This article was written and contributed by Stewart C. Russell of Glasgow, Scotland.
Get a normal wood saw, the longer and more flexible the better. Sit down on
a fairly straight-backed chair, and clamp the saw handle between your knees.
Grip the tip of the saw with your thumb over the top, fingers underneath.
Bend the saw down with your thumb, and while doing this, bend the blade into
a slight S-bend with your fingers.
Now tap the saw at the centre of the bend. You should get a ringing sound.
Bend the saw a little further down, and the note gets higher. It takes
practice to get repeatable tones, so stick with it.
What you've just done is recreate the sound of the musical saw, an
instrument popular before the advent of amplification. With dedication, the
saw can sound like an eerie soprano voice. Professional saw players (they do
exist; listen to the opening tune of the movie "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's
Nest", or the They Might Be Giants track "James K. Polk") use a cello bow
and controlled knee movements to modulate the blade's whine.
If you want to learn more about the musical saw, visit the musical saw
homepage at http://www.lmaster.u-bordeaux.fr/scie/intro.html
If you need to learn even more, there's a book co-written by saw virtuoso
Jim "Supersaw" Leonard. It's called "Scratch My Back", published by
Kaleidoscope Press, Santa Ana, CA, USA; ISBN 0-9620882-0-X. I got my copy
from Amazon.com. (currently out of print - ed.)
A few companies make specialist musical saws, which are more flexible and
less sharp than wood saws. One of these is Mussehl and Westphal, who have
been making musical saws since the early 1920s. You'll find them at the New
Classics site, http://classics.nu
Stewart's pages can be reached through http://scruss.com/.