I’m back after a week off from vacation on the beach with the family. Kenzie’s school started back up so I’m also back to a regular work schedule.
Today, I’m pleased to share all of the news I missed this past couple weeks. I list my upcoming shows and apologize for a Celtic podcast screwup. Plus, I get to talk about my “new” autoharp It’s like the Six Million Dollar Man, faster, stronger, better than before. Learn what I look for in an autoharp.
Today’s show is sponsored by Lunarpages. It’s intelligent web hosting for intelligent people. I’ve used it for 10+ years. marcgunn.com/lunarpages
This Week’s Celtic Geek News
How to create the Ultimate Autoharp from a Good Body
Every autoharper has their own opinion on what makes a great autoharp. I’m no different. I’m an Oscar Schmidt guy. Those are my absolute favorite autoharps. Partially because that’s the instrument I first started playing years ago. But now, it’s also because I love the sound… of the older instruments at least.
I got my first autoharp from my dad. I took it to college with me. However, it took eight years of of talent-lessly playing the guitar before I picked up the ultimate musical instrument–the autoharp. I remember holding it to my ear, lightly stroking the strings to the most beautiful sound I ever heard.
My love of the autoharp is never wavered. How many people have told me I need to learn a “real instrument”. I kept strumming. Some of those same people who ridiculed me watch what I do with it and tell me, “Wow. You’re pretty incredible with that instrument”.
Choosing an Autoharp Body
All that said, the autoharp chooses the Wizard. For me, it’s a late 70s-early 80s body. That’s when the autoharp was made the best. It’s sound is warm and comforting. It’s like ducking your head under the water as you take a warm bath. You sit there and absorb the sounds and melt into relaxation.
Since then, the manufacture of the autoharp has been varied. I would LOVE to walk through the Oscar Schmidt factories and try all the different autoharps. The basic model, maroon and black, sucks. Not only is the sound so-so, but the pegs strip easily. The wood is cheap.
You can find a more expensive model that range from $350-500. They even have pickups or tuners. But the sound is typically dull.
On the more expensive side, there are the custom autoharp luthiers. These folks have gone out of their way to learn how to make autoharps. They know what woods sound louder and the timbre it will create. I talked with Ray Choi and was kind of blown away by what luthiers do.
The problem with most luthiers IMHO is that most of the ‘harps are too bright and shallow. That seems to be popular with autoharpers. I think that’s because the bright sound is great for playing lead with the instrument. However, I mostly use the instrument to support my singing. I like more low-end with my autoharps. The brightness just detracts from that to me.
Now that said, I did like the sound of one of Ray Choi’s autoharps. It was extremely pretty. I just wish I could afford one.
So if you’re looking for the perfect autoharp, my suggestion is to start with an autoharp body from the 70s or 80s. If you can get a 21-chord from the start, even better. Otherwise, you can buy an upgrade kit for about $90 (last I checked). That’s all you need to get setup.
Autoharp Pickup for the Oscar Schmidt
If you plan to perform, then you probably want to upgrade your autoharp further. You can get an Oscar Schmidt pickup for your instrument. I think that too was about $90. It’s fairly easy to install.
The only problem with the basic OS pickup is that they usually use 1/8″ inputs. The musical standard is 1/4″. I had my autoharp repair guy in Austin turn that 1/8″ input into a 1/4″ jack. It screws into the side of the instrument for stability. It’s the best setup, but I’m not familiar with a better.
Custom-Action Hold Down System
Years ago, I had Chuck Daniels install his custom-action hold down system. This setup is designed to reduce the clacking that occurs with the standard autoharp setup. It also keeps chords from flying all over the place when you take off the cover. I love it.
Now that said, Chuck has been extremely difficult to get a hold of these last few years. I do remember seeing a wooden alternative that was marketed in the Autoharp Quarterly. Honestly, if I was in your position, about to setup a new autoharp, I would seriously consider not buying a new 21-chord OS chord bar setup in favor of this. Especially if it is as easy to setup as it sounds like it is.
Ready to setup your own Perfect Autoharp?
That’s about it. Get a good body and make it your own.
If you’re new to autoharps, then please check out my Autoharp Music Tips website. If you have questions about what I wrote here, email me or post in the comments.
Oh! And if you happen to find a non-black autoharp that seems like it’s in pretty good condition, let me know. I am always looking for a back up!