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16 messages

Autoharp Advice Sought

27 Dec 09 - 12:47 PM (#2797320)
Subject: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: beeliner

I am rebuildung an autoharp, my first attempt, and need some advice regarding string selection.

After stripping down the body and removing all of the deteriorating felts and the rusty strings, I haave cleaned up the body, which is in excellent condition, cleaned up and replaced the tuning pegs, and am now restringing. I haven't even thought about cutting the new felts yet.

I am restringing the harp Ionian on D, with a couple of accidentals added to make certain chords, and the entire middle octave will be double-strung. So ordering a standard autoharp string set is not an option.

I've been getting the strings from my friendly neighborhood guitar shop, 59 cents a pop for the plain strings, as opposed to $3 plus shipping for 'dedicated' autoharp strings available from d'Aigle and others online. And of course, the thinner guitar strings are long enough to make 2 or 3 top-end autoharp strings.

So far I have strung positions 1-14 (D2 to D4) with wound strings (.090 to .026) and positions 22-36 (A4 to D6) with plain strings (.020 to .013). I've added a small auxiliary bridge to 36 in order to get it up to D.

So my question regards the 7 positions so far unstrung (15-21). These call for string diameters of .022 to .024. It is hard to find plain guitar strings of these diameters in stores. I've called every store in town.

D'Addario makes plain strings up to .022, Ernie Ball up to .024, and ghs all the way up to .026, but music stores tend not to stock these because there is very little demand.

Should I finish my restringing with .022 and .024 wound strings or hold out for the plain strings at this thickness? What, if anything, would be the difference in the sound?

Any other advice of a general nature would also be appreciated. One learns by doing.

27 Dec 09 - 01:30 PM (#2797353)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Bill D

"an autoharp" is too generic to easily answer. An old black one? A more heavy-duty Oscar Schmidt?

Major concern IF it is an older SURE you do not use strings heavier than the original! Just a few too heavy strings can cause warping & distortion!

The major 'sound' concerns has always been with the first 2-3 unwound strings (the A#, B and C). I sometime replace those with wound guitar strings. (This is on a 21 bar Schmidt of modern construction). This make those 3 more easily tunable, although they will not last 'as long' relatively.

As to felt... *IF* you can obtain something other than the fairly soft white felt offered in pre-cut strips, it is nice. I once got some from a scrap bin at a gasket company..(they had an entire catalogue, but required ordering entire rolls). I got about a foot square of gray felt that was thicker and more resiliant and has lasted for many years with no appreciable wear...[it also makes less distance for the chord bars to travel when pressing down, allowing less work and faster chord changes....but required 'shaving' on the bass strings because OF the thickness.]

Not knowing where you live, I have no idea how easy it might be to get felt. I have never needed to repeat MY search.

27 Dec 09 - 01:53 PM (#2797365)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: GUEST,DonMeixner

Hi Bee,

Bill D is spot on with his Autoharp advice. Pay attention when he talks.

I am not a fan of 21 bar harps. The buttons and my dead finger tips don't mesh well.

I have restrung Harps in the past with bulk piano wire
and been less concerned with graduated string diameters. I have had as many as 4 strings with the same diameter. Wrapped strings I stripped of the windings with the help of a friendly piano tuner. Cost a couple four packs of Beamish.

I would again ask: Is this and "A" or "B" model harp? Contact McMaster-Carr for felt. They will match if you send a sample and supply you with more bulk felt than you will ever need. Also try a machinist's supply. Thick heavy felt is used for cushions, oilers,
dams for pouring Babbitt, and lightweight bearing surfaces.

Good luck.


27 Dec 09 - 02:13 PM (#2797380)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Geoff the Duck

beeliner - bear in mind that autoharps are strung with a mixture of plain and wound strings.
I can understand you not wanting to find money to buy individually expensive strings if a cheaper alternative is available.
Personally I would use info from the autoharp supplies people as a starting point for deciding what type and gauge of string to buy.

If you have managed to string most of the instrument using guitar and other wire, perhaps it may be worth considering finishing off your set with individual "autoharp" strings. Expensive by comparison, but not many of them, so not as bad a could be...

A link or two if you haven't already got them!


27 Dec 09 - 03:30 PM (#2797450)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: beeliner

Bill D: ' "an autoharp" is too generic to easily answer. An old black one? A more heavy-duty Oscar Schmidt?'

It's a Schmidt Silvertone, tan color, no sound hole, 12 chords, trapezoid keys, I don't see any model or serial number.

If successful, I also have an 'old black one' that needs new strings that I will probably convert too.

I also have a 'sunburst' Chromaharp that I like a lot, despite negative remarks on this forum, that I will definitely leave chromatic. No question that the action is stiffer than on the Schmidts, but you get used to it.

