Here’s one of the most interesting autoharp facts. Despite the name, an autoharp isn’t a harp at all. It’s actually a chorded zither.
How does it work? A series of chord bars are attached to dampers. When the chord bars are depressed during play, strings are muted to form the desired chord. Modern autoharps usually have 36 or 37 strings. Some have as many as 47 strings, and a rare 48-string model also exists.
In the United States, the autoharp often provides rhythm in bluegrass and country music. However, skilled chromatic players can perform a range of melodies on the instrument.
More Autoharp Facts
Did you know … a person who performs on this string instrument is called an autoharpist.
Notable autoharpists include Neriah McCubbins “Mr. Cub” Benfield and his son Kenneth Benfield, Bryan Bowers, Basia Bulat, Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins), Sheryl Crow, Brian Jones (The Rolling Stones), Janis Joplin, Linda McCartney, Dolly Parton, John Sebastian (The Lovin’ Spoonful), Kilby Snow and his son Jim Snow, Ernest V. Stoneman, and Joni Mitchell.
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family
The autoharp was a favorite with the historic Carter Family, including Maybelle Carter, her cousin Sara Carter, and her daughters Helen Carter and June Carter Cash. The Carter Family adopted an upright style for playing that was developed by Grand Ole Opry star Cecil Null.
Maybelle Carter’s granddaughter Carlene carries on the family tradition today, performing onstage as well as on her recordings. Carlene’s 1990 song “Me and the Wildwood Rose” was dedicated to her grandmother Maybelle Carter.
Listen with Unlimited Streaming
Listen to the Autoharp
Solo by “Mother” Maybelle Carter
The legendary Johnny Cash introduces his mother-in-law Maybelle Carter on the February 25, 1970 episode of “The Johnny Cash Show.” The musical piece is called “Black Mountain Rag.”
We Love Autoharps
Shop for the Best Autoharp Gifts
We’ve created more than 2,500 products for string instrument players and music lovers. Find a unique gift for your favorite autoharpist.
Find an Autoharp Online
Oscar Schmidt 21-Chord Classic Autoharp
- Select maple construction
- Laminated rock maple pin block
- High gloss sunburst finish
- 21 chords
- Patented chord bar button configuration for easy play
- Includes Oscar Schmidt padded gig bag, Mel Bay’s Teach Yourself Autoharp book, TMS polishing cloth
- Model OS21C: Best-selling autoharp ever!
- Fun for the whole family
Autoharp Deals Online
Keep an eye on this automatically updating gallery of autoharps and accessories available on eBay. Find bargains on all kinds of stringed instruments including autoharps.
Shop for Autoharp Gifts
Would you like to sell our string instrument products online and earn referral fees? Here’s how to become an affiliate.
Shop for Autoharps and Accessories
Explore String Kings Music
Missed Something? Go Back
- 1 Autoharp Facts
- 2 More Autoharp Facts
- 3 Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family
- 4 Maybelle Carter
- 5 Listen to the Autoharp
- 6 We Love Autoharps
- 7 Shop for the Best Autoharp Gifts
- 8 Find an Autoharp Online
- 9 Autoharp Deals Online
- 10 Shop for Autoharp Gifts
- 11 Shop for Autoharps and Accessories
- 12 Explore String Kings Music