In spite of its name, the autoharp is not a harp at all—instead, it's a chorded variant of the zither. Two versions of this instrument were patented in the early-to-mid 1880s, with the second of the two surviving to eventually become the modern autoharp. Today, the autoharp enjoys a modest but loyal following and is commonly used as a student instrument, where it is particularly helpful in learning chords.
What makes an autoharp different from a zither is the addition of chord bars and dampers. When you press one of the autoharp's chord keys and give it a strum, any string not belonging to the chord you've pressed is silenced, so the sound of the chord is played "automatically." Originally created for accompaniment, the autoharp is still often thought of as a rhythm instrument, but it's also a rewarding melody instrument to a musician who takes on the challenge of mastering it. The autoharp is mostly heard in country, folk and bluegrass music, following in the footsteps of the legendary "Mother" Maybelle Carter, matriarch of the Carter family, whose frequent appearances on the Johnny Cash Show showed just how amazing this instrument could sound in the hands of a skilled player. Read More >