- 1. Oscar Schmidt 21 Chord Autoharp
- 2. Oscar Schmidt OS45CE Electric Autoharp
- 3. Oscar Schmidt OS21CQTBL Autoharp
- 4. Oscar Schmidt OS15B Autoharp
- 5. Oscar Schmidt OS73C Chord Classic Autoharp
- 6. Oscar Schmidt 21 Chord Classic Autoharp
- 7. Oscar Schmidt OS150FCE Acoustic-Electric Autoharp
- 8. Oscar Schmidt OS11021FNE 36-String Autoharp
- 9. Oscar Schmidt OSC-OS45C 21-Chord Autoharp
- 10. Oscar Schmidt 1930s Reissue Original Design Autoharp OS73C
- Autoharp Selection Tips
- Types of Autoharps
- Top Autoharp Brands
- Questions & Answers
Life is like the strings of an autoharp; if there are strung too tight or too loose, it won’t play beautifully. The beautiful sound lies somewhere in the middle. Life just like playing the autoharp is all about tuning. You need to tune your life to the right frequency.
With an autoharp just like with any musical instrument, proper tuning is important. Quality autoharps are easy to tune. You might need to invest in a digital tuner for easy tuning. Even the best autoharps sometimes go out of tune. Therefore, a chromatic tuner is a great investment.
The autoharp is one of the easiest musical instruments to learn. It is easier to learn the autoharp than learning the guitar or the piano. As a beginner, a 21-chord autoharp is highly recommended.
Top autoharps are not just easy to tune. They also have high-quality construction, top-notch finishing, heavenly sounds, and are easier to learn. You can invest in a brand new, used, or refurbished autoharp. Below are the top 10 best autoharps for 2020.
1. Oscar Schmidt 21 Chord Autoharp
The Oscar Schmidt 21-chord autoharp is an instrument for people who love and appreciate fine music. Great musicians including Dolly Paton and Bob Dylan play this autoharp. It is the most complete and original autoharp that you can buy
For anyone who wants to play the autoharp professionally or for fun, there is no better choice than this autoharp. This is an all-round 21-chord instrument.
• Select maple construction
• An attractive sunburst glossy finishing
• Superior tone and volume
• Easy playing comfort
Costs around $310
• Oscar Schmidt's most popular autoharp model
• Patented 21-chord bar layout for quick transitions
• Awesome sound
• Works like a charm
• The rock maple pin block provides serious strength
• Top-notch finishing
• High-quality hardware
• Five-year warranty
• It will need frequent tuning initially. However, as the strings "temper" it will require fewer tunings.
• Does not come with a case
2. Oscar Schmidt OS45CE Electric Autoharp
The OS45CE autoharp is among the top autoharps because of its strong merits. It has unrivaled craftsmanship. Every Oscar Schmidt autoharp is usually hand adjusted in the USA by a skilled technician. That guarantees a smooth experience.
• Handmade American-made strings
• Maple body
• Satin finish
• 21 chords
• Select spruce top
• Type B autoharp
Costs between $350 and $360
• A gorgeous instrument
• Amazing sound
• Unique flower shaped soundhole
• High quality and durable strings
• Just like with most autoharps, it requires some fine-tuning initially. To make your work easier, you should invest in a digital tuner.
3. Oscar Schmidt OS21CQTBL Autoharp
This authentic and original autoharp has over 100 years of history behind it. It was one of the first autoharps ever made. 100 years down the line, it is still one of the top autoharps that you can buy.
The OS21CQTBL autoharp is a true reflection of the rich history and tradition of the Oscar Schmidt brand. It is a novelty item that every music lover needs to have. This autoharp model has taken decades to perfect. It is one of the finest autoharps that has ever been produced.
• Marvelously deep blue body
• Plays eleven different keys
• Comes with a tuning wrench
• Durable construction
Costs less than $360
• Seamless playing comfort
• Rich history and tradition
• Authentic and original
• Resonant sound quality
• A reflection of harp making excellence
• The best value for money
• Learning this instrument is fun
• It is a bit heavy therefore it will not work well for a child. It has been made for adults.
• Requires a strap if you want to play it standing.
4. Oscar Schmidt OS15B Autoharp
This 15-chord autoharp features an eye-catching design and it is packed with powerful features. It is an instrument worth having irrespective of your skill level. If you want to try out something unique, sample out this autoharp. This is an instrument that you can afford if you have a tight budget.
