A reader writes:
Thank you for writing and making sense of a bewildering plethora of harp styles. Do you know anybody who hand-crafts a wooden/beautiful bridge cover for a 21 chord Oscar Schmidt Autoharp? I have the ugliest harp with a yucky plastic bridge cover... but with the most beautiful tone I've heard out of an Autoharp (I play for patients in hospital in the Spiritual Care Department) I was a little raw from comments about it "only being an autoharp" and how ugly it was (which is true) and bought a really beautiful custom release wood-grained one, that sounds as tinny as a banjo. Sigh! I'd grab the bridge/cover off of it, but it too is a cheesy plastic (original) cover. What was Mr. Schmidt thinking? Oh Dear! A cheesy plastic replacement is $18. But I was hoping some artist would realize there are quite a lot of OS owners that dislike the cheesy plastic bridge, and if offered, would with great delight ditch our CPBs and plunk down large green bills for something that
a little nicer. Any hope? Thanks for listening.
Thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately I don't know anyone who makes custom wooden parts for existing autoharps. And Oscar Schmidt has been dead for about a century, so we can't blame him - the kind of plastic they use now is only about 75 years old.
When you say "bridge cover" I assume you mean the bit with the holes in it that covers the chord bars so only the buttons with the key names stick through?
For a couple years sometime back, there was a tortoise-shell version that has long since been discontinued. I don't know if it would look any better, anyway, but you might keep your eye out for one. Or spray-painting yours to a color you like better. Or getting a local artist friend to paint something cool on it.
I do understand what you mean about autoharp tone. It has really gone downhill since production moved to China. But it have been uneven since the type B came out in the late 1960s. Two of the same model, produced a year apart, could have entirely different sound.
By the way, my banjos are "chimey," not "tinny."
Funny thing, as a singer-songwriter who plays banjo on some songs, there are a lot of smirks and dumb jokes when I show up with a banjo, but it only takes a few seconds to win people over. Most folks who make the snarky remarks have never heard a banjo played well live and that makes a lot of difference. Being good at what you do won't keep the dumb jokes out of your life altogether, but it helps keep you from hearing the same jokes more than once from the same people.
BTW, one of my favorite autoharps is a yellow Sears Roebuck 15-chorder made in the 1970s, with the old body style. My first 21-chorder was actually a ChromaHarp that I thought looked nicer and more traditional than the Oscar Schmidt 21s. Although you can get parts for the latter, and not the former. So I'm more likely to take an OS21 out of the house than the ChromaHarp.
I don't know if you'd be more satisfied with the appearance of the 21-chord Chromaharp. It doesn't have a plate over the chord bars at all.
Finally, I accumulated most of my more bizarre autoharps from ShopGoodwill.com.
Some come too damaged to ever restore, and some of the stores will charge $40 shipping for a $15 item, so ALWAYS check the shipping price before you bid. But you might find something there that you can cannibalize.
I'll check around and see if I can find a tortoise-shell piece, but don't hold your breath.
Best of luck,