After consulting with Karen Mueller, who gave me some tips on what to look for on my Autoharp that might indicate a more serious problem than just old strings, I found a crack. Now I knew last summer that the support straps holding up the soundboard had given way under the chord bars, but it was still playing great.
Not now, now I can't get it in tune, and what's more, the fine tuners/bridge is being pulled up and towards the tuning pegs. Because the crack is at the corner of my high C tuning peg and runs over an inch up. Boy has the soundboard sunken there! I think the only thing that's been holding it together these past six months is the heavy laquer.
When I purchased her it was in the middle of summer, July the hottest month of the year. The soundboard supports could have given way while it wiled away on my steps waiting for me to come home. Or it could have been that time I left it in my car before taking it in to have strap pegs added. That's the first time it was pointed out to me. The 'harp was hot, too hot, and homestead pickin' parlor said puppy rules apply. They pointed out the sunken area which I could see at that time when I looked from the bottom under the chord bars. I mentioned it to Karen and she said it still sounded fine, so I played it for another year until I noticed something wrong. This summer I took it camping, it was June and was not hot, just damp so I kept her in my car. I took her out and played her a couple of times, but I notice that she really needed a good tuning. After camping I left her in her case, and didn't play her again for a month, I tried to tune her but never got her very well in tune. I kept trying every week, and every week the middle and upper strings were way out of tune. Something told me this wasn't just a string thing, and now I've confirmed it.
May my darling Autoharp rest in peace. She sure does look pretty in her new stand. So now she is the first of my instruments to have died young.