27 Dec 09 - 04:00 PM (#2797466)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Bill D

Well.. that one is transitional from old type to the newer ones. Do take care that the total string tension is similar to the original. I have not actually played one, so I can't make specific comments.

One the old black one, be VERY careful...not only were they lighter in construction, the glue was not as good. Keep humidity controlled. I have had one that was fine, and one that the back was trying to come off.

Have fun!

27 Dec 09 - 04:19 PM (#2797478)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Songbob

I can see problems with your approach.

Replacing tuning pegs can be a problem, especially if the holes are munged up by the process. Check 'em carefully, and perhaps run them a turn or two further into the wood, if you feel any looseness.

Using guitar strings or even piano strings with windings that go over the edges ("saddles" or "nuts" in guitar terms) give you a different sound than standard autoharp strings, which, if you notice, have the windings stripped off for the contact points. The difference can be very noticeable, and not so good. If you can't strip the windings from guitar strings (and it's a tricky technique, for sure), use proper autoharp strings. Buy 'em in single lots, so you can double the ones you want to double.

And replace the first two unwound notes with wound strings (they will take the extra tension). I recommend this on all autoharps, myself, even if not using odd-ball tunings and stringing patterns.

Good luck. I have no recommendations as to double-stringing or tunings -- I tend to use 'em as they come, though I did once take an old black A model 12-bar and re-do the chords so I could play in F/C/G/D/A/&E, plus four relative-minor chords. I did this by totally eliminating all 7th chords. The result is I could play lots of raggy tunes with circles of fifths and such, but couldn't play "Skip to My Lou." Ah, well.


27 Dec 09 - 04:19 PM (#2797479)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: beeliner

Thank you, Bill, and others, for all of your comments.

The old black one has, of course, the 'golf tee' keys, which I actually like better than the trapezoids since they're less slippery.

If the current conversion is successful, I might post a short video on YouTube.

27 Dec 09 - 04:23 PM (#2797481)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: beeliner

To Songbob: I stripped the windings on the ends of the lower strings, it wasn't difficult, but left them alone on the higher ones.

27 Dec 09 - 04:40 PM (#2797492)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: deadfrett

beeliner- Elderly Instruments can get strings to you in a couple of days. Check out thier website at Sorry I can't figure out the blue clicky thing. Dave

27 Dec 09 - 04:43 PM (#2797493)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Songbob

Good on you to learn to strip windings. It isn't always so easy, and if the unstripped part isn't still tight, the sound is tres horible!


04 Jan 10 - 02:11 PM (#2803198)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: beeliner

Once again, thanks to everyone who contributed advice.

I was able to find a local guitar dealer (not my usual) who was willing to special-order the .024 plain steel strings I needed in order to complete the stringing.

I cut 6 of the twelve felts, the D, D7, G, A, A7, and C. (Aside to Songbob: Bob, I gotta have them ol' 7ths. To me, paraphrasing the old orange juice commercial, a tune without 7ths is like a day without sunshine!)

I have not yet cut the other six (mainly minors).

So using those six chords I tried it out, and I gotta say, I am deeply disappointed. The double-strung middle octave is so OVERWHELMING that it virtually obliterates the bass and high-octave strings.

I followed all of the advice in the Mel Bay AUTOHARP OWNER'S MANUAL on converting to diatonic, with the exception, as I noted before, of adding a couple of accidentals (two C's and a G#) in order to make certain chords.

I might retune and refelt it as a D-A-E 'Triatonic", with the felts redone for the principal chords in those keys and only the 1sts and 5ths doubled.

Or I might just retune and refelt it normally. At this point, I'm not sure, so any further observations or advice would be appreciated.

P.S. For felts, I'm using "Ultra Heavy Duty" furniture pads from my local hardware store, and they seem to work fine - as well or better than the originals. The pads come in 4x6 inch pieces, two to a package, and I'm cutting them into 1/4 inch strips, one pad the long way and the other the short, so one of each, laid end to end, fill the chord bar perfectly.

16 Aug 13 - 03:19 PM (#3549914)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: GUEST,Frederica

Totally made a low F string out of a cello string.
Its not optimal, but they dont really make strings with balls sized for the type of auto harp i have.

16 Aug 13 - 11:55 PM (#3550040)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: LadyJean

I just bought an autoharp on Ebay. Now I have to tune the thing. The usual advice is to tune it to a piano. I don't think they'd let me use the one at church, and I don't own one. So there's the problem.

17 Aug 13 - 05:46 AM (#3550101)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: Uncle Tone

Buy a cheap digital tuner or download a tuning app.


08 Aug 16 - 04:13 PM (#3804218)
Subject: RE: Autoharp Advice Sought
From: GUEST,rek

Does anyone know how to remove a broken tuning peg?