Long makes psalteries small and large, soprano to baritone, for playing in one key like D or chromatic for multiple keys. His largest can be played with two bows while fastened via customized fitting to a tripod. While the sound is described as ancient, psaltery makers are constantly innovating to fit the needs of today’s professional and aspiring musicians.
Character shows up in the unique North American wood remnants Long chooses for each instrument-building project. He’s fond of weathered woods that reflect a sense of history, like wormy chestnut repurposed from barns and fences that must date back before the 1940s because of the particular blight that wiped out the chestnut trees. Long recently blogged about the custom psaltery he crafted from a 2,000-year-old piece of black bog oak that a customer had salvaged from the river in Mississippi. He says the light, lacquered finish dries without soaking into the wood, allowing the wood to vibrate as it should. After he’s used precise machines to hollow out the bodies, he judiciously uses glue to assemble the fronts. The type of string needed various depending on the instrument size.
Long enjoys teaching psaltery music almost as much as he enjoys making the instruments. When he hosts demonstrations at various places for the Southern Highland Craft Guild, he inevitably spends a lot of time showing onlookers how to play. Long says he’s glad to educate about this somewhat mysterious instrument, “that makes someone feel good to be a part of that.”