Bowed Psalteries

From left to right, Custom Baritone, Alto and Soprano Bowed Psalteries

An Introduction to the Bowed Psaltery

In this video I'm playing a Fancy Alto Bowed Psaltery with a Redwood sound board, Curly Maple sides and Mahogany back.

This hand-held triangular shaped melody instrument is played with a bow. Extremely easy to play, the psaltery's haunting, ethereal tone is used effectively with chordal instruments or in solo playing. The psaltery is played by drawing the bow along the right side of the instrument for the 'white keys of the piano' bowing between the posts. The sharps and flats are on the left side of the instrument. You would tilt the bow to play those accidentals; 'the black keys'. As you look at the instrument from the right side it has the same layout as a piano keyboard. Bowing is done in an up and down motion playing only one tone at a time. It is a primarily a melody instrument although there are players who play with two bows allowing some chords. The instrument must be self supported to accomplish this feat. All my psalteries are fully chromatic.

In the above video you can hear what an Alto sounds like while in the clips  below I'm playing a Soprano and both sizes of the Baritone so you can compare the four.

Soprano Bowed Psaltery - James Jones
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Baritone Bowed Psaltery - 1" - James Jones
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Baritone Bowed Psaltery - 7/8" - James Jones
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The psaltery is played by drawing the bow along the right side of the instrument for the 'white keys of the piano' bowing between the posts. The sharps and flats are on the left side of the instrument. You would tilt the bow to play those accidentals; 'the black keys'. As you look at the instrument from the right side it has the same layout as a piano keyboard. Bowing is done in an up and down motion playing only one tone at a time. It is a primarily a melody instrument although there are players who play with two bows allowing some chords. The instrument must be self supported to accomplish this feat.

The instrument is tuned with zither pins and a tuning wrench. Included with your psaltery are a 17" long maple horsehair bow, a tuning wrench, rosin, extra strings, and an Owner's Manual. There are markers embedded in the instrument for the Cs and for the Gs to help you find your way. Left hand instruments are available at no extra charge but must be ordered as I don't have them on hand. In a left handed instrument the white keys of the psaltery are on the left side of the instrument, black keys on the right.

My instruments are constructed entirely of solid wood; no plywood. The soundboards of choice are thin quarter-sawn tone woods such as Spruce, Redwood or Cedar. These woods give the instrument a warmer more mellow sound. The backs are equally thin making my instruments quite responsive. Hardwoods can be used for soundboards but it will make the instrument much brighter. The pin blocks are of hard Maple and joinery between frame and pin block is such that it will never come apart.

 

Four Different Sizes:

 

  • The Soprano is chromatic and has a range of 2 octaves (25 strings). The Soprano has a slightly brighter sound than the Alto. The size of the Soprano is 22" x 81/2" x 2 1/2" with pins and weighs 2 1/2 lbs. If you are purchasing the instrument for a young child, I recommend the Soprano because of its smaller size and lightness.  
     

  • The Alto has the same range as the Soprano plus an additional 1/2 octave so you have 2 1/2 octaves going down to middle C (32 strings). The Alto's larger body size is approximately 26" x 9 1/2" x 2 3/4" with pins and is 3 to 3/12 lbs depending on the wood. This size psaltery is still quite comfortable to play given your average arm length. Because of its fuller sound and greater range, this is my most popular model.
     

  • The Baritone is my largest Bowed Psaltery with a range of 3 octaves (37 strings) going from C6-C3. I now offer this psaltery with either 1" or 7/8" between the pins. The dimensions are 11" X 30 1/2" X 3 1/4"for the 1"spacing and 10" X 28" for the 7/8". Weight  for either is about 4-5 lbs.   Both instruments are more of a challenge to play given their size and weight. It must be played leaning more toward you in order to reach the lowest notes. I'm currently recommending the Baritone with 7/8" spacing as this results in a smaller psaltery with no sacrifice of tone. If you want those lower tones, the Baritone is the one to get but be aware of its constraints. Most players choose my Alto.  I only build Baritones to order.

Fancy Psalteries

I sometimes have Alto Psalteries with different woods like Curly or Birdseye Maple or exotic woods on the sides (see photos below).  These instruments would have Cherry, Mahogany or Walnut backs and usually Redwood or Cedar soundboards. Check current stock to see what I have in this category that is immediately available. 

Custom Bowed Psalteries

Increasingly people are requesting custom bowed psalteries  which means your choice of woods, a personalized sound hole design and maybe even a unique tuning scheme. Go to this page to see what options there are for customizing all three sizes of my bowed psalteries and to see examples. 

Birdseye Maple Sides

Curly Maple Sides

Showing end of Maple pin block

Alto and Soprano Tuning

Baritone Tuning

Prices
  • Soprano (2 octaves G6 down to G4).............................$200 plus shipping (I can ship internationally)

  • Alto (2/12 octaves G6 down to middle C4)...................$300 - $350 (depending on the woods)

  • Baritone (3 octaves C6 to C3)....................................... $550 - 7/8" or 1" pin spacing (This size I build to order. Click here for details)

  • Custom Bowed Psalteries................ Price to be determined

  • If you require a left handed psaltery, there is not extra charge but you will have to order it. You can choose the woods and sound hole design.

  • Included with your psaltery are a horsehair bow, a tuning wrench, rosin, extra strings, and an Owner's Manual.

Accessories (no additional shipping charges if ordered with a psaltery) 
  • Soft Case...........................................$45 + $14 shipping (please specify alto or soprano)

  • Stand (Soprano or Alto)...................$15 + $14, Baritone......... $20 + $14 shipping

  • Extra Wire #1, #2 ,or #3......................$1 for individual size, $3 for all sizes + $2 shipping (specify gauge)

  • Custom Sound hole design............ $75

  • 17" Horsehair Bow ..........................$25 + $5

  • Rosin ...................................................$3 + $3

  • The Bowed Psaltery Handbook.......$21 + $5

  • Electronic Tuners ............................$ 20 + $5 shipping

  • Bowed Psaltery Internal Pickup.......$75

  • Bowed Psaltery Tripod Platform (Soprano or Alto).....$40 + $15 shipping, Baritone $45 + $15 shipping