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Autoharps - up or down - and why?

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Pete (Clansfolk) 09 Jan 99 - 05:47 AM
Roger in Baltimore 09 Jan 99 - 08:53 AM
Bill D 09 Jan 99 - 12:26 PM
rick fielding 09 Jan 99 - 01:15 PM
clansfolk 10 Jan 99 - 04:29 AM
Bill D 10 Jan 99 - 12:39 PM
CarterNut 10 Jan 99 - 02:31 PM
Pete (inactive) 15 Jan 99 - 05:17 AM
murray@mpce.mq.edu.au 15 Jan 99 - 10:38 PM
Roger in Baltimore 16 Jan 99 - 12:41 AM
Don Meixner 16 Jan 99 - 01:33 AM
GUEST,Jim 18 Oct 08 - 02:27 PM
Bill D 18 Oct 08 - 02:41 PM
W y s i w y G ! 18 Oct 08 - 03:38 PM
GUEST,iancarterb 18 Oct 08 - 11:15 PM
Stringsinger 19 Oct 08 - 01:24 PM
GUEST 19 Oct 08 - 04:26 PM
Joybell 19 Oct 08 - 05:10 PM
The Fooles Troupe 20 Oct 08 - 12:09 AM
GUEST,Mooh 20 Oct 08 - 08:59 AM
autoharpbob 03 Sep 09 - 03:05 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 03 Sep 09 - 05:21 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 03 Sep 09 - 06:08 PM
Black Cat 05 Sep 09 - 10:38 PM
W y s i w y G ! 05 Sep 09 - 11:29 PM
Bill D 05 Sep 09 - 11:37 PM
W y s i w y G ! 05 Sep 09 - 11:41 PM
Bill D 05 Sep 09 - 11:45 PM
W y s i w y G ! 06 Sep 09 - 12:04 AM
Bill D 06 Sep 09 - 12:14 AM
W y s i w y G ! 06 Sep 09 - 01:29 AM
autoharpbob 06 Sep 09 - 06:51 AM
W y s i w y G ! 06 Sep 09 - 12:03 PM
Charley Noble 06 Sep 09 - 01:59 PM
GUEST,jennifer 04 Dec 09 - 02:59 AM
beeliner 04 Dec 09 - 03:14 AM
GUEST,Jennifer 06 Dec 09 - 03:56 AM
GUEST,Tyler Bennetts 17 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM
GUEST,Songbob 17 Dec 09 - 02:44 PM
GUEST,Fossilexpress 23 Jan 10 - 10:30 PM
GUEST,darlene 12 Jan 11 - 12:37 PM
PHJim 12 Jan 11 - 01:14 PM
Bill D 12 Jan 11 - 01:48 PM
GUEST,Jack Snodgrass 21 Jan 12 - 09:10 AM
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Subject: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Pete (Clansfolk)
Date: 09 Jan 99 - 05:47 AM

HI

I bought my first Autoharp in 1960 at an auction - a simply three bar job (to which I added 2 more bars for the minor chords)and enjoyed playing it over the years in several Folk Groups. I have several others now including a couple of electric autoharps (Omnichord by Susuki).

Now to the thread, When I first started (and still do) I played it resting on a table - for several reasons

- It had ball feet on it.
- It was of the same family as a Lap Harp (played on the knee)
- The table amplified the sound.
- it made sense to me.

I even made a case to carry it that turned into a table/sound box for playing at gigs.

During the mid 60's I played on the same bill as Peggy Seeger and got into a discussion about how the instrument should be played - me on by box (not a soap box I may add) and her against her chest (cross handed to me,), I should add the discussion went on some time and led to some music etc. and we parted on friendly terms.

So where does on play a Autoharp?

I have noticed a lot of 'new' autoharps have less space to the right of the keys making my style impossible to use. But also an old picture of the Carter Family shows the Autoharp being played in my Style.

I know it doesn't really matter how you make music as long as you make it but I would like to find out how the two styles evolved and which people prefer and why.

Take care - sing and play well,

Pete (Clansfolk) - email: clansfolk@ovation.net


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 09 Jan 99 - 08:53 AM

Pete,

I have limited autoharp experience, but I'll share what I know. The autoharp was first designed to be played on a table. The concept of the autoharp was to construct an instrument where almost anyone could play music with little training and/or skill. The instrument was desinged to be placed on a table with the "long" side nearest the player. The player could press the chord buttons with the left hand and strum the strings with the right, utilizing the string area which is now to the right of the chord bars.

