Welcome to Whippoorwill Acoustics. We build and sell the finest autoharps and kalimbas, and provide resources for autoharp players. For me, building musical instruments combines elements of my education (physics), vocation (systems engineering, modeling and simulation), avocation (wood-working), and recreation (playing music). It is the implementation of sound principles of acoustics and structural mechanics using premium woods, careful joinery, quality craftsmanship, esthetic design, and the finest wood finishes. My goal is to build instruments that are beautiful to see, desirable to hold, wonderful to hear and enjoyable to play. What could be more fun?
“Every piece of wood is a work of art” Ken Ellis
Ken Ellis Luthier

Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharps feature:

 High dynamic range. Dynamic range is the ratio of loudest to softest sound. A larger dynamic range lets you play more expressively.  Good note separation. Note separation gives listeners the ability to distinguish notes that are played simultaneously, an advantage for making fast runs sound cleaner and making the melody sound distinctly over background chords.  Low-profile chord bar holders for a shorter reach around the autoharp.  French polish finish. French polish is the traditional finish used on premium classical guitars. The French polish is best for bringing out the beauty of the wood, giving the grain a 3-D appearance. It is also a very thin finish, allowing an instrument to vibrate freely so that it produces the best sound.  Ebony chord bar buttons large enough for my fat fingers. The polished ebony provides a tactile experience while playing, which complements the feel of the French-polish finish.  Integrated headrest to prevent the back from being scratched, without relying on those rubber feet that always fall off and get lost.  Quarter-sawn wood. The exclusive use of quarter-sawn wood for all elements that affect the sound produces the best sound due to its uniform response to vibrations. Quarter-sawn wood is also the most stable wood, making the resulting instruments easier to keep in tune while minimizing the possibility of developing cracks with humidity changes.  Scalloped bracing for the most beautiful sound and the shortest "playing in" time.  Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharps also have all the features that musicians expect from a luthier-built instrument:     • All solid-wood construction     • Fine tuners for easy tuning     • Low, fast action     • Custom wood choices

About Our Name

Our   name,   Whippoorwill   Acoustics ,   was   inspired   by   The   Whippoorwill   Song   and   is   a   tribute   to   the   Grande   Dame of   the   autoharp,   Patsy   Stoneman,   who   passed   away   in the   summer   of   2015.   It   was   one   of   Patsy's   signature   songs, which   we   enjoyed   hearing   each   time   we   had   the   privilege   of   seeing   her   perform   at   the   Mountain   Laurel   Autoharp Gathering.

About Our Luthier

In the shop
Joining an autoharp back with a shooter board. A tight joint is key to keeping the seam from opening up.
You can never have too many clamps.
Ready for light sanding, wearing the protective gear recommended by lawyers from the sandpaper manufacturer.
In the acoustics lab
There   is   plenty   of   information   out   there   about   how   to   build   a   good musical    instrument.    However,    nobody    really    understands    why some   instruments   have   exceptionally   good   sound   while   seemingly identical   instruments   are   only   average.   Or   maybe   they   do   and   are not    telling.    Our    instruments    are    based    on    the    work    and    the knowledge   of   my   predecessors   and   colleagues,   who   have   been more   than   generous   with   their   advice,   supplemented   by   results from on-going experiments in our acoustics lab.
The   acoustical   properties   of   every   piece   of   wood   are   different, even   for   two   pieces   of   the   same   size   from   the   same   tree.   The   top, back,    and    completed    body    of    each    Whippoorwill    Acoustics autoharp   are   tested   in   the   acoustics   lab   so   that   each   can   be tailored   to   get   consistently   good   sound,   dynamic   range,   and   note separation.
Measuring the acoustical properties of an autoharp
After 34 years of being a research engineer and scientist for aerospace companies, Ken left a good job in the city, workin’  for the Man every night and day. As it turns out, those years combined with his music and woodworking hobbies were good preparation for building acoustic musical instruments, bringing a systems engineering and analysis approach to the problem of understanding the physics of acoustics. That and his irritating ability to continually ask “why does it do that” and “how does this work?”, questions that led to his regular column on the subject in the Autoharp Quarterly and to conclusions that affect the sound of our instruments.
Sprinkling salt on a vibrating top to visualize the vibration modes.
© Whippoorwill Acoustics LLC, 2015-2016