Saw Notes

A Resource for Musical Saw Enthusiasts

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 different types of bows, violin, viola, cello, bass, psaltery, and erhu. The stick part of bows are usually made from wood or carbon fiber. The carbon fiber bows are usually the least expensive and work perfectly fine for the saw. Erhu bows are made of bamboo and they are inexpensive too. On bowed instruments, the sound produced by a bow is related to the flexibility of the stick part of the bow; the stiffer the bow, the brighter the sound. I don’t think this makes much difference when playing the saw, but the length is a consideration depending on your playing style. Bass bows are the shortest and violin bows are the longest. If you bow your saw with a lot of movement, you might prefer a shorter bow so you don’t get in your own way. Then again, some people like the longer bows so they can make longer drawn out notes.

Now let’s talk about hair! Bow hairs are usually made from horse hair, though there are synthetic hairs too. The hair makes up the part of the bow where you apply the rosin, and it’s the flat part that you draw against the edge of the saw. White horse hairs are most common. The benefits of synthetic hairs is that they are less affected by weather and they are more durable and less expensive, but the reason why many people dislike them is because they are less porous and don’t “grab” as well. As with the flexibility, I’m not sure this makes a lot of difference when playing a saw, but you can try different bows and see what you think.

You can buy bows online, and it’s good to experiment and see what works best for you. A bow is really just a stick with some sort of string stretched on it, and you can make your own bow if you are so inclined with a stick and some fishing line. I like a violin bow and an erhu bow because they are both quite light. The world record price for a violin bow is over $250,000, but you don’t need to spend that much. You can get an inexpensive one online for about $15.

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Rowena Southard, your blog hostess, is a musical saw enthusiast who lives in California. She loves all kinds of music and has a special fondness for unusual instruments.