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 a Baritone so you can compare the three.

Soprano Bowed Psaltery - James Jones
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Baritone Bowed Psaltery - 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 T-style 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.

 

Three 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. The dimensions are 11" X 31" X 3 1/4" with the weight being 5 lbs. This instrument is more of a challenge to play given its size and weight but if you want those low notes, this is the one to get.  I build this size 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). That is the only difference between the fancy and the standard bowed psalteries. The tonal quality remains the same. 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. You are also welcome to order a Custom Bowed Psaltery. You'll just have to wait a little longer.

Custom Bowed Psalteries

Increasingly people are requesting custom bowed psalteries with their choice of woods and a personalized sound hole design.  Go to this page to see some examples and see what the options are for customizing all three sizes of my bowed psalteries.  

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

  • Fancy Alto........................................................................$350

  • Baritone (3 octaves C6 to C3)....................................... $550 (This size I build to order. Click here for details)

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

  • For Standard Sopranos, you have a choice of Walnut or Cherry back and sides with either Redwood, Spruce or Cedar soundboard. For the Standard Alto Bowed Psalteries you will get either Walnut or Cherry back and sides and either Redwood or Cedar soundboards. I don't usually have Spruce available for the Altos or Baritones. I can use hardwoods for the soundboards but that will brighten an already bright sounding instrument. My Fancy Altos are described in a paragraph above.
     

  • 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, T wrench for tuning, 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.................................................$15 + $14

  • 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 ..........................$20 + $5

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

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

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

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

  • Bowed Psaltery Tripod Platform .....$40 + $15 shipping
     

 

James Jones Instruments

1384 Coltons Mill Rd

Bedford, VA 24523-5259

540-586-6319 

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