As some folks wanted to make more "complicated" music with this simple instrument, the "close to your chest" method developed. This enabled the right hand to have greater access to a broader string area and to thereby develop more complicated strums. The thumb covers the bass strings and the fingers can cover the middle and high notes.

This is not a comfortable way to hold the instrument, because the instument was not designed originally to be held in this way.

Within folk music, the "chest" method became the preferred method. Newer autoharps were designed to be more "friendly" towards this approach, hence the reduction of string space on the one side that you mention. It gives more string area to those playing the "chest" position, especially opening up more access to the treble strings. Some newer autoharps have been shaped to be more accomodating to holding upright. Some don't even have little feet on the back, making it difficult to play the autoharp on a table because it slides around and tends to rattle from inconstant contact as well.

Hope you find this helpful. If you use the forum search and type in autoharp in the body section, you will find other threads about the autoharp that will lead you to other sites dedicated to the autoharp. They may have more information about these two styles of playing.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 09 Jan 99 - 12:26 PM

In the early days of recording, the Carter family usually had only one big microphone, so the instruments needed to be close enough to be heard...and Maybelle Carter adopted the chest method so she could step close to the mic for solos..as 'harpists copied that, they also found that they could rest their ear against it, and thus hear themselves better! But some of the old-timers...Kilby Snow, Ken & Neriah Benfield..etc...never did adopt that, amd made wonderful music with the 'harp on laps or tables...I still play that way occasionaly with a couple of the older instruments I have...(like my turn-of-the-century Zimmerman harp with 'shifters').....(I have a friend who has a left-handed 'harp, and I have figured out how to play it held to my chest....upside down!!!) So, you just do whatever works....if it's in tune, you are ok....


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: rick fielding
Date: 09 Jan 99 - 01:15 PM

Hi Pete. Ahh, the autoharp, one of my great passions in life. I have re-strung, re-tuned, re-felted and re-everythinged more autoharps than Carter's have pills. An interesting way to hold the instrument (Kilby Snow used a variation of this) while sitting, is to rest it (tuners to the left) on your lower chest and mid thigh. Sort of in between horizontal (table) and vertical (Maybelle). First you must move the bars as far to the left as possible to give your right hand more playing space. This takes a bit of skill, but it ain't brain surgery. I use only 8 bars at a time, and have a system where I can remove them all at once and replace them with a different set of 8. I use a blues set (lot's of sevenths) a jazz set, (sixths and major sevenths) and several other weirdo sets. Good luck.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: clansfolk
Date: 10 Jan 99 - 04:29 AM

All, thanks for comments so far,

Rick I like the idea of the interchangable bar sets! the brains gone into gear already....

I often use mouth organs in minor keys and find them very atmospheric - maybe I should explore the possiblities of the autoharp a bit more - I have a couple looking a bit "worn" so I might have a play about with different bar sets (that sound like and Irish gig in a pub!).

What system (if its not a secret) do you use for interchanging the bars - several Ideas sping to mind but if you have perfected it - it will save a few of my brain cells (I have few to spare at my age)

Well back to the drawing board,

take care & sing (and play) well

Pete (Clansfolk)


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 10 Jan 99 - 12:39 PM

clansfolk...before working TOO hard, take a look at some pictures/designs ...changable bars are being made by others already...maybe you can get some ideas...

http://ram.ramlink.net/~stewart/rogue1.html
http://www.fmp.com/orthey/index.html
http://www.itchyme.com/os-autoharp.html
http://www.timbreline.com/autoharp.html
and if the first 4 don't help, you can always try that last one..Who says you need wood and strings!
http://www.echonyc.com/~jhhl/aharp.html


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: CarterNut
Date: 10 Jan 99 - 02:31 PM

I'll have to say that the easiest way of playing, for me, is the Carter way of holding it. You are given the freedom to come in and out of the microphone rather than having it over you. I play at many places where there is only one mike, and so it is easier to spot other instruments rather than be focused on the harp. I also think that it is easier to play being held up, especially when playing some of those old fiddle tunes like I do. I tried playing with the harp sitting on my lap, but I found that my fingers just cramped up. I go strictly with Maybelle's way.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Pete (inactive)
Date: 15 Jan 99 - 05:17 AM

Had a wiz around the Net and have found several good Ideas which I have discussed with a friend at our local club (A very very good instrument builder)so it looks like a project for the summer months - between festivals, and hopefully it will be ready for the Fylde Festival - also thinking of making it MIDI - will have to talk with the sound crew - see what bright ideas come up.

