Friday, November 13, 2009

Autoharp vs. Chromaharp

The autoharp was invented in 1881 by Charles F. Zimmerman, and is the only native American instrument. It was one of the most popular instruments in the nation around the turn of the century, but lost some of its favor in the 1930’s and 40’s. Had it not been for the zeal which Appalachian families such as the Carter Family showed for the autoharp, it may have gone extinct. Maybelle Carter helped to keep the instrument alive by showing people that autoharps can capture the American spirit and by sharing with them her talent.

Students of all ages are capable of playing the autoharp. Indeed, the only skills required are the ability to push a button and to strum a string. Children can learn nursery songs and basic harmonies, teens can adapt the autoharp to play popular songs, and professionals can play impressive melodies and accompaniments. Anyone can enjoy the unique and traditional sound that autoharps create as folk songs, bluegrass songs, hymns, and spirituals bring a feeling of nostalgia.

Essentially, the Chromaharp and the Autoharp are the same instrument but two different brands. The Autoharp is associated with Oscar Schmidt models. There are “A” models and “B” models. Schmidt’s “B” models came out in 1968 during the very month that the Chromaharp was introduced – a Japanese-made version of Schmidt’s “A” harp. The competition between Autoharps and Chromaharps became fierce. While Chromaharps were priced below Autoharps and claimed to “stay in tune up to 60% longer”, the Oscar Schmidt Autoharp company pushed its “B” models into the market. Had Schmidt not introduced the “B” model to compete with the Chromaharps at this strategic time, the company likely would have gone out of business.

What is the difference between an Autoharp and a Chromaharp?

An Autoharp is actually a brand name that has become synonymous with a type of instrument because of its popularity. Oscar Schmidt developed a new instrument and called it an Autoharp. However they also created this as a brand for the instrument when others started producing like instruments. Others needed a name to call their versions so they chose Chromaharp.

What are the differences between the autoharps?

The obvious initial difference to take in to consideration is 15 Chord vs 21 Chord. A 15 Chord autoharp will be more limited in the musical range of the songs you can play. However for a child a 15 Chord will be simpler to learn and play songs on. Many times 15 Chords are found in music instruction rooms in grade schools.

The second biggest difference is the tuning system. They all have tuning pegs at the top of the Autoharp, but some have second small tuning pegs that are adjusted with an Allen wrench at the bottom as well. This secondary tuning is called a fine tuning system. The pegs at the top will tune your autoharp satisfactory for most people's recreational playing. But because the pegs are larger every turn changes the tension of the string by a significant amount. If you are playing professionally you may be interested in have a more refined exact sound and the small pegs at the bottom will change the tension a very small amount, letting you fine tune the Autoharp.

Third is an electric pickup. Most of the Autoharps are strictly acoustic. However there are autoharps that have a pickup built into the side of them; these are considered acoustic / electric - meaning they can be played wither way. Acoustic / electrics have a sound hole and a pickup so they can be used both ways. There is one however that is specifically electric; the OS150FCE. This Autoharp has no sound hole and is intended to be used electrically only.

Lastly is style and woods. Most are either Maple or Spruce. Spruce is generally considered an upgrade over Maple. Spruce produces a clearer range with more powerful highs and lows than Maple.

The glue from lamination (lamination is taking strips of wood and gluing it together to form a solid piece) can interrupt the reverberation of the sound off the wood and affect richness of the sound coming from the autoharp. However the advances in glues have decreased this since the early days of lamination. So the sound coming from lamination will be a little more muted than a solid. They also tend to be heavier because of the glue.

Here is the down side of the solid face – they are affected by humidity more than laminated. Laminated can expand and retract better than solid wood. Solid wood if it gets humid enough can warp or expand and affect the joints at the sides of the autoharp. So if you are playing outdoors a lot or don’t have a good storage location or are giving to a child that may be less careful with it, laminated is a good choice.

The color and style are generally aesthetic. It all depends on the color you want, wood grain, and in the case of the OS 45C - unique sound hole shape.

Friday, October 2, 2009

“An American instrument of American invention.”

The Autoharp is one of the few musical instruments that can claim to be truly American in origin. What's in a name? Quality, history and tradition. Our Autoharp is the original, with over 100 years of history behind it. A wide variety to choose from. Oscar Schmidt is truly the original and only complete source for the Autoharp. Premium woods, quality hardware and modest prices create an ideal instrument. Each is inspected and adjusted in the USA by a skilled technician, your assurance for smooth fret ends, precision low action and resonant sound quality. Unequalled standards, easy playing comfort and tone response creates the perfect values.

Whether you are an Autoharp player, a student of American folklore, or even a collector of antique musical instruments, you should find the history as well as the instrument itself unique.

Invented in 1881 and patented in 1882, the Autoharp has had a remarkable hundred-year history. After being proclaimed “the nation’s favorite musical instrument” and then nearly fading into obscurity, the Autoharp has taken its manufactures on an endless roller coaster of ups and downs. As a nineteenth century parlor room favorite, it was finally replaced in popularity by the phonograph. The Autoharp did not die. It retreated to the mountains where it underwent a metamorphosis from a parlor instrument to a folk instrument. From there it came out into our schools to become a classroom feature, and finally has emerged as a popular instrument for the serious musician.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tuning the Autoharp

When the Autoharp is new, it will require rather frequent tuning. As the body and strings settle into final position, the tuning becomes much less frequent. It is recommended, and is also much easier, to tune the instrument to a chromatic tuner, piano, organ or any other instrument that has a fixed and accurate pitch.

Generally, only a few strings ever get out of tune at the same time. To test for these, press down on a chord and draw a pick slowly across the strings. This will locate the string or strings out of tune in that chord. Turn the tuning pin on the out of tune string a little bit clockwise or counterclockwise until it sounds in tune with the others of the chord when you strum across the entire instrument. This will raise or lower the pitch. After bringing those strings up to pitch, continue with the next chord. It is best to start tuning the C major chord first, then the F major, the G major and then follow with the others.

If the autoharp ever gets completely out of tune and a piano is available, start with the lowest string, which is the second F below the middle C on the piano, and continue up the scale. If a piano is not available, use a chromatic pitch pipe or tuner. Start tuning at the C in the middle octave. This is the same as middle C on the piano and also the first note on the chromatic tuner. Continue tuning through the chromatic scale of the pitch pipe. This will tune the middle octave. Now tune the other octaves in unison with this octave. You may find that certain strings belong to more then one chord.

When you tune it in tune with one of the chords, it will sounds out of tune with all the others. Tempering, experimenting with the common string until both chords sound ok, would be a good solution.

CAUTION: Usually, a slight turn of the tuning wrench will tune a string. Turn the key very slowly and gently. Autoharp strings are steel. They can be stretched but, not too much.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The Autoharp has over 100 years of history. As a piece of Americana it is often called “the nation’s favorite musical instrument." And when it comes to quality Autoharps, Oscar Schmidt is the name to know. Only premium woods and superior hardware are used in an Oscar Schmidt Autoharp. Additionally, each instrument is inspected and adjusted by a USA-based skilled technician for the best sound quality and ease of play. is here to fulfill your needs as we offer a wide selection from 15 Cord , 21 Cord , Electric Autoharps and a complete array of accessories . As a staple in Country, Folk and Bluegrass music, the Autoharp was even featured in the movie Walk the Line. Whether you are a seasoned musician, interested in learning how to play the Autoharp or seeking to purchase an Autoharp as a gift, you’ll find easy instructions and friendly customer service only mouse click away. With the most current models at affordable prices, a free shipping opportunity on accessories and our price match guarantee: you’ll definitely grab the best deal shopping with!