April 28, 2018
One of the best parts of playing the saw is having the opportunity to meet all the other interesting people who play the saw! A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet expert sawyer and saw maker Eric Jon Johnson, owner of the Musical Saw Shop and the inventor of Stradsaw musical saws. He lives a few hours from me, in the California Gold Country, so my husband and I decided to take a little road trip for a visit with him. I had ordered a saw case from Jon. After all, saws - like all musical instruments - need a case!
Eric Jon Johnson lives in Brownsville, California at the end of a country road. Jon and several sweet rescue cats greeted us upon arrival. His workshop is a lovely, small place in the trees, full of tools and instruments in various stages of completion. He is an interesting and talented man. Jon was in a terrible automobile accident several years ago and was unable to work teaching and tuning pianos, his previous profession. His solution was to start making instruments in his workshop, a hobby he had started as a child. He has a degree in fine arts and design, and in addition to saws and cases, he makes harps and beautiful cased theremins. Jon invited us into his little shop, and before showing me my new saw case, he showed us some of his work and his inventions.
Jon played us a few of his saws and showed us his different designs. He loves to experiment with different metals, and he showed us saw blades made from aluminum, carbon steel, and bronze. I believe he also makes blades from nickel silver. I had no intention of buying a saw because I’m very used to playing one particular saw, and I don’t really need more than one, but it was fun to try the different blades. The very light aluminum blade he was experimenting with was easy to get an interesting sound out of, but the sound disappeared quickly. I also played a steel blade, and then Jon suggested I try the bronze blade. The bronze blade played easily and it had a rich, mellow tone, unlike any saw I had played before. In spite of my best intentions to avoid buying a saw, I put in anorder for a new bronze one. It was fascinating to hear the sounds of the different metals and consider how the density affects the sound of the music. Each metal has a different sort of voice, just like people, and I kept thinking it would be fun to hear a song played by saws of all different metals.
There are a variety of blades in Jon’s workshop (See pictures below). Notice his high school invention, the blade connected to a wooden box. He says it was not a success, but it sure looks interesting.
After seeing his saws and listening to him play, I wanted to see my new saw case, so Jon brought it out for me. The case, made of maple, fit it my saw perfectly. He made a place for the bow and the handle and rosin. He had designed it specifically for my saw, making sure the blade fit just right. It even has a strap for carrying. Plus he carved my initials on the top. It’s the perfect case!
In addition to being a great craftsman, Jon is a fine teacher. In five minutes, he helped me get a much wider range of notes from my saw than I had been getting. He explained how I was bending my saw too much for the low notes, and after meeting with him, I’ve been able to get my low notes much more easily. He also showed me how to use my leg as a sort of fulcrum in order to get some very high notes that I hadn’t been able to get before
I ordered a bronze saw and it came within the month, just as Jon had promised. It has a much different feel than my regular saw, it is lighter and takes a gentler touch, and it sounds great. In the video, you can see Jon playing my new saw. Notice how he drops the saw down on his thigh when he plays the higher notes. He can get 4.5 octaves from this saw.
If you are in the Gold Country and want to have a fun side trip, give him a call. His workshop is fascinating, and he will show you his saws and give you some playing tips. And you might meet one of his cats!