Enjoy the handcrafted quality of the OS15B autoharp. Purchase it with the autoharp gig bag for protecting it during transportation. You can take this autoharp wherever you go because of its immense portability. Whether you are a budding performer or you have been performing for years, this autoharp will not let you down.
• 15 chords
• Glossy finish
Costs less than $300
• Unique autoharp
• Eye-catching design
• Powerful features
• Comes with a case
• It does not come with a tuning hammer
5. Oscar Schmidt OS73C Chord Classic Autoharp
The OS73C autoharp takes you back in time to the 1930s. It is a re-creation of some of the classic autoharps of the 1930s. It is an instrument like no other. It will capture your attention on first glance. You will spend your days and your nights enjoying the beautiful music of this autoharp. This autoharp never gets old. It never gets boring. It is a keepsake; something that you will pass down to your descendants.
• Beautiful mahogany back
• Clean and minimalistic appearance
• 21 chords
• Has a gig bag
The price ranges from $350 to $390
• Well packaged
• Excellent quality
• Wonderful sound
• Fun to play
• You might need to work on the springs to perfect the sound
6. Oscar Schmidt 21 Chord Classic Autoharp
This is the best selling autoharp ever. It has sold in over 50 countries. It is more versatile and functional than most top autoharps. The best gift that you can ever give to a music lover is this 21 Chord classic autoharp. This is something that will be appreciated by an autoharp fanatic.
• Weighs about 9 pounds
• Has a soft-sided zippered case
• Comes with a beginners book
• Has a tuning hammer
• 21 chords
• 11 keys
It costs around $390 if it is brand new. The used ones cost less.
• Plays in tune fairly well
• Ships promptly
• Perfect for music education
• Excellent value for money
• You need to be very careful when you put it inside its case.
• Might need an electronic tuner
7. Oscar Schmidt OS150FCE Acoustic-Electric Autoharp
The OS150FCE autoharp is a well-made instrument for the discerning player. You will be impressed by its glossy finish and high-quality wood grain. It does not only look great. It also sounds lovely.
• Flame maple top
• Built-in passive electric pick up
• Incredible finish
• 21 chords
• Finished impressively
Cost around $350 when new
• Sounds good out of the box
• Amazing amplification
• Useful tuning mechanism
• Electric pickup works great
• The tuning process takes time just like for all autoharps.
• You might need to add a shoulder strap to the instrument.
8. Oscar Schmidt OS11021FNE 36-String Autoharp
Highly recommended autoharp on Amazon! Oscar Schmidt's finest. This autoharp is spectacular in design and workmanship. Oscar Schmidt's engineers did a great job on this one. It has broken many records.
This will surely become the most precious musical instrument that you have ever owned. It will be your treasured possession. This is not your average autoharp. It is an exclusive product for those looking for unrivaled musical performances.
This is another wonderful musical instrument from Oscar Schmidt. It is because of instruments like this that the Oscar Schmidt Company is a powerhouse when it comes to the production of musical instruments. A lot of research and innovation went into the development of this product. It is constantly being improved with every passing year.
• Exclusive Ft600 fine-tuning system
• Has a graphic equalizer
• Passive pickup
• Has a built-in tuner
• Beautiful casing
• 5 years warranty
• Natural-looking maple top
• 21 chords
Costs from $450 to $500
• Crisp and beautiful sound
• Optimized for performance
• Chord bars work perfectly
• Holds tuning very well
• Sounds great whether plugged in or not
• It is expensive but it is worth the cost.
• The pads will require more tension as they get grooved over time.
• This autoharp is a bit heavy than some top autoharps. However, you will easily carry it if you are an adult of average weight.
9. Oscar Schmidt OSC-OS45C 21-Chord Autoharp
The ideal bluegrass autoharp! This is the autoharp you have been looking for if you are a bluegrass fanatic. Luckily, you have found it. It is another amazing instrument to add to your autoharp collection.
A true classic; this is one of the best purchases that you will ever make. Investing in an OSC-OS45C 21 autoharp will greatly benefit your career if you are a musician. For hobbyists, this instrument will facilitate great family fun time. You will enjoy playing it with your entire family.
