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The autoharp is a box zither that has been used in bluegrass , folk and country music in the USA since the late 19th century . The name Autoharp has been a registered trademark since 1927 .

Modern autoharp with three rows of buttons and fine tuning


The inventor of the Autoharp is not certain. Initially, Charles F. Zimmermann was suspected to be the author, as he had applied for a patent for a similar instrument in the USA in 1882. In contrast to the instrument known today as the autoharp, the one developed by Zimmermann was a kind of double zither in the shape of a butterfly, in which the strings on each of the two instrument sides were given a different tuning.

The autoharps in use today go back to a development by the German Karl August Gütter from Markneukirchen , who at around the same time built an instrument he himself called the “Volkszither” and applied for a patent in England around 1883. What is certain is that, after Charles Zimmermann got to know the instrument on a visit to Germany, he applied for a patent on Gütter's invention in the USA, made it very popular there under the name “Autoharp” and sold it successfully.


Similar to a guitar , the strings of the autoharp are torn with a plectrum , plucked with the fingers or struck. The free hand operates a system of felt buffers using a keyboard or an offset button mechanism. The button assignment is by default as follows:

E ♭ B ♭ F. C. G D. A.
F 7 C 7 G 7 D 7 A 7 E 7 H 7
A ♭ B ♭ 7 Cm Gm Dm At the Em

When a chord is struck , all strings are muted except those required for the chord. Depending on the type, the autoharp has up to 36 strings and a range of two to four octaves . In contrast to the lying zither, the autoharp is also played standing upright or hung around the neck. It is considered an easy-to-learn instrument.


The Autoharp became famous from the end of the 1920s through the Carter Family . Sara Carter in particular played it both as a melody-leading instrument and as accompaniment, but the rest of the family, such as "Mother" Maybelle Carter and June Carter , the wife of Johnny Cash , also used the autoharp frequently.

Bill Clifton is another country musician who made the autoharp popular in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Steve Hackett a . a. the instrument on the Genesis album Wind & Wuthering . John Sebastian from The Lovin 'Spoonful used the autoharp frequently. More recent examples of the use of autoharp in pop music are the English musicians Natasha Khan ( Bat for Lashes ), PJ Harvey and Martin Molin ( Wintergatan ).

Some singers of the light North Indian classical music use an autoharp without a keyboard instead of the usual Swarmandal for their own accompaniment.


  • Irwin Stambler, Grelun Landon: Encyclopedia Of Folk, Country And Western Music . St. Martin's Press, New York / London 1969, pp. 18th f .

See also

Web links

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