Saw Notes

A Resource for Musical Saw Enthusiasts

Blog Posts

Subscribe to Updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • All
  • Advice
  • Ask Ro
  • Audio
  • Guest Authors
  • History
  • How-To
  • Musicians & Makers
  • Video

Gospel and the Sunday Morning Saw

The musical saw has always been a popular instrument in churches because saws are inexpensive and they have a beautiful other-worldly sound. In addition, saws are easy to carry from place to place for revivals. Rural churches have often been one of the most common places to hear a saw, and happily, for us the […]
Read More

Satie and the Saw

Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies were published in the late 1880s. I’ve always loved Satie’s compositions, and I’ve always wondered what a “gymnopedie” was. Supposedly, the term refers to young men in ancient Sparta who participated in a celebration of athletics and martial arts. These compositions don’t remind me of anything that rigorous, but they do have […]
Read More

The Addam’s Family Saw! Happy Halloween!

One of the best saw players in the world is the marvelous Gladys Hulot from France. She is also a great theremin player and artist. Her videos are fun and creative, and here, you can see her play two instruments, the saw and the theremin. She is playing a lame sonore, French for “singing blade.” […]
Read More

How to Find a Saw Handle or “Cheat”

One of the big decisions a saw player must make is whether to use a saw handle or “cheat” on the end of the saw when playing. Some professional saws, such as the French lame sonore, are very thick steel and require a handle in order to bend the instrument, but for most saws, a […]
Read More

Crickets and Saws

David Coulter is a musician and composer who lives in the Bay Area. He plays many different instruments, including the didgerido and the saw. He’s a marvelously talented composer and director. In this video you can hear him play a piece he wrote on the theme of sustainability, and he plays saw along with the […]
Read More

42nd Annual Saw Festival: The winner is…

The second weekend of August is always the time for the International Musical Saw Festival, the longest running saw festival in the world. The festival is free, and there is a contest open to saw players of all skill levels. This year’s festival was great fun, with players from all over the country and a […]
Read More

Fishtank Ensemble

Fishtank Ensemble is an interesting group based in Los Angeles that plays a variety of styles including gypsy, flamenco, and rock and roll. Ursula Knudsen is the saw player and singer in these marvelous videos. She’s a talented saw player and her singing blends beautifully with the saw.  Listen to the group when you need […]
Read More

Play It Again, René! More Instructions!

If you want to learn to play the saw, it’s great to check out all the instructional resources you can find. Believe it or not, there are quite a few manuals, videos, and books that will help you learn to play the saw. The Forest Historical Society has an interesting set of saw playing instructions […]
Read More

No Place Like Home

It’s not every day that you see the musical saw used to woo a person, but in this scene from Steamboat Round the Bend (1937), we see John McGuire playing the musical saw for his sweetheart Anne Shirley. McGuire was an actor for over two decades, and you might recognize him from Charlie Chan at […]
Read More

You Are Invited To The Musical Saw Festival In August!

Everyone is invited to the 42nd International Musical Saw Festival! The festival’s main event begins at 10 am Sunday, August 11, at Roaring Camp in Felton, California. The world’s greatest saw players will join other acoustic musicians in a variety of musical performances. You’ll hear bluegrass, country, folk, gospel, blues, classical works, and show tunes […]
Read More

Mother Machree

Last spring, guest author Brad Kay wrote a marvelous biography of saw player Sam Moore for our blog. You can read it here. In the post, you can here a recording of “The Last Rose Of Summer” played by Sam Moore. Here’s another beautiful song, “Mother Machree.” In this recording, Moore is playing saw with […]
Read More

Jake Heggie and Earthrise

Jake Heggie is an American composer who has written a variety of classical pieces, including operas, choral works and chamber works. His opera Moby Dick is one of my favorites. In 2017, he wrote a chamber piece called “Earthrise: December 24, 1968 for Musical Saw and String Quartet.” It’s unusual to find pieces that are […]
Read More

The World’s Shortest Saw Lesson

Here’s the world’s shortest saw lesson. If you don’t know about the musical saw and just want to see how it works, watch this short video. It’s a great overview of what you need to make a sound to start playing. It’s a good idea to start out with a small hammer or even a […]
Read More

Tom Waits and Don Neely!

