Monday, July 25, 2011

COLLECTION #17: Autoharps


Technically, they are 'chorded zithers'. Autoharp is the registered name owned by the Oscar Schmidt Co. My collection stems from my love of autoharps, and my own playing. Half my collection is playable, and half is decorative. (Including my original autoharp, purchased for $5 in 1969, which started me on my musical autoharp journey- although it still looks cute with the little hippie artwork I added, it's no longer playable).

All of my 'harps are Oscar Schmidt, including that large one in the back which is actually a cross between an autoharp and a mandolin. (And is coincidentally called a "Mandolin Harp") But since it has push buttons, I consider it an autoharp. The oldest one is from the 1890s (the little black one on the top left), and the newest one is the Wildwood Flower diatonic- middle left, which was built in the early 1990s. The autoharp of my heart is the center left, next to the Wildwood Flower. It's a 12-chord diatonic (adapted) built in 1983. Bruce gave it to me for Christmas that year, and it's been my 'baby' all this time. The 21-chord chromatic 'harp in the center is a nice instrument, and very pretty. But like most 21 chord instruments, it doesn't have the rich tone of the more melodic diatonic instruments.

Perhaps you learned to play the autoharp in elementary school like I did... or perhaps you have never heard one played. As soon as I figure out how to add a sound file here, I'll link a clip of me & my band playing a nice folky tune, featuring the autoharp. (help, anyone?)

5 comments:

Jean Hibben said...

Love the grouping. Miss our playing together. I have a gig in Conejo Valley Oct 8... Hope you will be in town then so we can make some music.

Jean Hibben said...

Love the grouping. Miss our playing together. I have a gig in Conejo Valley Oct 8... Hope you will be in town then so we can make some music.

Barbara said...

Love to hear what it sounds like.

Chris said...

I'd never heard of the Autoharp, I know the mandolin because we had one in the fifties, and around the same era, I could never forget: The Zither Melody ("The Harry Lime Theme") featured in the film "The Third Man" If I remember correctly, it was a very haunting sound.

Your collection of these musical instruments is really lovely, and I'd also love to hear the sounds one day.

Jim said...

Nice collection. I too learned to play Autoharp in public school, but I was a teacher. The first school I taught in had a dusty, out-of-tune Autoharp in the storage room and I decided to get it out and tune it. This was in 1967, before the advent of electronic tuners, but it has about the same range as the guitar, so I tuned it by matching the guitar.
Every school I went to in my 35 year teaching career had an Autoharp or Guitaro, but I soon realised that I needed one of my own and, as you obviously know, it's hard to stop at one.
I now have five, 4 of which are diatonic or semi-diatonic (2 keys)
I also have an unplayable wall hanger Oscar Schmidt Guitar Zither.