Upgrade your collection with this autoharp. You will never go wrong with an Oscar Schmidt product. They are the best of the best. Millions of people all over the world use them. They have been used for the past a hundred years.
The OSC-OS45C autoharp has been built to last. It has solid woods on the front and back.
• A traditional soundhole for an Appalachian harp
• Satin finish
• Versatile instrument
• Comes with a T-shaped tuning hammer
• Maple body
Costs around $360
• Perfect for traveling and touring
• Great choices of woods for the front and back
• Fantastic and gorgeous sounds
• Perfect for the whole family
• Comes with additional accessories
• Ships to only select countries
10. Oscar Schmidt 1930s Reissue Original Design Autoharp OS73C
Based on the original 1930s design, this autoharp is a blast from the past. You will have a real taste of history.
The 1930s was a time of great progress in the world of music. This era produced some of the greatest musicians of all time. It also produced the finest autoharps in history including the OS73C. The reissue version looks the same as the original version but with many functional improvements. It comes ready to play out of the box.
You will love the solid construction, amazing finish, melodious sounds, and superior functionality. This is a must-have for any autoharp fanatic. You have never played an amazing autoharp until you have played this instrument.
• Based on the Original 1930s Design
• Model number: OS73C
• Includes finger picks
• Includes tuning hammer
• Includes TMS polishing cloth
• Includes Teach yourself Autoharp book
• Solid spruce top
• Costs around $420
• Top-rated autoharp
• Perfect for all skill levels (beginners, intermediate users, and experts)
• Handcrafted quality
• Gorgeous hard case
• Solid mahogany construction
• Easy to use
• If you are a beginner, you will need to learn to play this autoharp. Luckily, it comes with a guidebook.
Autoharp Selection Tips
1. Match your skill level.
Almost every instrument comes in different configurations. Some are simplified versions which cater to beginners, especially children. These are reduced to the essentials, allowing players to learn without getting overwhelmed by the complexities. The autoharp looks especially complicated with all of the strings and buttons on the surface. Few will be able to master the regular configuration without a mastery of music theory. For complete beginners, it might be better to start small and build from there. Get something basic and play the songs that it can tackle. Enjoy the sound and increase your skills before moving on.
2. Study the chord limits.
The most number of chords that you can find on this instrument is 21. The more chords, the more songs you can play. It’s similar to having a piano with 88 keys which is the maximum. While pianos and keyboards with 61 or fewer keys can play most songs just fine, they cannot beat ones with full configurations as these can reach both extremes. You will never have to worry about finding a song that is out of range. So you can get a 15 or 12-chord autoharp but be mindful of the setbacks. However, if the songs you want to play fit into those limited ranges, then this should not be a problem.
3. Consider versatility.
There are models which make it easy to rearrange the chords. This could be useful for advanced players who want to try different things with their instrument. This is a good think to look for if you are serious about this as the versatility will truly come in handy. You can experiment to your heart’s content and really find your style of playing. Some models are not as versatile which might be alright if this is not a priority. Learn more about this to see if it is something that you should be concerned about.
4. Weigh cost against value.
Due to its intricacy, the autoharp tends to be expensive to make. There are just too many components and other things to worry about. There are also few people who are interested in these instruments compared to popular options. Both of these facts drive the price up, and that is unfortunate for the buyers. Most of these cost hundreds of dollars so you really have to study what’s available to get the most out of your hard-earned money. Weigh the cost of the item against the value that it provides.
5. Get the required accessories.
Aside from the device itself, you would need to acquire accessories to protect your investment and get a better overall experience. The most obvious one is a hard case. Not every manufacturer includes in the package. Some might provide a soft case but this may not be enough if you are planning to travel a lot. Get a protective shell for peace of mind. You might also want to get a tuning wrench that you can use to adjust the tightness of the strings. Felt picks, digital tuners, and pickups could be useful as well.
Types of Autoharps
These can be classified according to the number of chords: 15 and 21 are the most common configurations. Those are the number of buttons on the device. You can also divide them into the acoustic and the electric autoharps, the latter having better volume when needed. Keep these in mind when selecting an autoharp.