I’ve always been a big fan of Tom Waits, so it’s no surprise that I’d find one of his songs included a saw. Waits is a great singer and songwriter. He’s been recording and writing since the early 1970’s. His music is a sort of combination of jazz and blues, but his songs always have […]
Read More

Killer Warren Waid: Somewhere My Love

I haven’t been able to find out much about Killer Warren Waid, but he played the saw and the electric guitar and spent some of his time in Michigan during the 1970’s. He was a fine saw player, and he played old-timey music, accompanying dulcimer players on his electric guitar. Here is a recording of […]
Read More

Flexo Disc Saw Duet: Old Folks At Home

Mussehl and Westphal is one of the oldest musical saw makers in the United States. They have been making beautiful saws since 1921, and in the old days the company produced small records on the Flexo label to advertise their product. These records were small flexible plastic records, and they came in a variety of […]
Read More

Towed in a Hole

I’ve always been a big fan of Laurel and Hardy, and Towed In A Hole is one of my favorite shorts. As is usual in many of their films, Stan gets in trouble with Ollie, and in this story, Stan is sent “to his room” where he ends up fooling around with a saw. You […]
Read More

Happy Holidays from R.O. Blechman

During the 1960s, CBS took the time to wish the audience happy holidays. This is a beautiful spot by animator and illustrator R. O. Blechman. Blechman is an animator, cartoonist, graphic novelist, and illustrator. The musical saw in the spot is a sweet symbol of peace and the holiday spirit. Blechman was inducted into the […]
Read More

The Singing Saw At Christmastime

Julian Koster is a member of Neutral Milk Hotel and is known for using the musical saw on many of their records. The band was popular in the 1980’s, and they were known for their experimental instrumental pieces. In 2008 Koster appeared on NPR and was interviewed about his playing. This is an interview with […]
Read More

“Turkey In The Straw” with Charlie Blacklock

Charlie Blacklock spent his life promoting the musical saw. He produced musical saws, started the International Musical Saw Festival, and taught hundreds of people how to play. He passed away in 2008, but as a result of his enthusiasm for the saw, the musical saw is now as popular as ever. His saws are a […]
Read More

“The Swan” on the Saw and How to Make A Glass Harp

In addition to people who play saws, there are people who play water glasses. Robert Tiso is an excellent glass harp player, and here you can hear him with Felice Pantone playing “The Swan” from the Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. It’s a beautiful combination of two unusual instruments. If you decide you […]
Read More

Francisca Braga Plays “Empty House”

October is the time for ghosts and vampires and saws. Francisca Braga, a sawyer from Brazil, plays the song “Empty House” in this beautiful, haunting video. The blade of the saw is used in the beginning like a mirror to give a reflected view of Francesca while she plays among the spiders and trees. She […]
Read More

Adriano Fernandez and “Misty”

“Misty”was written by Erroll Garner in 1954 and was a big hit for Johnny Mathis. It was also a big hit for Ella Fitzgerald. This is a great version of “Misty” performed by Adriano Fernandez, a talented pianist and saw player. You can hear Ella Fitzgerald sing it too in the second video and notice […]
Read More

Smiley Burnett and the Musical Saw

   Gene Autry on guitar with Smiley Burnett on accordion Gene Autry was one of the most popular movie cowboys of all time, and one of the reasons for his success was his friendly sidekick, Smiley Burnett. Smiley was born Lester Alvin Burnett in 1911, and he died in 1967. Autry and Burnett met in 1933 […]
Read More

Wish You Were Here: The IMSA Festival

This past weekend was the 41st annual International Musical Saw Association festival in Felton, California. The festival was started by Charlie Blacklock, and his family continues the tradition every year. It’s in a beautiful spot called Roaring Camp, in the redwoods of California with steam trains, gold panning, blacksmiths, barbecue, and of course, the annual […]
Read More

“Minor Waltz” and the Asylum Street Spankers

The Asylum Street Spankers were a great band from Austin who played a lot of Tin Pan Alley types of songs. They have disbanded, but you can still buy their recordings and see their videos on YouTube. They have a great old-timey sound. The band was founded by Christina Mars and Guy Forsyth. In this […]
Read More

Standby For Saws!

