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(photos below courtesy of Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register)

     Though many features make Ray's autoharps unique, the most obvious are their shape and outstanding sound quality.  Since 1990, Ray has studied the physics of developing the perfect balance of intonation and projection to produce a sound that has a larger volume while at the same time is warm and non-metallic, a difficult challenge while working with metal strings and a small wooden box.  Not only is the sound uniquely full and warm, but the expert craftsmanship that Ray infuses into each of his Song Bird Autoharps is so obvious in the finished product. 

     Each autoharp is the result of approximately one hundred hours of labor.  It starts with the wood selection.  According to the desire of his customer, Ray selects cherry for a sweet sound, maple for a clean sound, and walnut for warmth.  Also used are Hawaiian koa, ash, and occasionally Alaskan Sitka spruce.  

     The internal frame design is especially different from traditional autoharps.  Although Ray respects tradition, his extensive knowledge of all stringed instruments, especially the violin, has given him insight into the creation of both volume and warmth in his internal frame design.  

     The chord bar Ray applies is one that is exceptionally responsive with a light hammer action. He often applies two chord position nails to assist the player in locating popular chords. 

     Each autoharp has Ray's own fine tuning system that he personally developed.  This fine tuner not only has each string note named, but the tuning itself is very precisely and easily accomplished.  In addition the strings are also more quickly and easily replaced with this improved system. 

     Finally, it is the overall design of Ray's Song BirdAutoharp that makes it instantly recognizable, setting it apart from other autoharps.  There are more curves and fewer straight lines in the frame.  The design of the sound hole may be hand carved to reflect his signature Song Bird design, a small song bird hand-carved within an intricately carved heart.  In addition, many of Ray's autoharps have a wooden fish carved and embracing the top of the harp.  Quite often Ray intricately inlays mother-of-pearl not only within the song bird heart sound hole, but around the perimeter of the outer frame. 

     All of these features together exemplify Ray's love of the autoharp and his sense of perfectionism that is carved into each instrument he builds.  To own a Ray Choi Song Bird autoharp is to truly possess a master-crafted, beautiful instrument that will give immense pleasure to all that see and hear it.  


     When asked why he would put so much effort into crafting each autoharp, Ray explains that he has built so many autoharps for people whose lives have been amazingly and positively altered by playing his autoharps.  The sound quality and ease of playing make playing his harp so addicting. Many people who've have had physical disabilities or other difficult personal situations in their lives have purchased Ray's harps and taken lessons from him, only to find this newfound joy is the perfect diversion from their troubles.  And so it is that with much time and care each autoharp is handcrafted by this master of autoharps.

     Ray not only is a master luthier, but also teaches while operating with his wife, Jane, their retail music store, selling all stringed instruments and wind instruments.  Though singing and yodeling are his talents that have given him many accolades, Ray also plays the flute, clarinet, guitar, and mandolin, as well as the autoharp. In addition Ray has composed music, most notably a song he wrote and sung so well in a contest that he was asked to sign a music contract.  Ray, an acclaimed autoharp champion, performs at several churches and also performs for funerals, weddings and private celebrations.  He has developed several autoharp clubs, most notably the Grace Autoharp Club and the Southern California Autoharp Group.


     When asked about future plans, Ray shares that his major activity and destination will be encompassing the autoharp: crafting, teaching, and performing.  Indeed, Ray continues to create new techniques that have never been attempted in the performance of the autoharp, such as his Song Bird Tremelo, an incredibly fast finger action technique  that sounds much like that of a mandolin.  It has taken him thousands of hours to perfect this technique that was at one time thought to be impossible.  It is this perseverance, attention to detail, and the love and sharing of an instrument by a skilled perfectionist that make the world a happier place for all who come into contact with Ray Choi and his autoharp music.

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