All the best and sing well

Pete (Clansfolk)

clansfolk@ovation.net


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: murray@mpce.mq.edu.au
Date: 15 Jan 99 - 10:38 PM

The Homespun cataloge has a picture of John Sebastian holding an autoharp. He seems to hold it in the Carter way. But then again, maybe that is just to fit it in the half-body picture.

Murray


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 16 Jan 99 - 12:41 AM

Murray,

John Sebastian plays Carter style on stage, so it is not just for the picture.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Don Meixner
Date: 16 Jan 99 - 01:33 AM

Most melodic style Auto harpists play in the May Belle style. More control and easier to play scales.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 18 Oct 08 - 02:27 PM

I don't believe that Maybelle played Autoharp with the original Carter Family. Sarah was the Autoharp player. She only played guitar when the Autoharp didn't have the required chords and she played it lying flat, not against her chest.
Maybelle took up the Autoharp in later groups and played it against her chest.
I like being able to move into the mic for solos and away for back-up, agood reason for playing against the chest. This is also one of many reasons that I don't like using pick-ups on Autoharp, guitar, banjo, mandolin...

By the way, how many players use straps on their Autoharps? I've never found one necessary.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 18 Oct 08 - 02:41 PM

I've used straps occasionally....mostly just to free my hands when not playing. As you say, they are not usually 'needed'. It does require some care, as plain guitar straps tend not to distribute the weight properly, and the 'harp can tilt and slip out of the strap slots.
I had one made by a friend with a different type of loop to hold the instrument securely.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 18 Oct 08 - 03:38 PM

On a tilted tabletop, turned around with bass strings farthest away from me. Lots more volume, strumming with right hand, pulling down, toward me. Chord with left hand. Turned chord buttons around to face the correct way from my view. Can also be hammered.

Photos of setup (I use a MUCH smaller table now): http://www.mudcat.org/photos/photo_page.cfm?file_name_sent=wysiwyg

~S~


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,iancarterb
Date: 18 Oct 08 - 11:15 PM

I really prefer table for comfort, but I never have been able to make fast changes except upright on the chest. I have only one harp, a 45 year old Schmidt 15 bar with G, C and F, complete relative minors only for C and F but with diminished chords that allow chromatics if used judiciously but briskly. I just can't make that work on a table. Maybe practice in youth would have allowed it now, but that harp is out of the case now.
Carter B


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 19 Oct 08 - 01:24 PM

I took the cardboard box in which the autoharp came and put it in back of the autoharp
and held both in the Maybelle fashion. It acted as a resonator. Lots of low frequencies as a result. I have long arms so it was easier for me.

Both ways have something to recommend them. It's easier to play intricate tunes with
the Maybelle "hold" but the table can bring out low tones that are good for accompaniment to singing.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Oct 08 - 04:26 PM

I have tried both ways and just can not get on with the upright position. I find it so heavy and awkward. I mainly want to use it to accompany my singing, but I am not really interested in playing tunes, so your post supports that idea, thanks Frank

Amber


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Joybell
Date: 19 Oct 08 - 05:10 PM

I've always used the upright method and although it's not what this discussion is about -- I use the upright method when playing a dulcimer too. Got the idea from a book that called it "the Volkswagon method". Don't play one much these days. Haven't got a Volkswagon any more either.
Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 20 Oct 08 - 12:09 AM

"I've always used the upright method and although it's not what this discussion is about"

I've tried about 69 different ways.... but my G string is broken at the moment...


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Mooh
Date: 20 Oct 08 - 08:59 AM

The rare time I use an autoharp (I inherited a nice one from my Dad) I hold it against my chest without a strap (though it has buttons for one) and strum it with a sort of frailing method. I have yet to re-bar/re-felt this autoharp, but hope to someday as there are too few key of G and key of D chords and too many key of F chords (ie no Em or Bm).

I predict a comeback for autoharp which will coincide with a comeback for tambourine, noseflute, and shakey eggs. Be forwarned.

