|Inventor(s)||Karl August Gütter, Charles F. Zimmermann|
|Zither, marxophone, dolceola|
An autoharp or chord zither is a string instrument belonging to the zither family. It uses a series of bars individually configured to mute all strings other than those needed for the intended chord. The term autoharp was once a trademark of the Oscar Schmidt company, but has become a generic designation for all such instruments, regardless of manufacturer.
Charles F. Zimmermann, a German immigrant in Philadelphia, was awarded the patent US 257808 in 1882 for a “Harp” fitted with a mechanism that muted strings selectively during play. He called a zither-sized instrument using this mechanism an “autoharp.” Unlike later designs, the instrument shown in the patent was symmetrical, and the damping mechanism engaged with the strings laterally instead of from above. It is not known if Zimmermann ever produced such instruments commercially. Karl August Gütter of Markneukirchen, Germany, built a model that he called a Volkszither, which was more clearly the prototype of the autoharp in its current form. He obtained a British patent for it c. 1883–1884. In 1885, after returning from a visit to Germany, Zimmermann began production of instruments with the Gütter design. He labeled them autoharps and included his own name and patent number. As a result, Zimmermann is widely but incorrectly regarded as the inventor of the instrument in its now familiar form.
A form of the term autoharp in stylized lettering was registered as a trademark in 1926.The word is currently claimed as a trademark by the U.S. Music Corporation, whose Oscar Schmidt Inc. division manufactures autoharps. The USPTO registration, however, covers only a “Mark Drawing Code (5) Words, Letters, and/or Numbers in Stylized Form” and has expired. In litigation with George Orthey, it was held that Oscar Schmidt could only claim ownership of the stylized graphic representation of autoharp, the word itself having come into generic use.
The autoharp body is made of wood, and has a generally rectangular shape, with one corner cut off. The soundboard generally features a guitar-like sound-hole, and the top may be either solid wood or of laminated construction. A pin-block of multiple laminated layers of wood occupies the top and slanted edges, and serves as a bed for the tuning pins, which resemble those used in pianos and concert zithers.
On the edge opposite the top pin-block is either a series of metal pins, or a grooved metal plate, which accepts the lower ends of the strings. Directly above the strings, on the lower half of the top, are the chord bars, which are made of plastic, wood, or metal, and support felt or foam pads on the side facing the strings. These bars are mounted on springs, and pressed down with one hand, via buttons mounted to their topside. The buttons are labeled with the name of the chord produced when that bar is pressed against the strings, and the strings strummed. The back of the instrument usually has three wooden, plastic, or rubber "feet", which support the instrument when it is placed backside down on a table top, for playing in the traditional position.
Strings run parallel to the top, between the mounting plate and the tuning pins, and pass under the chord bar assembly. Modern autoharps most often have 36 strings, with some examples having as many as 47 strings, and rare 48-string models (such as Orthey Autoharps No. 136, tuned to G and D major). They are strung in a semi-chromatic manner which, however, is sometimes modified into either diatonic or fully chromatic scales. Standard models have 12, 15 or 21 chord bars available, providing a selection of major, minor, and dominant seventh chords. These are arranged for historical or systemic reasons.Various special models have also been produced, such as diatonic one-, two-, or three-key models, models with fewer or additional chords, and a reverse-strung model (the 43-string, 28-chord Chromaharp Caroler).
The range is determined by the number of strings and their tuning. A typical 36-string chromatic autoharp in standard tuning has a 3½ octave range, from F2 to C6. The instrument is not fully chromatic throughout this range, however, as this would require 44 strings. The exact 36-string tuning is:
There are a number of gaps in the lowest octave, which functions primarily to provide bass notes in diatonic contexts; there is also a missing G♯3 in the tenor octave. The fully chromatic part of the instrument's range begins with A3 (the A below middle C).
