Friday, July 20, 2018

I Suffer For My Art

What with my birthday looming ahead and my old Autoharp hors de combat for lo these many years in need of refelting, I decided to get myself a nice new Autoharp.

I had recommended an Oscar Schmidt OS45CE model to a friend as a possible present for his partner, and in doing so I fell in love with the thing myself. It's a very pretty thing indeed.

I had originally intended to purchase the harp from Amazon, but was disturbed by the number of reviewers remarking on rusty strings and complaining of them breaking when tuned up. This would be a significant purchase for me and I wanted to make sure I got an instrument in the best condition possible.

It was while searching for places that could supply a replacement set of strings I rediscovered The Autoharp Store, and realized I could buy any model Autoharp in production from them. I had some trepidation in making a deal with people I had no prior relationship with, but my experience has been so good this time that I shall be buying my spare parts needed to renovate my other autoharp from them, and I have no hesitation in recommending them to all my readers (two at the last count).

The instrument is far more beautiful than pictures suggest, with a high gloss finish and strings gleaming and new. It arrived in the original Oscar Schmidt packing along with two massive bags of silica gel desiccant. Job done properly.

Naturally, it was badly out of tune when it arrived, and it was then that the vile anti-musician demons of Chateau Stevie manifested to make fiasco from the fabric of extreme happiness.

I managed to find my Boss TU-12 electronic tuner lurking in the Basement of Forgotten Projects, and switched it on to be confronted with a flashing "batt" light. Grimacing, I popped off the battery door, but for once was not confronted with burst batteries and foul chemical encrustations so typical of a battery device left on a shelf for a couple of years. Mistaking this for Good Fortune instead of the Opening Movement of the Symphony of Suck I pried out the 9 volt battery and pulled off the connector.

One of the battery posts popped off the connector. The other popped off the battery.

I tried prying with my Swiss Army Knife, then deployed my Leatherman Wave pliers, Class Four Words of Power that set light to the curtains, goose grease, cat o' nine tails and Nurse McReady's Surgical Bruise Lotion, but nothing would persuade the blasted claw-like battery post to let go of the connector. Best guess is that it is welded on with the afore-mentioned chemical encrustation.

So, in order to enjoy my new autoharp, I first had to cut off the connector to my classic and now unavailable Boss tuner - thus rendering it less collectable, solder in a replacement connector and shrink-wrap the repair, only to find it wouldn't work afterward.

I let forth some Class Threes and stamped off to see if I could replace the tuner. Turned out I could, but it would cost about $100 for the latest iteration. I nipped off to eBay and bid successfully on a secondhand unit of the type I already had for about $40, but was told it wouldn't arrive until the end of next week. Blast.

Then I had a brainwave and downloaded a tuning app to my phone. In a trice - about 15 minutes - I had the autoharp in tune (ish) and was able to coax some lovely music-like noises from it.

And so to bed.

This morning I pried the case of my old tuner apart and poked around and it started working again. Huzzah! For though the phone app is tres spiffy indeed (something called "Pano Tuner", find it in the Google Play store) it isn't able to be coupled to the pick-up and thus is not usable during noisy get-togethers. Not only that, for reasons I've never understood the acoustics of my old autoharp play hob with the discriminator circuits in mic-type tuners, causing the needle to bounce all over the place, especially in the lower registers. That's why I like the Boss TU-12; it couples inline between the instrument's pick-up and whatever amp one is using (if any).

My old harp desperately need refelting1 and other work doing, but right now I have nowhere to work on it. The footprint of a dismantled Autoharp during refelting is about the size of the average 10 seater dining table. So I think I might spring for a set of replacement chord bars from The Autoharp Store. Expensive, but worth it to get the old girl up and singing again. A new set of strings wouldn't go amiss either. That will probably cost about 2/3 the price of a new autoharp. New bars come in at 7 bux apiece and I'll need 21 of 'em, and a full set of 36 strings come in at a shade over 70 bux.

All for the love of music2.

  1. The autoharp works by using felt pads to mute some of the strings, leaving others to ring when strummed and sound chords. The felt gets ridged and goes soft over the course of the years and eventually needs to be pulled off the bars and replaced. This involves heating the bars to unglue the old felt, gluing new felt in place, and cutting notches where the strings you want to sound are. You did remember to make a diagram before you pulled the old felt off, right?
  2. Or as Mrs Stevie calls it "Stop that bleeping racket"

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