Overall the range of mechanisms display an interesting spread of variation and commonality, but the language deployed in all of the patents evidences similar musical concerns, proving beyond doubt that “a pianist frustrated with the autoharp” is not an isolated local condition, but one that has recurred on a regular basis since the inception of the autoharp.

The difficulties all inventors face in realising this seemingly straightforward idea have led to a variety of solutions, each of which exhibit strengths in different areas. It also points to the fact that the meme-idea itself occurs with rather more frequency than the number of patents might suggest. Nevertheless this now-illuminated richness of design history cannot obscure the fact that the instrument has little or no presence within the musical community, and extant examples are extremely difficult to find. With regard to the 19th century inventions, the Gondolin (Millington/Young) instrument described previously is the only example from the 19th century inventors I have encountered, whilst, on the other hand, 19th century autoharps remain relatively common and are easy to find.

20th century examples of reverse action instruments are similarly rare. There are definitely other active players and inventors though — in March 2015 (as a result of the same post [from Bob Ebdon of UKautoharps] that put me in contact with Katherine Rhoda) I was contacted by Steve Brown who plays a Newton style reverse action harp. Steve has quite a few internet recordings which are fascinating. He does indeed play the Newton harp in the “held” position; the twisted wrist does not seem to present a problem to him and he has clearly adapted to the small size of the keys.

The attraction of the reverse action idea adapted to the autoharp is also not limited to traditional keyboard players. In September of 2014 I received an approach from an accordion player, Ben Devoy, stating his intention to build a Wicki-Hayden reverse action autoharp using electromagnets as a damping mechanism. The introduction of electromagnets is not attractive to me — I do not want an instrument that has to be plugged in, but it probably resolves the technical challenges of connectivity and is a perfectly viable design approach. The traditional keyboard layout is of course the most obvious adaptation for a pianist, but it is not the only possible interface by any means; accordions display quite a bewildering array of potentially adaptable alternative keyboard layouts of which the Wicki-Hayden layout is one example.

But this is a tiny number of dedicated people, and it does not represent acceptance in the wider musical community. There are broadly, two groups of potential early adopters; pianists (and other keyboard players) and autoharpists. I would expect that the innovation would only have a limited appeal to "purist" autoharpists with no keyboard experience. Such musicians have a significant investment in the autoharp interface - they are effectively locked in to it, just as I (as a pianist) am locked in to the traditional keyboard. The potential new and much larger market is to be found in attracting pianists to this alternative "hybrid" interface. This was it's attraction to me; and I discovered that adaptive pianistic skills do indeed render the interface immediately comprehensible and playable. A good pianist is capable of playing to a significant accompanying standard with little practice time investment. I suspect that all the innovators in this history felt, and discovered similarly.

However it must be said that thus far (120 years) the innovation has failed to find a secure footing in the musical community. Answers as to why this is so fall into two categories, the nature of the musical community (discussed above) and design issues. Since the focus is design within this particular article, let us simply summarise the design issues that might cause obstacles to producing a useable interface;

          1. It is possible that previous prototypes have not worked very well; our analysis has considered the strengths and weakness of each; but one particular issue to re-consider in conclusion is that they exhibited poor harmonic damping - this is a particular problem for reverse action instruments as opposed to autoharps and it is worthy of further analysis
          2. The difficulty with previous instruments lies with the perpendicular keyboard integration, and unattractive keyboards from a pianistic perspective.