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Choosing An Autoharp by Jo Ann Smith Whether you are a rank beginner or a seasoned musician, the autoharp you choose will have a profound effect on your ultimate satisfaction with not only the instrument itself, but also the music you are able to create with it. Whatever you choose must be worthy of your time, creative energy and of course, money. The amount you choose to invest in your first autoharp is something that only you can determine, but since I get asked this question quite often I have offered here my best (and very abbreviated) advice on the subject. First and Foremost: Buy your autoharp from someone who does autoharp repair and maintenance on a regular basis. If you are shopping for your first instrument, this is no time to bargain-hunt. As far as autoharps go, you really get what you pay for -and if itʼs the lowest-priced instrument on the web (or at the neighborʼs garage sale or in Grandmaʼs attic) it probably needs a minimum of $200 worth of work to make it truly playable. Only an autoharp expert can tell you for sure whether your bargain is a real, playable instrument or wall art. You can get a nice-sounding, playable, brand-new instrument thatʼs been optimized by a pro for about $500, so donʼt make the mistake so many new players do and get the cheapest thing you can find -- only to end up putting it in the closet in frustration because it sounds terrible, wonʼt stay in tune and doesnʼt play properly. Chromatic or Diatonic? If you are unsure of the meaning of these terms, donʼt worry about it right now. All factory-issue autoharps are chromatic, and most players (including me) started out with a chromatic autoharp. If you want a diatonic autoharp, youʼll have to take a chromatic one and convert it to diatonic. If you choose to play a diatonic autoharp right from the start, you will have a number of decisions to make -- which makes your choice of vendors even more critical. Unless you know your way around the instrument and plan on doing the conversion yourself, you need to have a knowledgeable vendor do it for you. If the vendor you plan to purchase your autoharp from does not offer this service or cannot give you direct contact information for someone who does, keep shopping. Fifteen chord bars, or Twenty-One? Get the 21-chord model. This is non-negotiable, in my opinion. Not only will 21 bars allow you to play in more keys, the three-row chord bar arrangement is much more logical than the two-row -- and it is easier to customize should you decide to change your chord bar layout. Which Brand? All commercially-made autoharps are produced by two parent companies: The Oscar Schmidt Corporation and ChromAharp, Inc. You may see different names or logos inscribed or printed on the face of the instrument, but all come from the same two sources. Both companies currently produce sound, dependable


instruments, and both offer a number of different models which vary according to finish, materials and the inclusion or exclusion of “extras” such as electric pick-ups and finetuners. WARNING: Even brand-new instruments need to be optimized by a knowledgeable vendor! If you bypass this step in the interest of saving some money, youʼll only be hurting yourself. I have personally seen brand new instruments become useless within months of purchase due to simple oversights that could have been corrected. Buy your autoharp directly from someone who knows the instrument intimately and can provide you with knowledgeable advice. In this way youʼll be certain youʼre getting the best instrument for the price. (I wish someone had told me all of this when I was just starting out, which is why Iʼm telling you!) What about custom-made autoharps? The autoharps you see and hear me playing in YouTube videos and elsewhere on the web are custom-made. There are several luthiers today who make outstanding instruments, and Iʼm privileged to own some of these beauties. However, I didnʼt start out with something this grand. My first autoharp was a standard, factory-issue ChromAharp which I played for nearly three years before I managed to purchase a custom instrument. Custom-made autoharps carry price tags that range from just under $1500 to $2500 and more, depending on the configuration and other variables such as tone woods. There also may be a considerable delay from the time of ordering to the time of delivery, ranging from months to sometimes a year or more. So, unless youʼre absolutely sure youʼll be playing the autoharp for keeps, you might want to start with a good factory-made model that has been set up properly. At least for now. Where do I start? Bottom line, talk to a pro. The links below will take you to a number of people who can get you started off with a good, playable instrument and resources to help get you started. I have also listed links and/or contact information for several autoharp luthiers. Autoharp Works Autoharp Rx Blue Ridge Autoharps Daigle Autoharps Fladmark Autoharps Schreiber Autoharps Orthey Autoharps Whippoorwill Acoustics


Choosing an autoharp