The Phonoharp No. 1, an American invention, patented in 1891, is a small two-octave diatonic fretless zither with three metal strumming channels, each of which shields and exposes selected strings to yield a chosen chord. It can also be plucked. I found this one at a local yard sale. Unfortunately the original numbered guide to the strings is missing. I don’t know what the original pick was, but I have chosen a trimmed felt pick to minimize clicking against the metal channels.
The Phonoharp Company was a major player in the development of American fretless zithers, and the Phonoharp No. 1 was only one of their products. The Phonoharp Company was heavily involved in recruiting and deploying door-to-door salesmen. I have a copy of their Spring 1905 Field Topics, a motivational magazine for their agents. These article titles represent the tone: “Vot Ve Vont Ish Orders” – “Hustle While You Wait” – “Every Man the Architect of His Own Fortune” – “Luck and Laziness”
For more info:
- from the late Garry Harrison’s peerless site, formerly at FretlessZithers.com, the various models of Phonoharp
- from Kelly Williams’ site, about the Phonoharp Company and the instruments it was connected with
- a lovely Phonoharp No. 2 held by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
- discussion of competing patents for the chord shield and other innovations by organologist Cary Karp