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Making an angel harp

05 Mar 06 - 12:14 PM (#1685669)
Subject: Making an angel harp
From: dulcimer42

I recently saw an "angel harp." It's an old autoharp, with the buttons removed, painted up with decals and all, restrung to pentatonic scale....   Idea is, anyone can play it, nice and soothing...   Pretty rediculous, but the idea is catching on. My question is,   if I found an old autoharp to do this to.....   What kind of paint would I use?    The one I saw restored into an angel harp had the nice shiny look of a new autoharp.   Man, I bet it would be hard painting around those pins... Would I have to remove them?    Might be more of a chunk than I want to bite off....

05 Mar 06 - 03:02 PM (#1685790)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: McGrath of Harlow

If you covered the pegs carefully with masking tape or whatever I'd think you could manage it with a bit of patience. And maybe a spray can or something like that.

But I'd have thought autoharps are easier to play anyway, even for angels.

"restored into an angel harp But how can anything be "restored" into something it never used to be in the first place?

05 Mar 06 - 03:49 PM (#1685822)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Geoff the Duck

Painting over an old finish can be a difficult question. It depends on what the original finish was and what the new one is. Some paints, varnishes or lacquers will react badly with a previous coating. Others will just paint over with no problem.
If you can identify the finish, you may be able to get advice from people here who know more on the subject than I do. Otherwise, if you are talking an expensive instrument the two options are either "suck it and see" or strip the first finish and start afresh.
Geoff the Duck.

05 Mar 06 - 03:55 PM (#1685830)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Geoff the Duck

Sorry - for "expensive" read INEXPENSIVE instrument - i.e. one which it doesn't mater if it doesn't work well.

05 Mar 06 - 04:20 PM (#1685852)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Kaleea

Changing the paint is not what would make it pentatonic. One would have to recut the chord bars & alter the tuning.

05 Mar 06 - 04:31 PM (#1685870)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Amos

Best way to make an angel harp is to insult her Deity, wherever found.


05 Mar 06 - 06:45 PM (#1685979)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Geoff the Duck

Kaleea - I assume that D42 fully understands the retuning needed for the conversion, which seems to consist of removing the chord bars and, I assume, treating it more like a lyre or zither (or whatever?).
The query is what is done about the respray job.

Painting around the pins - there will be two different sets of pins. One is the place the fixed end of the strings are attached. These may be fixed in a way which makes removal difficult or they might simply be held firm by the pressure of the wire which they support. The other end is the tuning pin, which is likely to be threaded and screws directly into the wood. These can be removed.
If a fixed pin will not shift, the best solution would be wrap an adhesive tape (sellotape in UK, durex in OZ, I believe - no clue in US or Canada) around each pin to protect it from paint. Mind you, supporting pins could be painted as long as the paint did not actually interfere with the job the pin does (it probably will not cause a problem unless the paint is applied too thickly where the wires make contact. The threaded tuning pins are a slightly different matter. You don't want the thread clogged with paint. You could screw them in and paint above the thread, but paint would likely be removed eventually by the tuning key. Removing the tuning pins is probably a better option.

05 Mar 06 - 08:25 PM (#1686048)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: The Fooles Troupe

I have an autoharp which is in need of restringing. They are the loop type. The loop goes around a metal pin, many of these have compressed the wood in which they sit, in the direction of the tension. Many are thus angled in such a way that the new string may not sit, even though the old one is hanging on.

Suggestions? Small screws?

05 Mar 06 - 08:38 PM (#1686060)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: The Fooles Troupe

On second thoughts, I suppose if you kept doing minor naughty things, you could make your angel harp!

Da Debil made me do it!

05 Mar 06 - 10:57 PM (#1686150)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: dulcimer42

Kaleea. No, I didn't think repainting it would make it Pentatonic!! Like my grandkids would say: "Duh!!"       The idea is to get a (usually black) autoharp, paint it somthing more colorful, add decals or painted decoration, restring it Tuning It To The Notes of a Pentatonic Scale.    Just didn't know if a certain kind of paint would work best....    You can see angel harps here :

06 Mar 06 - 01:06 AM (#1686193)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: JohnInKansas

I'm a bit puzzled by the description of the pins. The set of autoharp pins I picked up (on sale) with the thought of maybe someday doing "something" with them are just straight pins. The only difference between the fixed anchor pins and the turnable tuning pins is the square "head" and cross-hole in the tuning pins and a simpler hole (or hole and end groove?) in the others.

As I have not really "studied up" on Autoharps, there may be other kinds of pins, but the ones I've seen should just lift out of the holes once the strings are loosened or removed. A very close fit between pins and the holes they go into is needed for proper tuning action and retention, so it may take a bit more than "finger plucking" to get the pins out, but they should just lift out of the holes with a little "persuasion."

