Repairing Loose Felt on an Autoharp

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A late '60s Sears Silvertone-branded Autoharp with a loose felt piece.  Click for bigger picture

Repairing Loose Felt on an Autoharp

A few months ago, I picked up a late-model Type A Autoharp that I liked the looks of. It had a cream finish and natural chord bars. Turns out, it was actually sold by Sears between 1965 and 1967. That I learned from the most definitive book ever written on the history of the autoharp, Becky Blackley's The Autoharp Book, sadly out of print. I've tried to track her down and get her to reissue it on Kindle or some such, but so far I've had no luck.

The Autoharp smelled really bad, and I have left it outside on windy days a few times to air it out. The cardboard case it came in was worse.

Other than that, it was in playable condition, and I tuned it up and played it for a few minutes every few days for a month or so. Then, one of the chord bars started acting up.

Turned out that one of the felt pieces had come loose and was wandering around under the chord bars. I was lucky it didn't fall completely out and get lost as they sometimes do.

Disassembly - First of all, never disassemble an autoharp over shag carpet.

A cross section of the keys and felts of an autoharp. Click for bigger drawing.To get a sideways look at what you'll be dealing with, check out the graphic to the right.

This model has two plastic strips holding the ends of the chord bars in place. Three tiny screws hold each of those in place. I had to use a fine-tipped Phillips screwdriver to remove them. Don't lose the little screws.

And don't turn your autoharp over when the little plastic strips holding the ends of the chord bars are removed, either, unless you want to spend the next hour tracking down springs, and twenty minutes after that trying to get the chord bars in the correct order. You'll find that our article "Autoharp Factory Tunings" is helpful in that score.

Then I lifted the chord bars one at a time to figure out which chord bar was missing the felt piece. Turned out it was the F chord bar. Fortunately, the felt piece was easy to fish out. And discoloration on the bottom of the chord bar told me exactly where it would go back. I glued it in place with general-purpose glue, let it set, then screwed the whole thing back together.

It played just as well as it had before. But it didn't play any better than it did before, either. I blame operator error.

During this enterprise, I discovered that the foam rubber strips that were supposed to keep the chord bars from clacking against the little cover strips had completely crumbled. If I had had more experience with a 15-chord Type A, I would have realized this sooner. I just thought it was noisy. Sounds like a topic for another article.

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