Standby magazine was published by WLS radio in Chicago during the 1930’s. The magazine included interviews with radio stars, and a schedule of the radio shows including the very popular radio show National Barn Dance. Farmers and relocated farmers made up much of the audience during a time when many people were moving from rural […]
Read More

How to Compete in a Saw Contest

  Saws For The Competition   It’s fun to get in touch with other saw players, and one way to do this is to go to a saw competition or festival, but how do you find a festival or a competition? The best way is to join a saw group or a saw players Facebook […]
Read More

“Darling Nelly Gray” and Dwight Hawkins

Here is the talented multi-instrumentalist Dwight Hawkins from Raleigh, North Carolina with the Piedmont Highballers. This is a marvelous performance of a great old song. As you watch Dwight play, you see he bows his saw and uses the bow for percussion, almost like a washboard. He knows a lot about jug band music and you can […]
Read More

Natalia Paruz, The Saw Lady!

You can’t be a fan of the musical saw and not be familiar with marvelous Natalia Paruz, the “Saw Lady.” She lives in New York and plays saw in subways, orchestras, and on radio, television, and movies. Chances are, if you hear the saw in a commercial, it’s Natalia Paruz! In addition to the saw, she […]
Read More

Musical Saw Festival In Taiwan

Saw players from all over the world gathered in Taiwan in May 2018 for a saw festival, and you can watch it here, two and a half hours of the musical saw. There are some amazing acts. Beautiful!
Read More

“Lamento Borincano” on the Saw

I have recently had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with a sawyer from Puerto Rico, José A. Hernández Vélez. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture posted a video of him playing the saw on their webpage, and he graciously gave me permission to post the video here. The title of this song is “Lamento Borincano, ” and […]
Read More

Faulkner and the Musical Saw

  Sometimes the musical saw shows up in unexpected places. I wouldn’t expect the saw to play a part in literature, but much to my surprise, the musical saw shows up in a short story by William Faulkner. Faulkner is one of my favorite writers. In 1925, when he lived in New Orleans, he published […]
Read More

The Flatlanders: Dallas

I’ve always loved the Flatlanders and Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s voice. This song “Dallas” is from their album More A Legend Than A Band, 1972. The album was first recorded in 1972 and rereleased in 1990. The saw part in this song is nice and simple, mirroring the harmonica part in places. The saw player on “Dallas”  is Steve […]
Read More

Jimmie Rodgers: Home Call

    Since I started listening to saw players, I’ve come across a lot of surprisingly beautiful music. The saw is often considered a novelty instrument, and for that reason, sometimes the musical skill of the sawyer can be a bit underdeveloped ( I include myself in that group). Happily, however, there are saw players […]
Read More

A Visit To Songwood Instruments

One of the best parts of playing the saw is having the opportunity to meet all the other interesting people who play the saw. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet expert sawyer and saw maker Eric Jon Johnson, owner of Songwood Instruments. He lives a few hours from me, in the […]
Read More

Dr. Who and the Musical Saw

The television show Dr. Who has been around in various forms since the 1960’s. It’s about a character named Dr. Who, who travels the universe in his TARDIS, saving people from bad guys and making friends across time. The theme music was written by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire in 1963, and it sounds remarkable in this […]
Read More

Cheapsuit Serenaders: I’ll See You In My Dreams

No musical saw blog would be complete without a recording from Robert Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders. Robert Crumb is a cartoonist and lover of old-time music. The Cheapsuit Serneaders made three records in the 1970s, each one a lovely collection of old-time tunes. Many of these recordings include a saw. This particular song […]
Read More