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: autoharpbob
Date: 03 Sep 09 - 03:05 PM

Whichever way works for you. For me, definitely hugging! But with a slider cross-strap that supports the weight and distributes it evenly on both shoulders.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 03 Sep 09 - 05:21 PM

My ex-wife had an Autoharp which was designed exclusively for lap or table-top playing. It was rectangular and was permanently enclosed in the back half of an ugly molded beige thermoplastic case. You couldn't have played it "huggy" style if you'd wanted to. To play it, you just plopped it on the table and unlatched and removed the case top. When oriented for normal strumming (with the bass strings closest to your body), the chord bars were on the left. That's the reverse of most Autoharps. The advantage of that arrangement for lap or table-top playing was that it eliminated the need to play "cross-handed".

I imagine it was made with educators in mind, not "real" Autoharp players, but it worked pretty well. If only it hadn't been so damned ugly...


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 03 Sep 09 - 06:08 PM

Here's a pic of a similar instrument: CLICK


(It's a bit more attractive.)


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Black Cat
Date: 05 Sep 09 - 10:38 PM

To wysiwyg posted 18 0ct. 08. When playing my autoharp cross handed my arm always hurts after playing for a while and when I Saw your message about turning your auto harp around and also the chord buttons around,I thought what a neet idea, did you change the felts also? Also my c chord sticks can you tell me what to do to fix this. thanks.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 05 Sep 09 - 11:29 PM

Black Cat-- I did not turn the felts around-- they were fine. I did add a few chords in place of other unused ones-- that depends on what keys you want to play in. I'd suggest you ask a good instrument shop to help you unstick that C chord-- there can be several causes and it would be far simpler to let the pro's show you how to maintain (or how they fixed) your 'harp than to create wads of text here that might not apply to your situation.

BWL-- Seen them, I think they're kinda clunky too. I like mine being out of the box-- better tone.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 05 Sep 09 - 11:37 PM

Black Cat... depends of what type you have. A sticking chord could be simply a spring at one end getting caught, or on a 21 bar like mine, it can be the actual button being out of position in the aluminum track and rubbing on the plastic cover.

The only way to know is to get a little screwdriver and remove (gently)whatever holds the chord bars down and look at it.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 05 Sep 09 - 11:41 PM

Nonononooooooooooo..... don't open that all up if it's a 21-chord, the insides break WAY to easily..... not for the neophyte.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 05 Sep 09 - 11:45 PM

Ummmmm...I SAID gently....*grin*. Well, if it's a 21 bar, you 'might' try just wriggling the button back & forth in it's opening...it is possible to make teeny adjustments that way.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 12:04 AM

A disappearing button can be fished back with the eraser end of a pencil. If any of the button shows thru the hole, put the eraser on it and push down. Slide the pencil, still pushing down, where you want the button to pop back into full-upright functionality and it should slide in its track.

My shop owner showed me THAT one.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 12:14 AM

well...ok...but if a button disappears, the felt is WAY too soft/worn. You shouldn't be able to push a button far enought down to lose it. (In that case, I'd take the top off fer sure..*grin*)

Years ago, I re-did most of my bars with more resilient felt. I got tired of the soft stuff Oscar Schmidt peddled. I think they intended you to NEED to replace it......hmmmmm...now that was way before the internet/WWW existed. I'll bet one could find felt in a search. (I got mine from a gasket company..out of their scrap bin.)


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 01:29 AM

The Schmidt chord-bar cover has two different elevations-- the center section is a tad taller than the side sections of it. On those lower sections it's quite easy to "lose" a button that sits over a well-broken-in felt, where the felt is compressed but not yet worn too badly.

Acourse it takes a hard push-down to compress it that far, and wedge the button under the cover..... but then it ALSO takes a hard press-down to damp out strings that are being pick-strummed with the force a right-hand strum gives on a tabletop setup. (Sometimes Ah don't know mah own strength.)

I'd like a THICKER felt, but not a more resilient felt, because that would just compress sooner-- so yippee! I can stop envying you that felt you have now, Bill, at last. (Hardi did a great job re-felting my harps, but first he stocked up on combs cuz they BREAK.)

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: autoharpbob
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 06:51 AM

Taking the cover off is not as scary as it sounds. Just be prepared. Do it on a table that is big enough to catch escaping springs. And before you do it, take some chalk and mark clearly on the cover which end goes near the treble strings and which is the bass - the cover looks symmetrical, but it isn't. If you look closely you will see the holes are in slightly different places each end of the rows. It is easy to put it back the wrong way round. But basically it should be just four small screws. I recommend every autoharp player does this at some time, just to see how their instrument works! If the buttons are being pressed down so far that they get stuck, then either some refelting needs to be done or your whole action is too high, and the cover could be lowered. That is a job for a luthier.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: W y s i w y G !
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 12:03 PM

But if you have a 21-chord Schmidt, be sure to have a couple of new plastic combs (the chord-bars sit on them) on hand, cuz chances are even if you're real careful, yer gonna find some old damage in there and/or cause some new damage. It's the worst poart of an OS-- the weak link, the plastic combs. Oughtta be good-milled stainless steel, for the amount of stress they get.