Diatonically-strung single-key instruments from modern luthiers are known for their lush sound. This is achieved by doubling the strings for individual notes. Since the strings for notes not in the diatonic scale need not appear in the string bed, the resulting extra space is used for the doubled strings, resulting in fewer damped strings. Two- and three-key diatonics compromise the number of doubled strings to gain the ability to play in two or three keys, and to permit tunes containing accidentals, which could not otherwise be rendered on a single key harp. A three-key harp in the circle of fifths, such as a GDA, is often called a festival or campfire harp, as the instrument can easily accompany fiddles around a campfire or at a festival.
The standard, factory chord bar layout for a 12-chord autoharp, in two rows, is:
The standard, factory chord bar layout for a 15-chord instrument, in two rows, is:
The standard, factory chord bar layout for a 21-chord instrument is in three rows:
A variety of chord bar layouts may be had, both in as-delivered instruments, and after customization.
Until the 1960s, no pickups were available to amplify the autoharp other than rudimentary contact microphones, which frequently had a poor-quality, tinny sound. In the early 1960s, a bar magnetic pickup was designed for the instrument by Harry DeArmond, and manufactured by Rowe Industries. Pinkerton's Assorted Colours used the instrument on their 1966 single "Mirror, mirror".In the 1970s, Oscar Schmidt came out with their own magnetic pickup. The Evil One, a 1979 hard rock album by Roky Erickson and the Aliens prominently featured the electric autoharp of Bill Miller which granted "an unearthly edge" to the music.
Shown is a 1930 refinished Oscar Schmidt “Model A”. This harp has two DeArmond magnetic pickups (one under the chord bars), with a d'Aigle fine-tuning mechanism, and d'Aigle chord bar assembly, and was used in a 1968 MGM Records/Heritage Records recording by Euphoria.
A synthesized version of the autoharp, the Omnichord, was introduced in 1981 and is now known as the Q-Chord, described as a "digital songcard guitar".
As initially conceived, the autoharp was played in the position of a concert zither, that is, with the instrument set flat on a table (there are three "feet" on the back for this purpose), and the flat-edge of the instrument (below the chord bars) placed to the player's right. The left hand worked the chord buttons, and the right hand would strum the strings in the narrow area below the chord bars.Right hand strums were typically done with a plectrum similar to a guitar pick, made of shell, plastic, or compressed felt. A strum would usually activate multiple strings, playing the chord held down by the left hand.
Partly because of this playing mode, the autoharp came to be thought of as a rhythm instrument for playing chordal accompaniment, and even today many still think of the instrument in that way. New techniques have been developed, however, and modern players can play melodies on the instrument: diatonic players, for example, are able to play fiddle tunes using open-chording techniques, "pumping" the damper buttons while picking individual strings. Skilled chromatic players can perform a range of melodies, and even solos including melody, chords, and complex rhythmic accompaniments.
In the mid-20th century performers began experimenting with taking the instrument off the table and playing it in an upright position, held in the lap, with the back of the instrument (having the "feet") held against the chest. Cecil Null, of the Grand Ole Opry is usually credited as the first to adopt this playing style in public performance, in the 1950s. In this position the left hand still works the chord buttons, but from the opposite edge of the instrument, and the right hand still executes the strums, but now plays in the area above the chord bars. (See Joe Butler illustration, below.) This playing mode makes a wider area of the strings available to the picking hand, increasing the range of tonal possibilities, and it proved very popular. It was soon adopted by other performers, notably by members of the Carter Family.
By the early 1970s some players were experimenting with finger-style techniques, where individual fingers of the right hand would pluck specific strings, rather than simply hold a pick and strum chords. Bryan Bowers became a master of this mode of playing, and developed a complex technique utilizing all five fingers of his right hand. This allows him to play independent bass notes, chords, melody, and counter melodies as a soloist. Bowers was also one of the early pioneers in adding a strap to the instrument and playing it while standing up.
Kilby Snow (May 28, 1905 – March 29, 1980) was an American folk musician and virtuoso autoharpist, who won the title of Autoharp Champion of North Carolina at the age of 5. He developed the "drag note" playing style, a technique that relied on his left-handedness to produce "slurred" notes. Although his recorded output is small (a single album for Folkways Records in the 1960s), he has been enormously influential among autoharpists, and is regarded by many as the first modern autoharp player.
