Ken Ellis Luthier


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. In my acoustical experiments, we 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). The voicings of the autoharps are listed in the descriptions below. Each Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharp comes with tuning wrenches, a really nice gig bag, a string schedule, and instructions for taking care of your autoharp. Any autoharp purchased directly from us can be customized with your desired chord set and chord bar layout at no extra charge. If you purchase an autoharp at a retail store and wish to have the chord bars customized, call us at (260) 249-5561 and we will be happy to make arrangements to do so. Browse our in-stock chromatic and diatonic autoharps below. If you don’t see exactly what you want there, you can skip to the section about ordering your own custom-built autoharp.

Chromatic Autoharps

We currently have two 21-bar chromatic autoharps in stock.

Black Walnut top, Adirondack Spruce back, Birdseye Maple trim

Voiced for brightness, this autoharp has a brighter bass and mid range than most walnut autoharps, more like cherry than walnut. Like most walnut autoharps, it also has a softer treble than cherry. It also has a nice full sound and a loud voice across all octaves. You won’t have any trouble hearing yourself in a jam with this baby. As with all Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharps, you can order any chords in any layout you would like for no extra charge.

Curly Maple top, Adirondack Spruce back, Black Walnut trim 

This is the most incredible sounding Maple autoharp that I have ever heard. It has more bass than my Brinker walnut autoharp (yes, more bass than a walnut autoharp that has been played-in for a dozen years!) and a wonderfully harmonically complex sound across all octaves. Mid-range and treble are nice and bright, as you would expect from a maple autoharp. As it gets played in, it will acquire a nice chimey treble. Buy this before I change my mind and keep it for myself! With 15 chord bars, this is a wonderful single-key autoharp. Currently in the key of D, I’m sure it will sound great in most any key. Like all Whippoorwill Acoustics autoharps, this one has a loud voice that projects well.  You won't have any trouble hearing yourself in a jam.
© Whippoorwill Acoustics LLC, 2015-2018

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, Kauri, Mahogany, Sapele, Sycamore, White Oak from a 200 year-old tree from Scotland, Wenge, Padouk and Curly Redwood. Here are some pictures of an Arts & Crafts style autoharp from the 200 year-old oak that I recently completed for a customer.   You can hear it played on our YouTube channel: Other, more 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. 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!

Diatonic Autoharps

We currently have one diatonic autoharp in stock.

Listen to this autoharp on our YouTube channel

Curly Redwood top, Wenge back and trim 

This autoharp features a beautiful Curly Redwood top, and Wenge back and trim. Wenge is also known as African Rosewood. Although it is not a true rosewood, several notable luthiers (including Ervin Somogyi and Dana Bourgeois) say that wenge does sound like rosewood. The bracing on this instrument has been optimized for bass- treble balance, and it does indeed have a very even volume across the string bed. Click on the thumbnails below for a better look at this beauty.

Kauri top, Torrified Sitka Spruce back,  Red Heart chord bars and trim 

The Kauri used for the top comes from a tree trunk found in prehistoric peat bogs in New Zealand. It is at least 50,000 years old according to radio-carbon dating. It's old growth wood, but also the ultimate in responsible wood harvesting! Quartersawn kauri has a beautiful yellow sparkle with reddish rays. It almost looks like there isgold dust embedded in the wood. Kauri is no longer being imported into the US, so I don't know how many more of these I will be able to make. This might be the only Kauri left-handed autoharp ever. The back is torrified Sitka Spruce. Torrification is a process that bakes the wood in a vacuum, driving off volatile organic compounds that would normally take decades to evaporate and crystallizing the remaining resins in the wood. This makes the wood lighter, stiffer, and resistant to absorbing moisture. It is intended to speed up the aging process, so that the wood sounds as if it has aged for years. So it makes a good match to the naturally aged Kauri top. The bracing has been optimized to produce a good balance from bass through treble. Initial impressions are that Kauri has a very clear sound, bright and sweet like cherry but with more bass. I’ll report back on this later as the sound develops with the strings settling in and with play.