Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Dream Autoharp

This post is about my dream autoharp. Since the soundboard caved and bridge cracked on my learning instrument, (see photo on the left) I have been without an autoharp to play. She is sitting in a stand, looking pretty in my studio. I had her as my playmate for two years, from July 2009-2011. While I had her, I learned more about myself, and what I would need in a new autoharp. First, custom chordbars are a must. The factory ones that came with her needed adjustments just to work properly, and because I have a slight tremor, the floating buttons were a problem to me. When I became nervous, which is almost always while playing in front of people, my hands would shake. When my hands shook, the buttons would rattle against the chord bar cover. Hearing that noise would make me more nervous, even though others couldn't hear it, it was a huge problem for me. The cover is also plastic, and frankly, I don't like all that artificiality! So custom chordbars are a must.

The second thing I would  need would be a custom body. OK, that sounds obvious, but I did consider getting an Oscar Schmidt and have custom bars put on it, just to save a little cash. But my autoharp playing days came to an end when the soundboard cracked causing the bridge to give way and Viola! My autoharp became untuneable. There is 1500 lbs of pressure on an autoharp due to the pull of the strings. My teacher had another student that happened to with an Oscar Schmidt. She was lucky enough to still have the factory warranty on hers, so she got a replacement. I wasn't so lucky. So I began researching autoharps online, thinking what my budget would be. I'm still very much a student, so I was trying to keep the amount at a reasonable level, but when I look at my wants and needs, it just has to be a luthier made instrument.

There are a few that I've been considering. The first is the Evoharp.
One reason I like it is the price, it's less expensive than other luthier built harps. Designed by a player and teacher, Evo Bluestein, it is made to be lighter and have a more traditional sound. I like tradition, and my old 'harp was definitely too heavy. I even got a bruise on my leg from playing it too long without a strap! So the Evoharp definitely would be a step up from the Oscar Schmidt. It is made by McSpadden, a company known for it's mountain dulcimers and producing quality instruments. I also like the unique soundhole, the crecent and heart. I'm not wild about the chord buttons on it, but it has the flat button option available at an additional charge. It's available in a number of chord bar configurations, which is cool, as I have some ideas of the chord set-up I want. It comes with a 1 year warranty. Fine tuners are available as an additional option. It comes with a soft shell case. Personally, if I'm going to drop a grand on an instrument, I want a hardshell case for it. Nice base price, but my extras will add a little bit, and since I'm spending that kind of money, I'd want an electronic pick-up. Hmmm...the price is adding up, but this will be the ultimate autoharp after all. My Autoharp teacher is also my dulcimer teacher, so I mentioned the Evoharp to her. She suggested a different luthier who makes a 'harp in that same price range as another option.

Enter option #2: The Arkansas Autoharp. Karen's opinion on Authoharps holds great weight for me. She has been my teacher from the beginning, and there is no greater authority or player in the state of Minnesota, and few comparable around the world. Really, she is truly a world class instructor and player. So I looked up the website, and it has the fine tuners and flat-top buttons already, not something extra. It has a plain sound hole. Very. Plain. I know I'm not supposed to make this decision on looks, but if I'm going to be dropping a big wad of cash on this thing, then, well. I want it to be Pretty. Really I do. That's why I got the Appalachian OS, it had a pretty look to it. I bought it off of Ebay because I was looking for the best price. 

Very little information on the website, so I emailed for pricing details, and Karen was right, it's in the same price range as the Evoharp. It also has pick guards. There is a good variety of pictures on the website, but no mention of a warranty, and he does do lots of set-ups for the OS models, so he's familiar with them. But Karen doesn't play either of these harps. She has some old Oscar Schmidts which she has changed chord bars on, and then she has one made just for her. A KM Special is what is on the lable inside, and it was made for her by master luthier Pete d'Aigle. He's the one who worked on my OS to get the chord bars to work properly, and switch out some of the chords too. Between shipping there and back again, the cost of the optimising, it was almost as much as the purchase price. But she played much better after that. Really good, but not quite great. But I know he can do great, Karen let me play her instrument, so sweet! The chord bards connected with the strings so easily and completely. It's based on the d'Aigle Cascade, and it is a really beautiful instrument.

So, after months of consideration, I have made my decision. My Dream Autoharp is the d'Aigle Traditional Luthier's Classic, TLC for short. I have that web page bookmarked on my favorite's bar. It has everything I need in an autoharp, and it does cost more than options One or Two, but it will be worth the extra time and effort in saving up for it. It has everything I want and need in an instrument, and I'm personally familiar with the luthier's workmanship. It is one of the most beautiful autoharps that I have ever seen, comes with all the options I want and need. It even comes with a Five Year warranty on the workmanship. That gives me a little more peace of mind. I was just at a music jam the other night, and I really wanted my autoharp to play. I have picked up my old broken one, just to hold it, a couple of times. The goal is to get enough saved up for it, that I can have it for Spring of 2013. I'm on a mission to play zithers to the best of my ability. To honor the heritage of my ancestors, and to share traditional folk music from both Finland and Norway. So I play the mountain dulcimer and the kantele, but it was the Autoharp that opened the door for me. It led me to both those instruments, and it is such an American instrument, it brings it all home to me.

The spreadsheet has been made, so I can check my progress on saving for my Dream Autoharp. Today is April 1st, so I think it might be fitting to post this. Because I intend to pursue my dream relentlessly, because I know that dreams really can come true. Today, 4/1/2012, I am at 14.9% of the total goal for purchasing my autoharp. If you read this whole page, then you must have an interest in Autoharps, or your a very good friend. In either case, consider contributing to my dream autoharp fund by clicking on the donate button at the top of the right hand side bar. Every dollar helps me get that much closer to my dream. Thanks for reading!

* Update 4/28/2012 *

My choice for Autoharp changed and I am now going to get the lovely Desert Rose by d'Aigle Autoharps instead. You can read all about it by clicking here now. Thank you for your support, and don't forget to donate! I'll add an update when my darling autoharp arrives in a few long months.  :)

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