Top Autoharp Brands
There are very few manufacturers selling autoharps. The most notable of them are Oscar Schmidt and ChromaHarp. Oscar Schmidt is a company that has been around for more than a century. They have several patents for musical instruments and are virtually synonymous with the autoharp. They also make guitars, banjos, ukuleles, basses, and mandolins. The company has undergone several upheavals over the years but it continues to produce high quality instruments. ChromaHarp is the biggest competitor in this segment. The first ones were Japanese-made and were billed to be more reliable while having lower prices. Schmidt produced similar models in order to compete.
Average Autoharp Pricing
Most of the options you will see on the market will cost between $300 and $500. As previously stated, the complexity of the instrument and the relatively low demand make this niche device a costly item. Even beginners will have to shell out a substantial sum since there are no cheap versions available. If you would like to save money, then consider getting second hand items. Just be careful as these can wear out after years of playing. They need consistent maintenance which not all owners do. You might buy something affordable only to learn that you have to spend more money to fix it.
Questions & Answers
1. Which autoharp brand is best?
Oscar Schmidt is arguably the best brand in terms of the number of models available and the quality of the instrument. They have patents for the autoharp and are the preferred brand of many users. Their offerings come in different price ranges for all skill levels. You should be able to find one that fits your own needs.
2. How does an autoharp work?
Autoharps are a type of chorded zither. These are slim hollow asymmetrical boards with multiple strings of different lengths, visible chord buttons, and hidden dampers. The body is made of wood with a sound hole in the middle, much like a guitar. When you press buttons, the irrelevant strings are muted by the dampers so that you can have your desired chord. The US patent for the first autoharp was given in 1882 but this was for a symmetrical string instrument that functioned in a similar way. Modern autoharps look more like the model invented in Germany called the Volkszither which was patented in 1884.
People of all ages can learn how to play an autoharp since all that is needed is to push a button and strum the strings. Unlike guitars, you will not have to use your fingers to hold down the strings or memorize chords. Every chord available is already written down on the buttons so just reach and press for instant use.
3. What does an autoharp sound like?
These instruments are shorter than most guitars so that influences the length of the strings, and therefore the sound produced. Models also have different numbers of strings and tuning. Those with 36 strings with standard tuning can reach a 3 and a half octave range. This goes from F2 to C6. This is pretty good range for playing a wide variety of songs. Those with fewer strings will, of course, have a narrower octave range which is not a problem for beginners. For better volume and other advantages, one can use an electric autoharp with magnetic pickups.
Sound can also be influenced by the way they are played. Some lay them on a table, while others rest them on their chest in an upright position. The left hand can work on the chord buttons while the right is busy strumming the strings. Fingers or picks can be used for this. They can be played solo or accompanied by other instruments or even electronic beats. This used to be one of the most popular instruments in the US until others took over. The decline came in the 1930s, coinciding with The Great Depression. It was artists like Maybelle Carter that kept it in the public eye which enabled its survival.
4. What type of autoharp is best for beginners?
The number of strings can make this seem daunting to play compared to other instruments with less components. However, it is actually quite manageable once you figure out how it works. Just focus on the buttons and gradually develop your own techniques. Get one with few strings and chords if you are a complete novice so that you won’t be overwhelmed. Master this instrument before moving on to a more complex configuration. On the other hand, seasoned musicians who are familiar with other stringed instruments may go straight ahead to 21-chord models so that they have plenty of room to grow.
5. Do autoharps wear out?
These are devices with several mechanical parts. Any time that there is movement, there will always be friction. This will eventually lead to wear and tear. The strings can break under pressure. The dampers can cease to work. The buttons may become harder to press or fail to catch. The chord bar felts can get worn out. The good news is that none of these will render the instrument completely unusable. Parts can be replaced and they will sound as good as new. You can also prevent them from reaching this sorry state by being observant and proactive in taking care of them.
6. Do autoharps need servicing?
Yes, they will benefit from regular maintenance. The moving parts can be cleaned and lubricated to prevent wear and tear. Brewing issues can be found early for quick fixes, instead of waiting for things to fail completely and render the autoharp unusable for a while. If you are buying an old model, then inquire about the age and level of care. Those which were not well-maintained may turn out to be a disappointment when you receive them. You will have to take the item to a repair shop and pay more money before using it.
George A. Smith received a Masters Degree in Music Education from the University of Berkeley. George has been teaching music professionally for the past 8 years. George regularly contributes content to several music websites including LoadRecords.com.