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About Different Types Of Handmade Psalteries

By Krystal Branch

The psaltery, also known as psalterion, psaltry and saltere, is an ancient musical instrument first mentioned in Christian literature three centuries before Christ, in Old Testament. At first, it was just a simple wooden board with gut strings, and it was played with fingers or a plectrum. It was widely used until fifteenth century, and handmade psalteries were quite common at the time.

In later periods, wooden boards were replaced with wooden boxes, and psaltery got a sound hole as well. Although there are different shapes of boxes, including triangular, rectangular and trapezoidal, some are more popular in some area. For example, in Southern parts of Europe people mostly played on trapezoidal ones, while in northern areas they preferred wing shaped and triangular instruments, sometimes double strung.

It is presumed that some later instruments such as zither or harpsichord are just more sophisticated versions of this ancient instrument. Harpsichord is a larger version and looks quite similar to an old psaltery, but it has a keyboard mechanism for plucking the strings. All strings are open, without stoppers.

In folk music, similar instruments are still used in some parts of Europe, especially in Finland and Estonia. In Estonia, they have their own version called kannel, while in Finland they play on their kantele. It is presumed that Russian folk instrument gusli is their own version of the same instrument, although this one is bowed, instead played with fingers.

In Arabic countries, they also still use similar instruments. They are triple strung, and played with finger plectra. Another type of saltere is called dulcimer. Its strings are struck with hammers, not plucked. In any case, you will find different similar instruments across the Asia as well, especially in India and China. The interesting thing is that you can play all kinds of modern music as well, and you will be surprised with the tone quality.

The sound is simple, clean and ringing, something you have to hear. Today, when all sounds are mostly artificial, it is really nice to hear something so pure and interesting. Although it is mainly used in folk music, anything can be played on this lovely instrument. There are no limitations, and this can be a real challenge for any music enthusiast. You will surely appreciate these amazing tones.

Today, some craftsmen still produce hand made psalteries, because they are quite popular again. Triangular shape is the most appreciated. They use different types of wood for making these simple wooden boxes, but the use of different finishes is sometimes the main reason for better quality of the final sound. Most craftsmen use plain steel music wire for strings, and they make them the same way they are made for centuries.

Handmade psalteries will find their place in homes of all music enthusiasts. There are different shapes and qualities available, and the best ones make really amazing tones. Besides, they look more than appealing, and even if you don't play, you might find them highly decorative. In any case, one of these lovely pieces will look great on your mantelpiece.

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