Guest Author Brad Kay! Sam Moore: The Prodigal Saw

SAM MOORE The Prodigal Saw by Brad Kay   THE KID HAD TALENT, that much is for certain. The Moores, of Monticello, Florida, already were a musical family before Sam was born, on June 28, 1887. Unlike the rest of his family, which like countless others in those years, took up music as a pleasant […]
Read More

Buying and Playing a “Real Saw”

The late, great sawyer David Weiss had a regular advice column in the International Saw Association newsletter. These articles offer wonderful advice for players of all skill levels. Here’s an excerpt from an article from 2003. Many thanks to Rodney Blacklock for his permission to reprint this. “Many of us saw players like to help beginners […]
Read More

Jules Lawrence: Extended Playing Techniques

Extended Techniques — Ramblings in My Lunch Break at the Music Shop General wisdom is that the saw is played with a violin or cello bow, a drum beater or- in some cases- a small, soft-headed hammer (Champaign cork on a stick anyone?). The effect of this is to vary the attack of each note- […]
Read More

Jim Leonard: Scratch My Back

Scratch My Back: A Pictorial History of the Musical Saw and How to Play It  is one of the only books written about the musical saw. It was written by sawyer Jim Leonard with Janet Graebner and was published in 1989. The book includes chapters on the history of the saw, saw players, and instructions […]
Read More

Jules Lawrence: How To Amplify Your Saw

Amplification- Working out exactly how to amplify a saw can be quite tricky. However- down the ages I’ve hit on this combination which works pretty well in more or less any context. Playing from a seated position (obviously) I’ve got a short mic stand, the type used to mic up bass drums, to my right […]
Read More

A Voice Like A Saw

The musical saw is often compared to the human voice, and that’s part of its charm. It isn’t often, however, that singers’ voices are compared to a musical saw. The Dezurik Sisters are an exception. The Dezurik Sisters, Mary Jane and Carolyn, were stars on WLS The National Barn Dance radio show in the 1930’s. They […]
Read More

Saws and Carrots

The saw can be a beautiful instrument in the hands of an expert, and Jean-Claude Welche is  a real expert. You can listen to him play in this video. Mr. Welche plays a variety of instruments including some he makes himself. In the second video here, he makes a pan flute out of carrots and a […]
Read More

Guest Author Jules Lawrence! How to Transport Your Saw

Now here’s an irony which has amused me for some time- how to transport one’s beloved saw or saws. Firstly you want the things safe and protected, ideally with a handle which makes them easy to carry. Secondly- in these days of paranoia the saw cold easily be construed as an offensive weapon &, at […]
Read More

Ouch!

Part of the fun of playing the saw is making music from something unexpected. And dangerous! I can’t think of any other instrument that can cut off an arm. I know a violin player who has a permanent mark under her chin, and I’ve heard of oboe players having blood vessel damage from blowing into […]
Read More

Rachmaninoff on the Saw?

When I was young, I took singing lessons for a while, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” was one of the pieces my teacher wanted me to learn. I failed miserably. “Vocalise” is difficult for the same reason that it is beautiful. It wanders here and there in a relaxed and magical way. And it is the […]
Read More

Poor Butterfly

Here’s Andy McCormick playing “Poor Butterfly” on the saw along with the wonderful organist Mike Grandchamp. One of the tricks to sounding nice on the saw is finding the right songs to play, and this song is perfect. This was filmed at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. You can watch a clip of […]
Read More

The Reason For Rosin

You should always use rosin on your bow before you play the saw. Rosin comes from pine trees and other conifers, and it is collected like maple syrup, from small taps in the trees. Each rosin company has it’s own unique recipe and mixes the rosin with other ingredients. The rosin is then sold in […]
Read More

A Dog’s Life

Here’s a clip from Charlie Chaplin’s movie “A Dog’s Life,” a silent movie from 1918. The soundtrack includes a saw. I think the saw works well with all the crying. The music was composed by Chaplin himself, who specifically indicated that the passages should be played by a saw. You can find out more about […]
Read More

Let’s have an octave! Or Two! Or Four!

