Autoharp. I've been studying up on what you can do…

Autoharp. I’ve been studying up on what you can do to get an autoharp into optimal shape, and I’ve discovered that mine is far from it. The action (i.e. the distance that chord bars need to travel in order to damp the strings) is very high. The felt on the chord bars is deeply grooved, meaning you have to mash the bars even harder to damp the strings. The strings are old and corroded. And it has no fine-tuning mechanism, meaning that you can only get in the neighborhood of the desired note by using a wrench on the string pegs.

All those things can be fixed by ordinary humans, and I’d like to try my hand at lowering the action, refelting, restringing, and adding a fine-tuning mechanism. But I was reluctant to use my only autoharp as a learning laboratory. So I finally decided to order a better-quality autoharp, and then experiment with modifications to the cheaper one. The model I ordered was an Oscar Schmidt Ozark Deluxe model with a high-gloss sunburst finish. It arrived this afternoon, and the photos don’t do it justice—it’s very pretty. (Incidentally, I didn’t buy it from Elderly Instruments; I managed to find a much better price online.)

I rough-tuned it, played a bit, then tried out the fine tuners. They turn out to be a most excellent enhancement; .I can very easily get a string to exactly the right pitch using an electronic tuner. I’ll definitely add fine-tuners to the other autoharp when I have the time and nerve to restring it. Even rough-tuned the sound of the new autoharp was significantly better than the old; after fine tuning, some of the chords really chime.

My goal for late April, when Chris and I will be going to the Bluegrass Jam Camp at Merlefest, is to be able to play simple rhythm accompaniment. So Chris and I have been playing together, with me providing a base sound on top of which Chris can practice some fancier work on guitar or banjo. My focus is simply on changing chords at the right time, and on learning how to strum rhythmically. For awhile I was using a thumb pick and finger picks, like the real autoharp players, but I found it too complicated for now; I could get better sound with just the thumb pick and some simple strum patterns. When the autoharp arrived today, it was accompanied by a selection of picks, including a flat pick. I tried it out, and Chris said he thought it worked better for how I was playing, so I think I will try it that way for awhile.

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