What is it worth?

Addresses frequent cases of someone having, finding, or buying an old autoharp and wondering about either its value or what would be involved in putting it in good playable order.

What is it worth?

Postby Bob Lewis » Tue Nov 18, 2008 7:08 am

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Monday, November 17, 2008 6:21 PM
Subject: old oscar schmidt autoharp

Image

Q:

I've got an old oscar schmidt autoharp, given to be around 1965 (it was bought new and i'm assuming it was made somewhere around that time as well) Its is 36 string, 12 chords. I'm looking to find an estimated value on this harp. I was referred to you by another shop I tried to contact who didn't know enough about them. Sounds like you're the guy I'm looking for. I've included a picture. There are three strings that need to be replaced on it, and there are a few scratches, the biggest of those scratches can be seen under the strings. But other than that its in good condition and i'll be selling with case and few books. I'd appreciate it if you could get back to me. Please let me know if you have any questions.

A: from Bob

$50-75, which is more than it cost new. That table or lap style autoharp is obsolete, so you will see more modern designs bringing double or more what this one will. It is not rare and is not particularly valued by serious players. I expect they are bought by those remembering them from school but not knowing much about autoharps. This model has been out of production for 40 years, and the company has changed hands twice since.
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Postby CrossTronic » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:02 pm

Forgive my "noob" question, but what makes this particular model a lapstyle instrument? Could it not be played in the upright position?

Thanks,
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Postby Bob Lewis » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:52 pm

CrossTronic wrote:Forgive my "noob" question, but what makes this particular model a lapstyle instrument? Could it not be played in the upright position?

Thanks,
Lap style has to do with the chord bar set being placed toward the tuning pins to allow room to play along the string anchor end. You also have bars that are arranged and marked as if viewed with the instrument laid in front of you, bass strings crosswise toward the body.

Notice on any of the later 12 and 15 chord models, more commonly played while held upright, the chord layout was never changed to facilitate playing that way. The best example is how the chords for the key of G become awkward to finger. There is a lot of interest in rearranging chord bars, when the instruments are held upright to play them.

The problem with the 15 chord as a lap style instrument was always that so little room was left to play the strings, especially the highest, shortest strings. The 12 chord is a much better instrument but doesn't have quite enough bars to use all of the chromatic scale. The D# strings were never used from about 1885 to 1965 when the model 73 acquired an option for 15 chords following the example of the 1963, 15 bar Appalachian model (which did not have a chord that used D# either). The irony is that the 15 chord bar set was developed for playing the instrument upright. Maybelle Carter and Mike Seeger were involved in developing the Appalachian model.

Even though that 1963 Appalachian was specifically intended as the first model to be played held upright, the first 12 bars on the string anchor side are still standard 12 bar layout. An opportunity was missed to revisit what an optimal chord layout would be for such an instrument. They went to the trouble and expense of developing a set of 15 bar end holders but didn't really address chord layout. It could well have been because both Maybelle and Mike were already used to the legacy 12 chord layout and just wanted a couple more chords for fiddle keys.

Holding the instrument upright thus became known as the "Appalachian position", what some might call "burp the baby style" or Maybelle style, based on Maybelle wanting to play standing up to a microphone.

The various chord layouts for the 12 and 15 bar models are pictured on this chart.
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Re: What is it worth?

Postby Bob Lewis » Sun Sep 26, 2010 7:23 pm

Lately I have seen so few that will stay together and allow being tuned that I am not sure these have any value at all except as firewood. In fact, it may be counterproductive to let these out and waste someones time, money, and prospects with them. I am not sure one should even give one away. A number I have taken in for work have not even been worth returning untouched, let alone spending time and money on them. I don't think there is any integrity in selling these old ones or in encouraging a person to fix one up.
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