About the Autoharp
The autoharp is a zither-like instrument with a hollow body and 36-37 strings tuned to cover a dynamic range of 2 1/2 to 3 octaves. A set of damping bars (chord bars) is mounted above the string bed and allows the player to selectively mute specific strings by applying pressure to a chord bar. The autoharp is held upright against the body of the player and is strummed or plucked with the right hand while the left hand is used to press down on a chord bar. This produces chords and notes with harp-like tones and a ringing, bell-like quality.
The autoharp began as an early twentieth-century adaptation of the zither. While there is some debate as to its origin, it is generally accepted that Karl August Gutter of Germany developed the mechanism that most closely resembles today's autoharp. Charles F. Zimmerman is credited with promoting the instrument in the United States, where the autoharp became quite popular as a parlor instrument. In the decades that followed, the autoharp continued to gain popularity and has developed a large following of admirers and musicians who utilize the instrument in a variety of settings, from bluegrass to pop, folk, jazz and beyond.