William T Newton

A New Autoharp Allowing Greater Versatility of Sounds by Allowing Individual Control of the Strings

United States Patent Number: 4,506583
March 26th 1985

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“A new autoharp allowing greater versatility of sounds by allowing individual control of the strings of an octave is disclosed. This invention is for use with string musical instruments such as the autoharp…

..Therefore it is an object of the present invention to provide a simple and inexpensive improvement of an autoharp which allows the unrestricted playing of notes and melodies.”






Example image - aligned to the right Newton provides quite a detailed analysis of previous designs, combined with the simplest of all proposals for a reverse action. The text above summarises the design intent aptly — Newton’s design is about providing an easy means to build a reverse action keyboard into an existing autoharp. Assuming a standard 12 bar autoharp — he does not change the damper bar arrangement at all.  Instead he begins by depicting a standard autoharp damping arrangement (shown right) and then his replacement (shown below). The replacement is Example image - aligned to the rightfitted with the now familiar feet (Back, Henner) which project through the string surface and damp from underneath, whilst retaining an over-sprung system. The keyboard depiction is added directly to the damper bars, and no further separation is proposed between keyboard and damping system.

This “simplest possible” approach offers a practical conversion path for autoharpists which is clearly integral to the design intent, but it is not an attractive proposal to a pianist because the keyboard is so far from the range of expected key dimensions and action. From this perspective it is small, placed poorly, and would provide very poor movement.

All three of these second tranche instruments place the keyboard perpendicular to the strings not allowing the instrument to be played whilst held. The Newton design seems to offer the best possibility for this position for an adaptive autoharpist, because the damper bar arrangement is in principle no different to an autoharp. However playing this instrument in the held position would require the left wrist to twist in order to access the keyboard. This is the position adopted by autoharpists, but autoharpists have only to access one damper bar at a time — a keyboard requires complex finger combinations and this playing position, and the reduced size keyboard is not very attractive to a pianist.