If you do have the simple straight pins, it should be fairly easy to remove the pins once the strings are slacked off or removed. Since you'll probably need to remove the strings to do any sort of finishing properly, you'll know by the time the strings are out of the way whether removing the pins will be a problem. Any finishing will be much easier with the pins out.

Although the pins should be interchangeable, from one hole to another, I'd be inclined to drill a row (or 2 or 4 rows) of loose holes in a scrap block of wood to put them in as they're removed, so that they're kept in order and can be put back each in it's original hole; but that's just 'cause I'm a bit "detail oriented" on such projects.

IF the original finish is black, it's probably a lacquer, or on an originally cheap instrument, "just paint." Stripping and removal may be messy, but isn't complicated with "removers" from the nearest hardware. If you want a "wood" finish, you will need to strip any paint before applying a new finish. You might consider just painting over with one of the "gold paints" (or "silver") that should be easy to find at a local "craft shop." Unless the original finish is cracked/peeling or otherwise needs removal, these paints should give adequate coverage and durability as an overpaint.

If the pin/hole fit is as close as it should be, you'll want to be very careful about getting any paint (or other finish) actually in the holes since this may make it difficult to fit the pins back in place when the finishing is done. Consider small corks or "stoppers" in the holes (maybe made of small pieces of wooden dowel, tapered a bit on the ends so they "sit" in the holes like a stopper).

Now, as soon as someone who actually knows about autoharps comes along, they can explain to us both all that's wrong with the above; and I'll get a chance to learn something.


06 Mar 06 - 01:24 AM (#1686199)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: JohnInKansas

Foolestroupe -

The usual repair for such out-of-round holes is to plug the hole and drill a new hole. Since the existing hole isn't round, it's nearly impossible to make a plug fit, so you get a nice hard (maple?) dowel a bit bigger than the maximum of the existing hole, very carefully drill a straight hole to match the plug dowel, and insert the dowel with a good glue. When the glue is thoroughly dry (or completely set if you use a two-part glue) you trim the plug down flush and drill a new pin-sized hole.

It's nearly impossible to "hand drill" a hole as accurate as you want, so a drill press is recommended for both the plug-bore drilling and the new pin hole(s) drilling.

You may want to touch up finish around the plug/pinhole.

Some "fancy" instruments, maybe even autoharps, come with threaded bushings held in with nuts, to hold the friction pins, and this may be what was meant by the "threaded pins" mentioned above; but I haven't seen anything of this sort specifically for autoharp pins. If available, they might be easier to install, but searching for something when you're not sure it exists can be frustrating, and often fruitless. You never find what you're looking for until just after you've finished the job the hard way.


06 Mar 06 - 05:20 AM (#1686272)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Bonnie Shaljean

If you don't have any instrument yet, remember you can always get a lap harp (the name that seems to have stuck to very small ordinary folk harps) or a Medieval harp and tune it pentatonically. Or if you can't locate a suitable autoharp you can get a psaltery, which is pretty much what an autoharp without buttons is anyway :-) They have a pedigree going back centuries.

Neat idea - let us know what you find.

06 Mar 06 - 05:55 AM (#1686281)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: katlaughing

That's true, Bonnie. I have an old psaltry; think I'll tune it this way and see how it goes. I love the bell-like tones I get from it already.

This also gives me an idea of what to do with an old autoharp which doesn't have any buttons or bars. It needs new strings, so this may just be the thing for me to do with it.

Thanks, D42!


06 Mar 06 - 06:18 AM (#1686288)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: GUEST,Jack Campin

And here was me thinking that those old florally-decorated autoharps were already as tacky as a musical instrument could get. Sure you can't fit in cute little puppies, American flag decals and cutouts from a 1950s magazine showing Mom serving apple pie?

I can't quite see the point of pentatonic tuning since you'd still need chord bars to avoid dissonances.
Do people really mean an open chord tuning?

06 Mar 06 - 09:19 AM (#1686364)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: dulcimer42

Well, Jack, I'm not sure.   I had asked some music friends of mine about the angel harps on the website above, and they said I'd need to tune it to a pentatonic scale.........   The angel harps have no chord bars.

06 Mar 06 - 10:37 AM (#1686410)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: JohnB

I have an old autoharp, with no chord bars on which I bought at a garage sale for 2$ (Canadian dollars even). This would be a good use for it, I don't see me ever getting around to making a set of chord bars.
So what about stringing and tuning? The pictures on the web site mentioned show groups of thick strings going down to groups of thinner strings. So how would you tune the strings, to the same notes in groupings, different notes sounds really messy. Or seeing as it is an Angel Harp, would you just wing it?
If you don't want to take the pegs out to paint, plastic drinking straws of a suitable diameter may work and be easier than that North American "Scotch" tape stuff.

06 Mar 06 - 12:00 PM (#1686462)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: dulcimer42

Good one, JohnB. I think we'll just have to wing it. She doesn't give specifics on her website; probably because she wants you to purchase hers. I guess she does seminars where one lies on a trampoline of sorts, which "really allows the vibrations" to go through your body.   A little too "new age" for me.