Mother Maybelle Carter of the original Carter Family brought the instrument to prominence in the late 1940s by using it as a lead instrument when performing with her daughters; The Carter Sisters. Other Family members such as Sara Carter, Janette Carter, Johnny Cash, and all of The Carter Sisters played the instrument as well. A vast number of recordings by all members of The Carter Family includes the use of an Autoharp.
Maybelle Carter's granddaughter Carlene Carter frequently plays the autoharp onstage and on her recordings; her song "Me and the Wildwood Rose", a tribute to her grandmother, makes prominent use of the autoharp.
Janis Joplin occasionally played the autoharp, which can be heard in her early, unreleased recording "So Sad to Be Alone".
Several Lovin' Spoonful songs feature the autoharp playing of John Sebastian, including "Do You Believe in Magic" and "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice". He also played in the 1979 Randy VanWarmer hit song "Just When I Needed You Most".
Bryan Bowers developed a complex finger-picking style of playing the autoharp (as opposed to the more common strumming technique) which he initially brought to bluegrass performances with The Dillards in the 1970s, and later to several of his own solo albums. Bowers was an early experimenter with customizing the instrument, often stripping it down to 8-10 chords to obtain more room above the chord bars for his right-hand fingers to work in; he also favors diatonic single-key autoharps, which have doubled strings, thus increasing the power and resonance of the tone. He is also a music educator, a strong advocate for the instrument, and was inducted into the Autoharp Hall of Fame in 1993.
Comedian Billy Connolly has used an autoharp in his performances (mostly in earlier concerts during the 1980s).[ citation needed ]
British singer songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae regularly plays the autoharp and composed the title track from her 2010 album The Sea on the autoharp.
Norwegian avant-garde artist Sturle Dagsland frequently performs with an autoharp.
Singer/songwriter Brittain Ashford of the band Prairie Empire is known for using autoharp in her music, including the 2008 release "There, but for You, go I". She also regularly performs on the autoharp as part of her role in Ghost Quartet, a four-person song cycle composed by Dave Malloy.
In 2017, drag queen and singer-songwriter Trixie Mattel used the autoharp in her album Two Birds . Mattel also plays the autoharp as part of her regular drag performances.
In 2020, KatieJane Garside of Ruby Throat released the album Geiger Counter , in which she is featured on autoharp.
Accordions are a family of box-shaped musical instruments of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone type, colloquially referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist. The concertina and bandoneón are related. The harmonium and American reed organ are in the same family, but are typically larger than an accordion and sit on a surface or the floor.
The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing the strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.
The hammered dulcimer is a percussion-stringed instrument which consists of strings typically stretched over a trapezoidal resonant sound board. The hammered dulcimer is set before the musician, who in more traditional styles may sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a more modern style may stand or sit at a wooden support with legs. The player holds a small spoon-shaped mallet hammer in each hand to strike the strings. The Graeco-Roman dulcimer derives from the Latin dulcis (sweet) and the Greek melos (song). The dulcimer, in which the strings are beaten with small hammers, originated from the psaltery, in which the strings are plucked.
The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used worldwide in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, and rock. The many types of harmonica include diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, octave, orchestral, and bass versions. A harmonica is played by using the mouth to direct air into or out of one holes along a mouthpiece. Behind each hole is a chamber containing at least one reed. A harmonica reed is a flat, elongated spring typically made of brass, stainless steel, or bronze, which is secured at one end over a slot that serves as an airway. When the free end is made to vibrate by the player's air, it alternately blocks and unblocks the airway to produce sound.
String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.
Zither is a class of stringed instruments. Historically, the name has been applied to any instrument of the psaltery family, or to an instrument consisting of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body. This article describes the latter variety.
