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Bowed Psalteries

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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 Classic 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 Classic 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 which I think gives the tone more body.  Listen and compare.

Alto 3/4" with wound stringsJames Jones
00:00 / 00:52
Alto 7/8" with wound stringsJames Jones
00:00 / 00:55
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 15" long horsehair bow, a small gooseneck tuning wrench, rosin and an owner's manual.  If you are interested in my Classic Alto, you may specify my 17" bow. My smaller lighter 15” bow is more suitable for the tighter string spacing of my wound string Alto and Baritone bowed psalteries and works better for playing with two bows. 

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:

  • My new Altos have the range of 2 1/2 octaves going from C6 to G3 (30 strings).  I offer this model with two pin spacings 3/4” and 7/8”. There is gradually increasing space between the pins on the lower notes.  The 3/4” pin spacing is closer together so you get the range of 2 1/2 octaves in a smaller instrument.  The 7/8” gives you are larger bowed psaltery; about the same size as my Classic Alto.  The body size and weight of the 3/4” model is 22 1/2” X 8” X 2” 2 1/2 lbs; the 7/8” model is 24” X 9” X 2” and about 3 lbs. The range of C6 - G3  gives you more bass notes instead of the less used higher pitches of the Classic Alto. 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" pin spacing. As with the Alto there is additional space between the pins on the lower notes.  The body dimensions are 27" X 10” X 2 3/8” for the 3/4” string spacing and 30" X 11" X 2 3/8" 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. You'll just need to purchase an extra bow.    I currently only build Baritones to order.
     

  • My Classic 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 Classic Alto has 1" pin 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 Classic Alto sounds like by watching the Introduction to the Bowed Psaltery video shown above. The actual size is 26" x 9 1/2" x 2" weighing approximately 3 lbs. This size psaltery is quite comfortable to play given your average arm length. 

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

Alto Classic TC web.jpg

Curly Maple Sides

Alto BP TC 30 strings website.jpg

Showing end of Maple pin block

Baritone BP TC 37 strings website.jpg
 
Prices
  • Alto - 21/2 octaves C6 to G3.  (3/4" pin spacing).......................................................$425 

  • Alto - 21/2 octaves C6 to G3.  (7/8" pin spacing).......................................................$475 

  • Classic Alto  - 21/2 octaves G6 to C4  (1" pin spacing with all steel strings)............$425 

  • Baritone  - 3 octaves C6 to C3 (Specify 3/4” or 7/8” pin 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, and an Owner's Manual.

  • Note:  If you already have a bow that you like, deduct $30 from the price of any of my bowed psalteries.

 
Accessories (no additional shipping charges if ordered with a psaltery) 
  • Small Soft Case..................................$45 + $15 shipping (Available for all Altos)

  • Wound Strings ................................... $1.75 each (Visit this page to select size)

  • Display Stand .....................................Alto .....$25 + $15 shipping, Baritone......... $25 + $15 

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

  • Custom Sound hole design............ $100

  • 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

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