Homegrown Music and Homemade Musical Instruments: the Musical Saw!

Practically any saw can become a musical saw, and practically anyone can learn how to play one, says the author.

| January/February 1980

  • 061 homemade instruments 01
    Marc Bristol and other Washington State grassroots musicians posing with their gutbucket, washboard, and jug instruments (the axe is a gag). INSET: Detail of the gutbucket "notch and bevel." 
  • 061 homemade instruments 02 - saw playing technique
    Right-handed technique for holding and playing a musical saw.

  • 061 homemade instruments 01
  • 061 homemade instruments 02 - saw playing technique

Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment?   

That's what this column is about. Homegrown music  . . . and sometimes homemade musical instruments to play it on.  

We may also publish some songs, discuss music as a potential home business, run discographies, bibliographies, and/or include whatever other do-it-yourself music topics you'd like to see.   

Back in the early part of this century, the beautiful, wailing sounds of musical saws were heard in many vaudeville shows and dance orchestras. Then along came all the various sophisticated (and expensive) Hawaiian, dobro, and pedal slide guitars, and the art of coaxing melodies from woodcutting hand tools was almost forgotten. 

Today, I'm happy to report, musical saw playing is one "dying art" that's coming back to life! In fact, I had the unique pleasure last Labor Day weekend of attending the annual musical saw festival in Santa Cruz, California . . . a two-day gala event that was filled with the plaintive strains of the dual-purpose implement.

Santa Cruz was especially exciting because amateur "sawyers" played right alongside such record-cutting professionals as Margaret Steinbuch, Moses Josiah, Robert Armstrong (who plays with the Cheap Suit Serenaders and recorded the theme for the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), and the festival's originator, Tom Scribner (who's played with the likes of Leon Russell and George Harrison ... and been honored by having a bronze statue of himself, playing a saw, erected in a Santa Cruz park).

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