Thumbnail History of the Bowed Psaltry


Psalteries are found, in one form or another, in every major folk culture in the world dating back 1000's of years. They came in all shapes and sizes, some were plucked, some were struck and some were bowed. The most sacred musical instrument of the ancient Hebrews was a plucked psaltery with 10 strings which dates back to Biblical times. The hammered dulcimer is actually a struck psaltery that originated in the Middle East over 3000 years ago. The Bowed Psaltery probably dates back around 300 years ago in Ireland but it was a great deal different from the ones we have today. It's shape was a right triangle with the longest string on the left and the strings got shorter as they moved down toward the right. This allowed the bow to get between the pins and reach every string. It was held in the left hand and the bow was in the right hand. The modern psaltery is very, very different from it's ancient relatives. The comtemporary Bowed Psaltery is an isosceles triangle with hitch pins on both sides and tuned to the chromatic scale (the same as a piano, with both natural notes and sharps and flats). The contemporary Bowed Psaltery was probably developed in the late 1940's in Germany. It was brought to the United States in the late 1950's as a simple, easy to play, cheap to buy novelty instrument. It spread across much of the U.S. in the next 30 years or so but most builders built their instruments almost exactly like everyone else before them. Everyone who builds musical instruments has a "vision" for their instruments and they build an instrument that matches that "vision". In 1996 Omega Strings founder, Richard Spencer, developed a new "vision" for the Bowed Psaltery, one that moved it far beyond the simple, easy to play, cheap to buy novelty instrument. His "vision" of the Bowed Psaltery was a finely crafted, well finished, "concert quality" instrument with a warm, rich tone throughtout the range with a haunting sound that stirs the soul. The instruments on this site reflect that "vision".