One of the advantages of playing a musical saw over a regular handsaw is the wider octave range. A sawyer can usually only play about one octave on a regular small handsaw, but a longer musical saw, 28 to 30″, can easily produce two octaves. In France, they have have a type of saw known […]
Read More

Saw Player of the Month: Andy McCormick

One of my favorite saw players is Andy McCormick. He lives in Minnesota and plays in a duo called Dreamland Faces. You can’t go wrong listening to any of his recordings. Here he is playing Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” Have a listen…  
Read More

Buzzed Bowing

Bowing on the saw, like anything, gets easier with practice. One of the problems for many people when starting out is unintentionally creating an unpleasant buzzing sound when bowing. This can be worse when bowing the lower notes. You can correct this by bowing a little faster or slower. Buzzing can also be caused by […]
Read More

No Suits Required!

There’s nothing inherently musical about a saw, and we don’t usually think of music when we think of hand tools, but it is possible to make beautiful music on a hand saw. In order to do this, you simply need a handsaw, a bow or a hammer, and a little patience. You can play a […]
Read More

Whose Idea Was This Anyway?

Many have speculated about the origins of the musical saw. The Hyde Park Herald, August 27, 1926 included this article explaining how it all happened: “First ‘Musical Saw'” “The idea of extracting music from such an unlikely medium as an ordinary steel saw is said to have originated more than thirty years ago in Argentina. […]
Read More

Bows, Bows, Bows

  In order to play the saw, you need a hammer, a mallet, or a bow. It can be easier to start with a small hammer, but part of the fun of playing the saw is being able to make the lovely glissando, so most people like to play with a bow. There are many […]
Read More

The Weaver Who?

According to the Mussehl & Westphal website, Clarence Mussehl was inspired to make musical saws after seeing the Weaver Bothers perform in 1919. But who were the Weaver Brothers? During their time, there were very popular, and they worked with many famous acts such as Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and Roy Rogers. Leon Weaver […]
Read More

Was Tom a Sawyer?

As far as I know, Tom Sawyer didn’t play a saw, but “sawyer” is a term used by some to refer to people who play the saw. The term usually refers to people who work sawing wood, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, before that, the term was sawer. I have no idea why […]
Read More

My Wild Irish Saw

Mussehl and Westphal is a popular musical saw company that has been around since the 1920’s. According to their website, Clarence Mussehl, after hearing the Weaver brothers perform in 1919, decided he wanted to develop a musical saw. Mussehl and Westphal advertised in many magazines in the 1920’s, and at the height of their popularity they […]
Read More

Saw and Organ

Enjoy this video of a musical saw and a barrel organ. If you have time, check out the websites listed at the end of the video. The Musee Baud is in Switzerland and looks like a marvelous little place full of rare music boxes and automata. And the saw player, Jean-Claude Welche, plays many unusual […]
Read More

What About The Knees?

One of the first challenges when learning to play the saw is deciding how to hold it. There are several techniques. Most players hold the saw between their knees. Some people cross their ankles, and some simply hold their knees close with the saw between them. Some people play standing with the saw held between […]
Read More

Curves Ahead!

In order to get a sound out of the saw, you must be able to bend it a little and create a slight S-curve in the blade. This is one of the benefits of using a saw that is specifically made for music. Musical saws are thinner steel than regular work saws, and so they […]
Read More

Ford Hanford

One of the earliest recordings of the musical saw is a Victor recording of Ford Hanford playing “My Old Kentucky Home,” recorded May 2, 1921. This recording includes the musical saw with an orchestra. Mr. Hanford plays first with a hammer and then switches to a violin bow. Listen and you can hear the difference […]
Read More

More on our saw playing friend, Ford Hanford…

Popular Science included an article about Ford Hanford and his saw in their May 1921 issue: How Music Is Produced From A Saw “Go to the tool box and get your saw. Perhaps it is a musical one! And there is no sound sweeter than that which can be drawn from the right kind of […]
Read More