How To Play The Musical Saw

Becky Poole
5 min readJun 3, 2021

Have you always fancied playing an instrument but aren’t someone who gets jazzed about frets and strings. The saw may be the perfect instrument for you!

“If you can sing, whistle, or hum a tune, you can play the musical saw!” — Clarence J Mussehl founder of Mussehl & Westphal

Photo: Annie Beedy

Get Yourself a Saw

Grab one from the garage, shed, old barn, or hardware store. But if you want a guarantee on consistent pitch and range, or haven’t had a tetanus shot, purchase a Professional Musical Saw online from Mussehl & Westphal or the aptly named Have one custom made through a shop in Northern California. You can also find musical saws at folk or rare instrument shops, like Lark in the Morning.

Another benefit of purchasing a professional musical saw is that it can come as a kit. A full kit from M&W includes a saw, a soft case — very handy for travel, rosin, a mallet, instructions, and different types of bows. All for $99.95. At one point back in the early aughts, there was a charming cassette tape included. That is now a CD.

When it comes to size, you’ve got options. Tenor (28’), baritone (30–32’), and bass (36’) are the most common. The bass from Charlie Blacklock, coming in at about 3 ft long, makes a beautiful rich tone at the low end up through tenor range at the tip. It is wobbly and buzzier than the smaller tenor and for short players it can be unwieldy. However, it plays about two octaves and change. With a tenor you’ll get about an octave and half of clear notes. The M&W tenor metal itself is pliable but strong and stays where you put it. This is a great saw for beginners and long time players.

Get yourself a Bow

A violin, cello, or viola bow will work well. You don’t need to spend tons of money on a bow. But, in my years of playing a $40 bow can last years, while other cheaper bows have exploded within days of performance playing. Hot tip — you don’t really NEED a bow! You can make sound on the saw using just about anything. Dowel rods are a very affordable option. In fact, a sturdy dowel rod comes in the M&W kit along with a rope and wooden slat contraption.

Rosin any bowing implement with abandon. If you can’t get your saw to sing, this is likely one of the culprits…

Becky Poole

Actor, VO, writer, saw player. Based in LA. I write feminist murder ballads, eat up neuroscience, and wish I was a better SJW.