A capo is a device a musician uses on the neck of a stringed instrument to transpose and shorten the playable length of the strings—hence raising the pitch. It is a common tool for players of guitars, mandolins, mandolas, banjos, ukuleles and bouzoukis. The word derives from the Italian capotasto, which means the nut of a stringed instrument. The earliest known use of capotasto is by Giovanni Battista Doni who, in his Annotazioni of 1640, uses it to describe the nut of a viola da gamba. The first patented capo was designed by James Ashborn of Wolcottville, Connecticut year 1850.
Gusli is the oldest East Slavic multi-string plucked instrument, belonging to the zither family, due to its strings being parallel to its resonance board. Its roots lie in Veliky Novgorod in Novgorodian Rus'. It may have a connection to the Byzantine form of the Greek kythare, which in turn derived from the ancient lyre, or might have been imported from Western and Central Europe during the Middle Ages, when the zither had immense popularity. It has its relatives in Europe and throughout the world: kantele in Finland, kannel in Estonia, kanklės in Lithuania, kokles in Latvia, Zither in Germany, citera in the Czech Republic, psalterium in France and so on... Furthermore, the kanun has been found in Arabic countries, and the autoharp, in the United States. It is also related to such ancient instruments as Chinese gu zheng, which has a thousand-year history, and its Japanese relative koto. A stringed musical instrument called guslim is listed as one of the Me in ancient Sumer.
The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.
In music, strumming is a way of playing a stringed instrument such as a guitar, ukulele, or mandolin. A strum or stroke is a sweeping action where a finger or plectrum brushes over several strings to generate sound. On most stringed instruments, strums are typically executed by a musician's designated strum hand, while the remaining hand often supports the strum hand by altering the tones and pitches of any given strum.
The Omnichord is an electronic musical instrument introduced in 1981 by the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation. It typically features a touch plate known as "SonicStrings", preset rhythms, auto-bass line functionality, and buttons for major, minor, and 7th chords. The most basic method of playing the instrument is to press the chord buttons and swipe the SonicStrings with a finger in imitation of strumming a stringed instrument. The SonicStrings may also be touched in one place to create a single note. Originally designed as an electronic Autoharp, the Omnichord has become popular, due to its unique, chiming, harplike timbre and its value as a kitsch object.
The Marxophone is a fretless zither played via a system of metal hammers. It features two octaves of double melody strings in the key of C major, and four sets of chord strings. Sounding somewhat like a mandolin, the Marxophone's timbre is also reminiscent of various types of hammered dulcimers.
The bowed psaltery is a type of psaltery or zither that is played with a bow. In contrast with the centuries-old plucked psaltery, the bowed psaltery appears to be a 20th-century invention.
The ukelin is a bowed psaltery with zither strings made popular in the 1920s. It is meant to be a combination of the violin and the Hawaiian ukulele. It lost popularity prior to the 1970s because the instrument was difficult to play and often returned to the manufacturer before it had been completely paid for.
The guitar zither is a musical instrument consisting of a sound-box with two sets of unstopped strings. One set of strings is tuned to the diatonic, chromatic, or partially chromatic scale and the other set is tuned to make the various chords in the principal key of the melody strings.
The cross-strung harp or chromatic double harp is a multi-course harp that has two rows of strings which intersect without touching. While accidentals are played on the pedal harp via the pedals and on the lever harp with levers, the cross-strung harp features two rows so that each of the twelve semitones of the chromatic scale has its own string.
The épinette des Vosges is a traditional plucked-string instrument of the zither family, whose use was confined to two areas in the Vosges mountains of France approximately 50 km apart: around Val-d'Ajol and around Gérardmer.
Oscar Schmidt was a musical instrument manufacturing company established in 1871 and currently a brand of U.S. Music Corporation, a subsidiary of corporate group JAM Industries. During its long existence, Oscar Schmidt has produced a wide range of string instruments, not only guitars but also numerous models of parlour instruments such as autoharps, celtic harps, guitar zithers, the "guitarophone", marxophones and bowed psalterys.
A Guitaro is an autoharp constructed to be held like a guitar.