06 Mar 06 - 12:13 PM (#1686474)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Bert

An autoharp without the chord bars is a zither. *GRIN*

If it's an OLD autoharp that you're working with then I'd just paint the bloody pins as well. *EVEN BIGGER GRIN*

06 Mar 06 - 07:23 PM (#1686825)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: The Fooles Troupe

My last post got chewed up, so I'll retry.

The 'driil out and plug' method is mostly beyond the techniocal capabilities of my workshop. Maple is rare here too. Dowels are available easily only in 'unknown' softish wood here.

I could use a hand drill well enough to drill out the correct size hole for a self tapper easily enough.

06 Mar 06 - 07:37 PM (#1686832)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker

i inherited my great grand dads old 'piano harp'
when i was about 6 or 7
and used to knock hell out of it banging the strings with a small metal hammer

i dug it back out againg recently
and didn't think twice about retuning all the chord groups to minors

and the melody strings for playing in D min scale..

06 Mar 06 - 09:03 PM (#1686882)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: NH Dave

First, LARK In the Moring has a Guitar Zither for $ 175.00, which is about as inexpensive as you will find in a used Autoharp. This was a bit surprising to me, as I have found them to be on the pricy side, in the past.

The biggest cost in these type instruments is the strings. Once you get beyond them, everything is gravy. If you have a source of large spools of string material in different diameter and wrapping, you can make your own strings far cheaper than you can buy commercial ones, but you have to find a source of this material first. You may find this wire at a musical instrument or luthier's shop.

If you can get an older autoharp for less, and I haven't seen any on a local resale company with a web page, The Wantad , you will either want to decorate over the current finish, or take it all the way down to the bare wood, and start from the beginning again.

Since the tuning pins/pegs rely on friction to hold the string in tension, I doubt that you'll be able to simply grasp them and pull them out of their solid wooden bar of the instrument. You will probably need to try to screw them back out of the wood after you have removed their strings. I'd try to get a "T" handled Tuning Hammer - what the "In Crowd" call the small wrench used to twist the tuning pegs. Most come through with an "L" shaped tuning wrench, so you'll have to try an autoharp, zither, or hammered dulcimer makers or sales shop to find a "T' handled wrench. But once you try one you'll find it much easier to get that tiny smidgeon of a turn you need to get a string into proper tune, with a "T' handled wrench, rather than the "L" shape wrenches.

I suspect you could coat the tuning pegs with Vaseline® or petroleum jelly, spray on whatever "paint" you want to use, and then wipe the paint off the greased pegs. Of course if you have some soft cloth and jewelers rouge or a similar very fine abrasive, you could probably just spray the paint on, let it cure, and simply wipe the paint off the chromed tuning pegs with your cloth and fine abrasive, as paint doesn't stick too well to chrome, especially unprepared chrome. You could simulate my first tip by rubbing each peg between your thumb and finger, relying on the slight coating of oils on your fingers to coat the pegs. Rubbing each peg with soft cloth after the coating has cured should remove most of the paint, and you can use the rouge, chrome polish, or rubbing compound abrasive to get the rest.

I'd take a tip from Irish Harp players, and color the upper end of the strings, that start an octave, with a small bit of colored paint, indicating the start of each octave, and its third and fifth, the "do", "me", and "sol" of your harp's tuning, to keep things straight in your mind, when you start picking it. You may be better at recognizing these strings/notes than I, but I know most plucked harps have these strings made of colored material, to keep the harpist straight.

Much of this won't make much sense at first, but once you start working on the instrument, it should all fall into place, and you'll wonder why the hints made so little sense before.


06 Mar 06 - 09:52 PM (#1686910)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: JohnInKansas


You could simulate my first tip by rubbing each peg between your thumb and finger, relying on the slight coating of oils on your fingers to coat the pegs.

In the precision instrument trades (as in aircraft gyros, altimeters etc) this is known as the "nose oil" method. The oil on your fingers doesn't last for too many "wipes," but can be quickly replenished by wiping your finger tip along the side (outside) of your nose, or along the back of your ear. A frequently used (surreptitiously by technicians) trick for getting closely fitted parts together.


07 Mar 06 - 07:15 AM (#1687123)
Subject: RE: Making an angel harp
From: Bonnie Shaljean

Actually all modern harps use coloured strings, both Celtic and concert harps alike. The whole string is coloured, not just the top (which you need in order to be able to see it) and it's standardised as red for the C's and black or dark blue for the F's. Tip: If you're going to colour them yourself rather than forking out for a pre-dyed string, DON'T use paint! Use a broad felt-tip marking pen (permanent not washable), a time-honoured cheapskate-harper's trick. But if you're tuning pentatonically and want to colour any of the strings, I'd say to just do the tonic ones.

And, Jack, pentatonic tonality has been used throughout the history of the instrument - just take a look at our oldest existing Irish harp repertoire.