The Music of the Saw
By: The Working Man
The saw is a musical instrument! It is called a musical saw or a
singing saw. When played it has a strange sound similar to a
Theremin. The musical saw in the Hornbostel-Sachs musical
classification of instruments is an idiophone.
The musical saw is played almost always while a person is seated
with the handle of the saw tucked tightly between the knees or
legs. The end of the saw is then held in one hand. The teeth are
generally facing in towards the body and the player will use a
bow to play across the top of the saw. A person can also strike
the saw with a small mallet.
The way a player gets the saw to make music is bend the saw into
an "S" shape. The part of the blade that remains flat is called
the sweet spot and that is what a saw player bows against to make
that strange sound. You control the way the saw sounds by the
curving or straightening of the saw, making the sweet spot travel
up and down the blade. The further up toward the narrow part of
the blade that the saw is bowed or struck, the higher the note
and vice versa. The saw player can also add vibration by
vibrating their legs or wobbling the tip.
Hand saws are the preferred
instrument of the musical sawist. But
there are now special saws made just for making music. The
musical saws that are designed for that purpose are wider and
longer than your average hand saw. They do not have teeth running
the length of the blade; instead they may have a grain running
along the back edge of the saw. The thinner a saw is the more
flexible it is and so the easier to bend, but if it is thick it
has a rich tone that is sustained longer.
The typical hand saw is about five inches wide at the handle end
and about one inch at the tip. The saw will produce two octaves
regardless of length. A six inch bass saw may produce two and
half octaves. The bows more often used to play a saw are violin
bows or cello bows. You can also see a saw player playing a saw
with a homemade bow or just something like a wooden dowel that
was improvised at the last second.
Saw makers used to be plentiful during the early 1900's but most
of them went out of business when World Ward II drove up the
price of metal. In the year 2000 there were only three companies
that still developed saws. The companies were Mussehl and
Westphal, Wentworth and Charlie Blacklock.
There are two overseas companies that are important to the
musical saw world. The maker of the Stradivarius Saw, Swedish
Sandvik and a "La Lame Sonore" developed by a French company that
has the amazing range of three whole octaves.
There is an International Musical Saw Festival held in New York
City in the summer and there is an International Saw Competition
in California in August.
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