Help me become an autoharpy
August 5, 2008 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I recently purchased a used autoharp, and it's been languishing in a corner as I try to figure out how to get started with it.

My first stumbling block is the question of tuning. I've never been particularly good at tuning, and am not sure if I need specialized tools. Is it better to give it a go by myself, or to take it into a shop and have it tuned (at least the first time)? If a shop is the way to go, does anyone have any recommendations for places in NYC? Any other tips for beginners would be greatly appreciated, as well.
posted by quatsch to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Karlos the Jackal. Paging Karlos the Jackal. He's our resident autoharp specialist.
posted by umbĂș at 4:08 PM on August 5, 2008


Here is a link to his innovative autoharpop over at Metafilter Music.
posted by umbĂș at 4:14 PM on August 5, 2008


Best answer: *Autoharpsense...tingling!*

You don't need to take it to a shop unless you want it given a good once over, maybe, or have the action adjusted, but I wouldn't worry about any of that (and I never have).

What you need is an electronic chromatic tuner and an autoharp wrench.

With these you can tune it up yourself without even having an ear for it (I don't). (I am assuming that your 'harp has all the strings labeled -- I've never seen one that didn't.)

Does your autoharo have fine tuners? Many newer models do -- they are located along the bottom edge and they look like this. You can adjust those with an allen wrench for more exact control (I never bother, especially if I'm just playing and not recording).

Feel free to ask me more, either here or through MeFiMail.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 4:44 PM on August 5, 2008


Best answer: tuning: what Karlos said. Tuning isn't hard; just slow - remember that if you're moving the wrench and the pitch isn't changing stop - 'cos you're not tuning the string you think you are. Try to source a local supply of replacement strings, as you'll likely break one or two. If you're replacing a string, don't forget to back out the tuning peg about 3½ turns - they're subtly threaded. An in-tune autoharp is a celestial delight; an out of tune one blares from the very pits of hell.

The Cyberpluckers list is useful - I've found some of the most relentlessly helpful people ever there. True, there are a few hurf durf newbie eater types there, but generally, it's good.

Make sure that all the chords sound evenly; there's a lot that can go wrong, and lots of folklore on fixing them.
posted by scruss at 4:47 PM on August 5, 2008


Oh, note -- some people will tune the upper strings a little sharp and the lower strings a little flat, so if your ear is good enough you can try that.

Also, I always end up reluctantly tuning my 'harps every time I play them. Don't expect a used harp to keep its tuning for too long.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 4:48 PM on August 5, 2008


On non-preview:

remember that if you're moving the wrench and the pitch isn't changing stop - 'cos you're not tuning the string you think you are.

Oh, man, yes.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 4:51 PM on August 5, 2008


Best answer: Yup, use a chromatic tuner. It's easy and the tuners are pretty cheap.

In addition you might want to look at what Elderly has to offer. They're usually pretty good on the phone answering noob questions and have a pretty good selection of instructional DVDs and books.
posted by plinth at 6:44 PM on August 5, 2008


Oh and BONUS - they have a $0.50 tuning guide.
posted by plinth at 6:49 PM on August 5, 2008


yes, Elderly's tuning guide is worth more than $0.50 - especially if it saves a $3 broken string. I think it contains the wrench/pitch thing I mentioned, but I used Reed Martin's words as applied to his banjo.
posted by scruss at 7:53 PM on August 5, 2008


Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I've ordered the tuner and wrench, signed up for Cyberpluckers, and just begun peeping at Elderly. Now my never-ending autoharp party can begin!
posted by quatsch at 9:24 AM on August 6, 2008


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