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date: 08 April 2020

Autoharp (Ger. Akkordzither: ‘chord zither’)locked

  • David Kettlewell
  • , revised by Lucy M. Long


(Ger. Akkordzither: ‘chord zither’)

A box Zither of German origin, popular in the USA from the late 19th century. The player strums the strings with his fingers, a fingerpick or a plectrum; damper bars controlled by buttons damp all the strings except those that sound the required chord. The basis of the instrument is a box, about 30 cm long, 45 cm broad and 3 cm deep. Instruments for popular use are factory-made, in the USA and Germany, and are finished with a black lacquer and a soundhole beneath the bars; instruments used for folk music are hand-made in America, lightly varnished with a wood finish and may include marquetry or other decoration. The strings, which are graded in thickness, are attached to wrest-pins; they number between 15 and 50, or even more, and the range is between two and four octaves (C–c). Some instruments are diatonic, others partly or fully chromatic. A 15-string instrument is likely to have only three bars, giving the tonic, the subdominant and the dominant 7th of C major. A nine-bar instrument may offer a selection of chords, including these basic chords in two keys and a range of related chords. Autoharps used for folk music may offer fewer chords per key, but a wider range of keys. Some manufacturers supply spare, blank bars for the player to fit as he wishes. The circle of 5ths, normal on other extended diatonic instruments such as the accordion, the zither and the dulcimer, is unusual on the autoharp. Examples of autoharps that are fully chromatic or include frets (see illustration) have also been manufactured....

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