~S~
~S~


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Charley Noble
Date: 06 Sep 09 - 01:59 PM

It's really fun when all them tiny springs come shooting out as you gently ease out the retainer.

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,jennifer
Date: 04 Dec 09 - 02:59 AM

I would like to buy a Rhythmband caroler chromaharp.Can any one help?


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: beeliner
Date: 04 Dec 09 - 03:14 AM

The caroler is hard to find, but one turns up occasionally on eBay.

Check every week or so, one will appear sooner or later.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Jennifer
Date: 06 Dec 09 - 03:56 AM

I am considering buying a oscar schmidt os3oc autoharp the only autoharp or chromaharp except for the chromaharp caroler             that I have been able to find with reverse set up (mirror image) to usual.
Is there anyone out there with some experience on these instruments. Could you please give me some info eg sound quality, playability and whether it possible to buy these two etc.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Tyler Bennetts
Date: 17 Dec 09 - 12:16 PM

Jennifer,
I currently have a Caroler Autoharp (chromaharp) with the case.
Email me at tylerbennetts@gmail.com if you're still interested!


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Songbob
Date: 17 Dec 09 - 02:44 PM

Well, one other reason the Carter (chest) style works better is simply that you're playing the strings in the middle of their length. Plucking next to the ends gives a much different sound, lacking in some harmonic richness, but with its own punchy sound. Most people like the richer sound, and like having nothing on the thumb side of the plucking hand to interfere with movement. Playing "below" (to the right of) the chord bars restricts your hand, and the thumb tends to hit the chord bars.

Kilby Snow's playing is a good example of the punchy, treble-end sound you get playing to the right of the chord bars, and I have to admit it's fun to use his "lean against the chest while resting on a knee" posture, but I usually go with the Carter "flat against the chest" method.

Oscar Schmidt did make a more guitar-oriented version, I forget the model name, a lot longer and with fewer strings, and the chord bars much further "up" in the middle of the instrument. I got one on eBay once, to experiment with, but it was damaged so I returned it, and can't tell you how well it worked. I have seen a bit of film of Maybelle and Sarah from the mid-50s (?), with Maybelle playing one of them.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,Fossilexpress
Date: 23 Jan 10 - 10:30 PM

Just started to learn on an old Oscar Schmidt Type A 12-chord (flea market find). I play mostly flatpick guitar, so I would love to be able to play upright. This instrument seems, however, to be most comfortable on the lap, strummed below the chord bars. I have to tilt far to the left to be more-or-less comfortable upright. Before I develop any bad (or good) habits -any advice? - Roy


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: GUEST,darlene
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 12:37 PM

what is the proper way of storing an autoharp...stanfing up or lying down?


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: PHJim
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 01:14 PM

Just read over this thread that started back 12 years ago. I made one contribution while I was still GUEST,Jim. I noticed that the late Rick Fielding talked about modifying his 'harp and many of us do the same thing. One modification that I make on all of my 'harps is to move the chord bar assembly towards the string anchor end in order to make the treble strings more reachable. Since all of my 'harps are older A models bought at yard sales, flea markets or given to me, I always have to re-felt them. While I'm at it I make them into diatonic or semi-diatonic 'harps. This gives them a much fuller sound since many of the strings are doubled.


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Subject: RE: Autoharps - up or down - and why?
From: Bill D
Date: 12 Jan 11 - 01:48 PM

"what is the proper way of storing an autoharp...standing up or lying down?"

It makes little difference, as the structure is relatively 'solid' and doesn't respond to odd angles and shifting of weight.
Temperature & humidity are far greater concerns and retuning as the seasons change can be a challenge. (doing it regularly makes it easier)


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Subject: Wanted Orthey or Hollandsworth Harp
From: GUEST,Jack Snodgrass
Date: 21 Jan 12 - 09:10 AM

I'm interested in the purchase of a used Orthey or Hollandsworth Autoharp

Jack Snodgrass
B747crew2003@aol.com
919-745-7434


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