Why does my autoharp sound better in some keys than others?

General troubleshooting

Why does my autoharp sound better in some keys than others?

Postby Bob Lewis » Tue Oct 30, 2007 7:18 pm

Q. Why does my autoharp sound so much better in some keys than in others?

A. The autoharp note array is designed to favor the keys of F, C, and G. This is evidenced by how thoroughly the chords for those keys are supported in the bass and the fact that the highest string is C natural.

Each instrument favors its main air resonance, a note that especially excites the air volume inside the box. The note array and the main air resonance are both factors influencing the "best key" impression".

Brands and models vary in the main air resonance that results. D, Eb, E, F#, and G (so claimed) are known to be the main air resonances of currently available luthier autoharps. The new A model Reissue has a main air resonance near A natural. US vintage model Bs are generally Bb or G.

The wood used, hidden design changes, and some other production variances can explain why a particular brand and model can appear to vary. The influence of the wood is theoretically very minor. Any variations in the main air resonance for a given air volume would be limited to no more than a semitone.

I select keys for my personal instruments based upon the main air resonance. If you acquire a number of instruments or plan a purchase based on a desire to support a certain key, you can pick the brand and model for the job with a great deal of confidence.

There doesn't appear to be any theoretical basis for the conclusion, but it would seem from trial and error that good results can be obtained by selecting keys within a semitone of the main air resonance or the fifth above it.

On instruments that are not well balanced in response, the main air resonance probably should be avoided because its volume and tone will contrast too sharply with other notes.
Bob Lewis
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