Highly regarded and sought after by the bluegrass community for his autoharps, Dr. Orthey has crafted Appalachian dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, bowed psalteries, plucked psalteries, an assortment of banjos, guitars, mouth bows, and over 1000 autoharps since he became a luthier in 1964. He is a retired Army veterinarian and lives in Newport, Pennsylvania.
The Carter Family, Mike Seeger, and Doc Watson all have played and treasured George Orthey's handcrafted autoharps.
“Joe Carter, A.P. and Sara Carter’s son, asked me if I could make a mulberry 'harp and I said sure, if I had the wood. He was something to behold arriving in his pickup truck with a 3,000 pound mulberry log cut from a tree just a few miles from The Carter Fold. Mulberry is very hard, and not like any wood I had used, but it made my best sounding instrument I have ever made.”
Orthey also makes commemorative instruments honoring notable players. Someone asked him when he was going to do his own commemorative autoharp. “But, then a friend said, ‘You can't do a commemorative; you're not dead, yet!’ So, I call this autoharp George's Choice. The wood comes from a walnut tree I cut near my shop and some perfect quarter-sawn west coast redwood. A friend stopped in and I said, ‘Hey, try this and tell me what you think.’ I insisted it was only a prototype, but he said ‘I am taking it with me, now!’ This was the birth of George's Choice.”
“The sound comes from the wood.”
While visiting Patsy Stoneman in Tennessee, George noticed a large wild cherry tree in her back yard.
“If your cherry tree ever falls down, I would like to see how it would do for 'harps. We all laughed. That tree was over 100 years old and weathered many storms.”
About a week later, Patsy called. “I don't know how you did it, but that cherry tree blew down last night. Your log’s here waiting."
George’s harp called Patsy’s Favorite is made only from Patsy’s cherry tree. “When that wood is gone, there will be no more.”