--THE MUSICAL SAW--NOTE: 6 additional photos and a sound sample of this instrument are available. Click here for information.
Yuppie music catalogs would have you believe that you can only play music on professional, $50+ musical saws. This is simply not the case. My very favorite saw is a $6 - red plastic handled "Vermont-American" off-the-shelf general purpose saw. In general, just about any straight-backed saw (not curved, like the old-time saws were) will work just fine. Some have a slightly better range than others (you ought to see the stares I get from store clerks when I start tapping and bending their saws to determine range!) In other words - experiment! A super-simple, but perfectly satisfactory bow can be made in a half hour or so out of a yardstick (or other similar strip of wood), some 8 Lb nylon fishline & a few dabs of Elmer's glue. HOW TO MAKE THE BOW Materials needed: - A wooden yardstick, or similar piece of wood - Nylon fishing line. 8 pound test strength is best, but other strengths will work - Elmer's, Titebond or similar harmless glue - A cake of fiddle rosin Instructions: - Cut the yardstick in half (18") - Drill a small hole about here (marked with asterisk) "the other edge" ________________________________________________ | * | '------------------------------------------------' "one edge" - Tie one end of the fishing line through this hole - Bend the wooden strip as much as you can without breaking it - WHILE BENT * carefully wind 75 to 100 continuous loops of the line around and around and around the bow -- have the line lay against the convex part of the bow, then have it "bridge the gap", in free air. Wind as evenly as possible, working your way from one edge of the bow, to the other edge. Be careful not to let the line run off the back of the bow. * It's hard to keep the strip bent and wind it with the fishline at the same time -- one trick I've used is to drill two small holes along the strip's centerline about an inch from each end - & hook one end of a fairly stiff length of wire through one hole, bend the wood strip as much as you safely can, then hook the other end of the wire through the 2nd hole. This wire will hold the strip in a nice bent position until the fishline can be wound on. - When finished winding, cut the line and tie it off to the same hole the other end is secured to, then carefully (using your fingers) smear Elmer's glue over the part of the wound-on fishing line that is laying against the convex part of the wood. This secrues the line in place so it won't fall off of the bow. Be careful not to get any glue on the straight part of the line. Allow to dry overnight or longer. When completely dry, rub the bow over a cake of rosin for several minutes until it is thoroughly covered with rosin (musical saws require a LOT of rosin to get such a big mass of steel vibrating). HOW TO PLAY THE MUSICAL SAW While sitting down, preferably in a straight-backed chair, clamp the saw handle (with saw in a vertical position), teeth facing you, tightly between your legs. Now with your left hand grab hold of the saw's tip like you would grab the lever of a slot machine. Bend the whole blade leftwards 8" to 12" or so then rotate your left wrist a bit clockwise (to the right) to give the tip of the sawblade the all-important tip-bend. The musical pitch is changed by making the "big bend" larger or smaller (see diagram below) -- all the while taking care to maintain the bend at the tip. So - essentially, the properly "bent" saw takes on a bit of an "S" configuration - as shown below: (This view is what you'd see while sitting & playing it) o o o <--- small bend (MUST be maintained or saw o will not sing! o o o o o o o o o <--- big bend (varies musical pitch) o o o o o o [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [___] Another key point is to try to orient the bow as close to 90 degrees to the sawblade as possible. Also, low-pitched notes are bowed closer to the saw's handle whereas higher-pitched notes are bowed further out towards the tip of the saw. This is not hard to get used to, but does take a bit of experimentation to get right.
Dennis Havlena W8MI, Straits of Mackinac, northern Michigan
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