Autoharp Advice


May 13, 2010
Reaction score
Near Cincinnati, OH
I described an autoharp to my wife and she said she'd be interested in playing one, so I bought one on eBay. My experience with ukes tells me it is structurally sound. But there is not a lot of advice out there on the net about autoharps. Do any of you know any sources of info - if you Google ukulele you get thousands of pages.

In particular I can't seem to find an autoharp forum that has any real activity, all seem dormant.
You might try this link if you haven't already come across it -

I looked into the autoharp a few years ago, and have to admit I found it somewhat baffling. The ukulele seems much more comfortable to pick up and play as a beginner. I think an Appalachian/Mountain dulcimer might be more my speed as my next instrument.

I see you are near Cincinnati - have you tried this group? Their website says they welcome autoharps.
Last edited:
My first ukulele teacher was a championship Autoharp player, 1984 I think. In a pinch, google Homestead Pickin' Parlor in Richfield, Minnesota. Her name is Karen Mueller. She is a very lovely woman who I know would talk with you if you need help.
I hope your wife enjoys her new instrument.
The Autoharp is a fairly easy instrument to strum chords on to accompany your vocals or take part in a jam. It can also produce some great instrumental music if you take the time and put the effort into learning the techniques required. Listen to some of the top 'harp players like Bryan Bowers, JoAnne Smith and Sukie's uke teacher, Karen Mueller, to hear what the Autoharp is capable of. They make the Autoharp sound like a real instrument and all three often use diatonic Autoharps, which sound fuller and richer.

I taught school for thirty some years and every school I went to had a dusty old out-of-tune Autoharp lying in a storeroom. I'd always get it out, clean it off, tune it up and use it in my class. The other teachers would hear it and want to use it too. Pretty soon they were all using it and there was a sign up sheet to see who got it when. After I'd moved on to another school and I'd run into a teacher from the old school, I'd always ask if the Autoharp was getting much use. They'd always say, "Oh, it got so out of tune that nobody uses it any more." They're very easy to play simple accompaniment, but tuning them seems to be a chore. Maybe now that we're in the age of electronic tuners, someone will get out those dusty old Autoharps and make some use of them.
Last edited:
Autoharp was actually my first stringed instrument. My mother was a grade school teacher, and brought one home when I was in about a freshman in high school. I immediately got a thumb and finger picks, and started wailing away on it, thumbing low notes and pinching out chords. Then I managed to pick out some melodies while playing. I eventually drifted away from it. About a two years ago I got the urge to play one again, so I bought one and played it for a few weeks. Again, I lost interest. So, it's sitting in the closet all lonely and neglected. But when I got interested again, I checked things out online. There are some really fine Autoharp players out there. Here are links to two performances I really like:
If your looking for a good autoharp check out George Orthey. He makes the best IMHO. Bowers plays one. I was sad to hear Drew Pierce passed away this year. Great autoharper from NJ.
I have been neglecting my 'harps, and am in the process of repairing my D/A semi-diatonic and creating a C diatonic. Both of these are OS Appalachian 'harps from the mid-sixties, but both have been re-finished and heavily modified. I have finished the D/A and almost done the C chromatic, so we can now eat on the kitchen table again.
Autoharps on kitchen table.jpg
Here's my E/A semi-diatonic. It started out as a mid-sixties back box. When I re-finished it, I realised that I'd never get all of the black paint off, so I applied a black transparent stain.

One mod I always make is moving the chord bar assembly towards the base of the 'harp to give me access to the high treble strings.
I played with autoharps a bit in the 70s with our band “The Back Porch Pickers”. The one I played was called a “Guitaro” and was made by Oscar Schmidt. It was narrower than a standard autoharp, hung from a strap like a guitar, and you chorded with your left hand, and picked/strummed with your right…
Last edited:
One cool thing you can do with an autoharp: Tune it weird. I tried to make one sound like it belonged to Harry Partch. You can make some really weird sounds with one of these. Or play it flat with some coins laid on the strings like a prepared piano. Lots of strange possibilities, if you are into this sort of thing.
  • Like
Reactions: bix