Ken Ellis Luthier


Whippoorwill Acoustics is proud to sponsor the 2018 International Autoharp Championship at the Walnut Valley Festival. Congratulations to Les Gustafson-Zook on winning the 2018 International Autoharp Championship, and thanks for choosing the Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharp for your prize. Congratulations also to Hal Weeks and Steve Luper for placing second and third. It was a great contest with a lot of really good performances. You can hear this autoharp and some of our others on our YouTube channel. Autoharps come in two varieties, depending on the scale to which the strings are tuned: chromatic and diatonic. Chromatic autoharp strings are tuned to the 12-note chromatic scale (think of all the black and white keys on the piano), often have 21 chord bars and typically can play in as many as seven keys. Diatonic autoharps only play in a limited number of related keys, usually three or less, and have strings tuned to the seven, eight, or nine notes found in the major scales of those keys (think only the white keys of the piano, or white keys plus one or two black keys). Limiting the number of notes allows many of the notes in each scale to be doubled, giving a diatonic autoharp a louder and fuller sound than a chromatic autoharp. Unlike some autoharps, Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharps sound great in all keys. If you see one here that you want, but is in the wrong key for you, we will convert it to the key that you want. We can even convert a chromatic autoharp to diatonic. In my acoustical experiments, I have discovered that it is possible to voice the autoharp in two different ways by carefully positioning the braces and sound hole. The first voicing gives a very bright voice to the autoharp and produces excellant note separation. The second voicing gives a better balance of bass to treble notes, and minimizes the dead string noise (the clack that you get when accidently plucking a string that is damped by the felt). My personal preference is for the balanced voicing, so that is what I usually build. However, I would be happy to build you an autoharp with either voicing. Each Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharp comes with tuning wrenches, a really nice gig bag, a string schedule, and instructions for taking care of your autoharp. Customizing the chords and chord bar layout to your specific desires is included in the purchase price. Browse our in-stock chromatic and diatonic autoharps below. A magnetic pickup can be added to any of these autoharps. If you don’t see exactly what you want there, see the section about ordering your own custom-built  autoharp.
We are currently sold out of completed autoharps. I’m working on building more along with the custom autoharps that have already been ordered. Meanwhile, here are some ideas for you if you’d like to order your next autoharp.

Chromatic Autoharps

Heartland The Heartland - a more affordable autoharp from Whippoorwill Acoustics! This all solid wood autoharp has a Cherry top and an Adirondack spruce back. It has a bright, sweet sound and a loud voice. Chord bars are Cherry with polished Osage Orange buttons and have the Whippoorwill Acoustics low profile and easy action. This one is currently set up as a chromatic with the string schedule optimized for the keys of G, D, and A, but it could easily be set up as a two-key diatonic. Don't let the light weight and low price of this autoharp fool you. It is built with the same quality and attention to detail as our premium autoharps. The Heartland Autoharp features a more durable polyurethane finish so you don't have to worry about taking it to the outdoor jam.

Walnut top, Adirondack Spruce back, Birdseye Maple trim 

This is a left-handed autoharp, suitable for southpaws or lap-style players who find that playing with crossed hands is too awkward. Bracing has been optimized to produce a good balance from bass through treble.                          

Diatonic Autoharps

18 bar Arts & Crafts Style White Oak Top, Adirondack Spruce back, and Ebony trim The Whippoorwill Acoustics Arts & Crafts style autoharp is made from white oak that grew on an estate in Scotland for 200 years. The cool climate there results in slow growth that translates into wonderful acoustical properties for the wood. Response is very even from bass through treble. With a bass similar to that of cherry and a midrange and treble that projects even better, this autoharp just really sings out. Read what one of our customers says about the sound of his Arts & Crafts autoharp. The chord bars are made from torrified white oak. Torrification heats the wood in a vacuum, driving off volatile organics in the wood and making them lighter and very stable with respect to changes in humidity. It also gives them the dark brown color. Chord bar holders are white Ebony, in keeping with the Arts & Crafts style.


Listen to an Arts & Crafts autoharp on our YouTube channel

Custom-Built Autoharps

We would be happy to build an autoharp just for you, chromatic or diatonic, with up to 21 chord bars / lock bars, right- or left-handed, and any keys you desire. See our Gallery for pictures of autoharps we have already sold. We use only the finest instrument woods and find the following wood combinations from our current inventory of wood species to be particularly attractive. (Click here to see pictures of the different woods.) •    Air-dried Cherry top with Macassar ebony trim •    Curly Cherry top with Macassar ebony trim •    Curly Maple top with black walnut trim •    Black Walnut top with birds-eye maple trim Each of these wood species has its own way of coloring the sound of the autoharp. A discussion of general trends may be found here. In addition to the species listed above, we currently have the following species in stock: Koa, Mahogany, Sapele, Sycamore, White Oak from a 200 year-old tree from Scotland, Wenge, Padouk, Goncalo Alves and Curly Redwood. Other exotic wood species may be available in limited quantities. If you have a preference for a wood species not listed here, give us a call at (260) 249-5561. With a custom build you also have the option of having either a magnetic pickup or a mono or stereo piezo-electric pickup installed. Each of these types of pickup has pros and cons. Read my Autoharp Quarterly article for more information. Like many acoustic instruments, autoharps have a softwood plate and a hardwood plate. Unlike guitars, autoharps have a front/back symmetry that permits the plates to be swapped. The backs of our autoharps are generally spruce, a softwood, while the tops are usually hardwood. We do this for two reasons.  1.    Musicians have found that Autoharps with a spruce back tend to have more even sound quality across the different octaves than those with a spruce top.  2.    Why would you want to hide the beautiful hardwood by putting it on the back of the autoharp? Spruce is beautiful in its own way, but it is much more subtle than that of the hardwoods. Call us today at (260) 249-5561 to order your beautiful and unique custom autoharp!  
© Whippoorwill Acoustics LLC, 2015-2018