top of page

Bowed Psalteries


From left to right, Custom Baritone 7/8", Baritone  Left Handed 3/4" and an Alto Bowed Psaltery

An Introduction to the Bowed Psaltery

In this video I'm playing a  2 1/2 octave Vintage Alto Bowed Psaltery with a Redwood sound board, Curly Maple sides and Mahogany back with 1" string spacing and all steel strings

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 a growing number of players who play with two bows allowing some chords and more elaborate arrangements. The instrument must be self supported to accomplish this feat. All my psalteries are fully chromatic.

In the above video you can hear what my Vintage Alto sounds like strung with all steel strings. The clips below feature my new Altos and Baritone Bowed Psalteries each of which have all wound strings. Listen and compare.

Alto Bowed Psaltery James Jones
00:00 / 01:08
Baritone Bowed PsalteryJames Jones
00:00 / 01:22

The instrument is tuned with zither pins and a tuning wrench. Included with your psaltery are a 17" long horsehair bow, a tuning wrench, rosin, extra strings, and an owner's manual.  I am now offering a smaller lighter 15” bow which is more suitable for double bowing technique and tighter string spacing.

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 usually  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 brighter. The pin blocks are of hard Maple and joinery between frame and pin block is such that they will never come apart.


Five Different Sizes:

The new models of bowed psalteries described below have all wound strings and have different tonal qualities than my earlier models.  If you still would like my earlier Alto model,  just let me know that is what you’d prefer.  My earlier Alto had 1” string spacing and all steel strings. You can still order my Vintage Alto but I have discontinued my Soprano model.

  • My new Altos have the range of 2 1/2 octaves going from C6 to G3 (30 strings).  I offer this model with two string spacings 3/4” and 7/8”. There is additional gradually increasing space between the pins on the lower notes. The size of the 3/4” is 22 1/2” X 8” X 2 3/4”; the 7/8” is 24” X 9” X 2 3/4”  Either size has a weight of approximately 3 lbs depending on the wood. This size psaltery is quite comfortable to play given your average arm length. Because of its compact size, full sound and 2 1/2  octave range, these are my most popular models.  Another advantage is the tuning of C6 - G3 as it gives you more bass notes instead of less used high pitches. If you are purchasing the instrument for a young child, I recommend the Alto with 3/4” string spacing because of its smaller size and lightness.  

  • My Baritones are my largest Bowed Psalteries with a range of 3 octaves going from C6-C3 (37 strings). I now offer this psaltery with either 3/4” or 7/8" string spacing. As with the Alto there is additional space between the pins on the lower notes.  The dimensions are 27" X 10” X 3” for the 3/4” string spacing and 30" X 11" X 3" for the 7/8"spacing.  Weight for either is about 4 lbs.  If you want those lower tones, the Baritone is the one to get but be aware of its increased size and weight. If you aspire to use two bows to play your psaltery, either the 3/4” or 7/8” string spacing will work but I recommend my smaller 15” bows.   I currently only build Baritones to order.

  • My Vintage Altos have the range of 2 1/2 octaves going from G6-C4 (32 strings) which is different from my new Altos which go lower from C6 to G3 (30 strings).  The Vintage Alto has 1" string spacing even throughout.  It is about the same size as my new Alto with the 7/8" string spacing but instead of wound strings it has three sizes of steel strings which gives it a more ethereal quality.  You can hear what a Vintage Alto sounds like by watching the Introduction to the Bowed Psaltery video shown above. The actual size is 26" x 9 1/2" x 3" weighing approximately 3 lbs. This size psaltery is quite comfortable to play given your average arm length and to date it is by far my most popular model. 

Fancy Psalteries

I sometimes have bowed 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 or visit my custom page to see what other folks have selected. The sound hole designs pictured below do not add anything to the base price.

Comet like design

Small Star like design

Larger Star like design

Custom Bowed Psalteries

Increasingly people are requesting custom bowed psalteries  which means your choice of woods, a personalized sound hole design, the addition of a pickup etc. Go to this page to see what options there are for customizing any of my bowed psalteries and to see examples. 

Birdseye Maple Sides

Curly Maple Sides

Showing end of Maple pin block

Alto BP TC 30 strings website.jpg
Baritone BP TC 37 strings website.jpg

  • Alto - 21/2 octaves C6 to G3. (Specify 3/4" or 7/8" string spacing)......................................$475 

  • Vintage Alto  - 21/2 octaves G6 to C4 with 1" string spacing and all steel strings..............$425 

  • Baritone  - 3 octaves C6 to C3 (Specify 3/4” or 7/8” string spacing).................................... $675
    (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 small gooseneck tuning wrench, rosin, extra strings, and an Owner's Manual.

Accessories (no additional shipping charges if ordered with a psaltery) 
  • Small Soft Case........................................$55 + $15 shipping (only fits my new Alto with the 3/4" string spacing)

  • Display Stand ..........................................Alto .....$15 + $15 shipping, Baritone......... $20 + $15 

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

  • Custom Sound hole design............ $85

  • 17" or 15" Horsehair Bow ..........................$30 + $5

  • Rosin ...................................................$3 + $4

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

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

  • Bowed Psaltery Internal Pickup.......$85

  • Bowed Psaltery Tripod Platform..... Alto.....$40 + $15 shipping, Baritone .....$45 + $15 shipping

bottom of page