Cantigas Psaltery
Cantigas Psaltery
Budget Cantigas Psaltery

The medieval psaltery is a delightful instrument. For centuries, it was a favourite of both the clergy and the nobility. It sounds rather like a small harp, and its gentle, metallic tone is ideal for accompanying the voice. It's also highly addictive. Sit one on your coffee table, and everyone will want to pick it up and play it.

The design for this psaltery is closely based on an illustration in the 13th century "Cantigas de Santa Maria", a huge collection of poems, written in Galician-Portuguese and set to music during the reign of Alfonso X 'El Sabio' (1221-1284), King of Galicia, Castile and León. Many of the manuscripts are illuminated, and show instruments of the period. One of them (below) shows two gentlemen playing apparently identical psalteries, although closer examination reveals that one has eleven strings, the other ten.

Psalteries from the Cantigas de Santa Maria

This may or may not be artistic licence, but in any case, I have expanded the set for the budget model to thirteen strings, which gives a more useful range. Most medieval tunes fit nicely, and most folk tunes can be played, too. Thirteen strings is also a small enough number not to be daunting. I suspect that many three-octave psalteries stay on the shelf, because of the effort of getting all the strings in tune.

Closeup of Cantigas psaltery
Cantigas Psaltery
Professional Cantigas Psaltery

To keep the price down on the budget model, and to make it easier to handle, I've made some compromises on authenticity. The back and soundboard are made from birch plywood. It's a high quality material, and it works well, but obviously, it's modern. The strings are steel, and the soundhole roses are made from a pattern of drilled holes. This all results in a very workable psaltery which looks substantially correct, and sounds good. If you want total authenticity, go for the Professional version. This has all wood construction, 17 brass strings, carved roses, and fishtail tuning pins.


Budget Cantigas Psaltery, 13 steel strings, plywood back and soundboard. Includes tuning key and two quills
Professional Cantigas Psaltery - 17 brass strings, maple back, spruce soundboard. Includes tuning key and two quills (photos coming soon)

To order or enquire, pleasecontact me


Cases - Excellent cases can be ordered from specialist manufacturers such as Kingham MTM, but they're pricy. I can supply an attractive, custom-built plywood case, black with chrome fittings, for £220 when ordered with an instrument.

Delivery - the price depends on where you live. Please enquire.

I hate it when websites say "Phone for a quote", so to give you some idea - getting a baroque guitar in its case to America, including insurance, is currently about £170. Getting one to Kent is about half that.

Waiting time, from placing an order to clutching your new baby, is currently about 16 months. It's very approximate, because the schedule often contains items that are somewhat experimental, and they may take more or less time to complete than anticipated. Usually more.

Deposit- I usually ask for £150 (non-returnable unless I'm dead, insane, incapacitated or incarcerated) to secure an order and cover materials. Once that's paid, your order is entered into my Magic Book. Nothing happens for several months, then you receive an email to tell you I've started construction. A few weeks later, a big parcel arrives, and you squeal with delight.

Anote on HUMIDITY - delicate wooden instruments are remarkably resilient, but they can have major problems with both high and low atmospheric humidity levels. I keep my workshop at the recommended humidity level, between 45% and 50%, and I strongly recommend that instruments are kept as close to that range as possible. Electronic humidity meters are available cheaply on the Internet. They're small enough to keep in your instrument's case.
Low humidity can shrink wood, resulting in cracks and distortion. Case humidifiers, again available quite cheaply, should prevent this.
High humidity can swell the wood enough to cause cracking and warping, but the main risk is the formation of water droplets, either from condensation or perspiration while playing. These can damage varnish and slowly dissolve glue joints. A silica gel sachet can be kept in the case, but use a humidity meter as well. Take care it doesn't reduce the case humidity too far.