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Autoharp vs. Chromaharp

The autoharp was invented in 1881 by Charles F. Zimmerman, and is the only native American instrument. It was one of the most popular instruments in the nation around the turn of the century, but lost some of its favor in the 1930’s and 40’s. Had it not been for the zeal which Appalachian families such as the Carter Family showed for the autoharp, it may have gone extinct. Maybelle Carter helped to keep the instrument alive by showing people that autoharps can capture the American spirit and by sharing with them her talent.

Students of all ages are capable of playing the autoharp. Indeed, the only skills required are the ability to push a button and to strum a string. Children can learn nursery songs and basic harmonies, teens can adapt the autoharp to play popular songs, and professionals can play impressive melodies and accompaniments. Anyone can enjoy the unique and traditional sound that autoharps create as folk songs, bluegrass songs, hymns, and spirituals bring a feeling of nostalgia.

Essentially, the Chromaharp and the Autoharp are the same instrument but two different brands. The Autoharp is associated with Oscar Schmidt models. There are “A” models and “B” models. Schmidt’s “B” models came out in 1968 during the very month that the Chromaharp was introduced – a Japanese-made version of Schmidt’s “A” harp. The competition between Autoharps and Chromaharps became fierce. While Chromaharps were priced below Autoharps and claimed to “stay in tune up to 60% longer”, the Oscar Schmidt Autoharp company pushed its “B” models into the market. Had Schmidt not introduced the “B” model to compete with the Chromaharps at this strategic time, the company likely would have gone out of business.

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