bowed psaltery is as mysterious as the sound it creates. The bowed psaltery was brought to the US around 1960 by a German master violin luthier when he and his family moved here. His was one of the first ones I saw and heard in 1980, and that kicked off my great passion for the bowed psaltery.