Aficionados of the theremin and the apprehension engine, or anyone who appreciates offbeat music, might well take an interest in the Musical Saw Festival coming up in Felton this Sunday, Aug. 14.

In case you’ve never heard of it, the musical saw is exactly what it sounds like: a saw played by a musician, producing unearthly sounds, but sounds nonetheless. Any saw will do, though “life will be a whole lot easier if you use a saw fabricated specifically for music,” according to

The festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. At Roaring Camp, located between San Jose and Santa Cruz just off Highway 17 at 5401 Graham Hill Road in Felton. Admission is free.

Appreciators of the abstruse can listen to live acts at the festival including Oakland-based Three Drink Circus and Hui Po’ aha, a ukulele orchestra with musical saw. (The latter is doubtless included just in case musical saw wasn’t weird enough.)

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Three Drink Circus will be among the acts performing at the Musical Saw Festival. (Video courtesy of Three Drink Circus/YouTube)

The musical saw is one of many instruments of terror used in scary movies. However, unlike its distant cousin, the chainsaw, it is not actually employed in the commission of violent acts. Rather, it emits a high-pitched, spooky sound which is utilized in the soundtrack.

It is clear who invented the theramin, another disconcertingly high-pitched instrument often featured in horror movies. It was invented by Leon Theremin, a Russian and Soviet inventor who apparently had a lot of time on his hands.

Similarly, the apprehension engine apparently was commissioned by film composer Mark Korven and built by guitar maker Tony Duggan-Smith and features many unusual parts that combine to create eerie sounds, according to

Fiddling around

On the other hand (yes, we know, five fingers), sources disagree about the origin of the musical saw.

“The musical saw is an American folk music instrument with its roots originating in the early 19th century. Somewhere in the Appalachian mountains an unknown and inquisitive musician first took a fiddle bow to the bent blade of his hand saw which he held firmly clamped between his knees,” according to

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A demonstration of the apprehension engine. (Video courtesy of Indie Film & Music/YouTube)

However, the website asserts that the instrument was developed in Europe and America around the same time.

At this point, it is worth noting that there is a website, a website, a sawlady website and a number of other sites devoted to musical saws, a phenomenon that suggests whimsey is not dead in this increasingly serious world of ours.

Perhaps the subject will be explored more in depth at the upcoming festival.

According to, the International Musical Sawplayers Association website (see what we mean?), the festival begins at 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, with “the gathering of the sawyers.” The website contains no information on whether or not the group is affiliated with Tom Sawyer, though somehow this seems unlikely. The festival continues all day, with the last event beginning at 5 p.m.

There’s also a street jam Saturday, Aug. 13, from 2-4 p.m. At 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz, and a potluck and jam in the outer parking lot at Roaring Camp on Saturday.

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Brigid Kaelin demonstrates how to play the musical saw. (Video courtesy of Brigid Kaelin/YouTube)

Learning to play musical saw is “as easy as whistling,” according to So if the typical 750-pound piano is impractical in tiny Bay Area apartments, and the violin is too difficult, perhaps it’s time to consider taking up the musical saw. Who knows? It might even be possible to learn by the time the festival happens, if you don’t cut it too close.