By Frank Edgley, July 2001
A couple of weeks ago, in June, an event occurred which was significant in the concertina world. The first meeting of the Concertina Guild took place in Windsor, Ontario, at my concertina workshop, and home. Attending were the three members of the guild, Harold Herrington, John O'Shaughnessy, and myself, Frank Edgley. What do the three of us have in common, besides the fact that we are all concertina makers? John and I have learned our craft from Harold Harrington, who generously shared his knowledge and insights of concertina construction. Both of us have spent time at Harold's workshop, in Dallas, studying his design and construction techniques.
Harold's background has been in industry, and parts resources, and as a university math major, has acquired many skills making him perfect for the task. He has spent many years on concertina design, making models of lever mechanisms, and other aspects of concertina construction, before putting his instruments up on the market. Solid construction, and playability are the hallmarks of Herrington concertinas. Harold is the one we call when we want advice.
As well as being a player, himself, John O'Shaughnessy brings his skills as a machinist to our Concertina Guild. He has built many of the jigs and fixtures for our group, where a machinist's skills with metalwork, and precision are required, and has contributed ideas on manufacture and design. I recently played one of John's concertinas, and gave it a good workout. It played very well and had a great sound!
I bring my insights as a long time repairman and performer to the table. I began repairing concertinas in the 1980's, at a time when it was very difficult to find anyone to repair your concertina. I've seen it all, and know when a concertina is playing well, and what to expect in terms of tone and response. I have been instructor at the Goderich and Milwaukee concertina classes, and have competed in several All-Ireland competitions, and my instruments must all pass muster in terms of playability and response.
The three of us, together, sharing ideas, innovations, and resources, present an attractive option in the concertina market. We all make solid, and substantial concertinas, which should outlive us all, and provide the player with a sweet-toned, responsive instrument. While each maker has subtle differences in the construction of their instruments, we all have Harold Herrington to thank for his many years of work and research in coming up with his excellent design.
A HISTORY OF THE "CONCERTINA GUILD"
By Harold Herrington
I first became interested in concertinas in the late 1980's. When Ibegan to look around for a concertina suitable for a pub performer I was amazed at the high cost of a good Anglo. The idea came to me that it might be possible to design and build a really good and playable concertina using accordion reeds, provided one had a design that was acoustically correct. I had tried some of the available accordion reed instruments, and found them totally unacceptable. I was convinced that the fault was not with the accordion reeds per se, but rather the fault was with the design. I looked around but was unable to find any information published on concertina design. As far as I can tell such data is non-existent. The best information on free reeds is to be found in books relating to the design and construction of reed organs. There are also one or two books relating to the development of accordions. Even in these excellent books, precious little is said about the physical properties of accordion reed acoustics. I figured out that the only way to proceed was on my own. At that point I embarked on a program of research and experimentation on free reed acoustics. Over the next few years I designed and built a number of trial instruments. By painstaking trial and error, and by keeping detailed notes, I began to eliminate that which did not work. I was drawn inexorably to a design using a reed pan, as opposed to the reed blocks.
I also determined that the concertina must be built with individually mounted buttons and levers. By the fall of 1992 I had designed and built a thirty button "concertina like" instrument tuned in the keys of A, D, and G. It was large and square and unconventional, but it was fast and loud. It was set up like a three row button accordion, but divided between the two sides.
I decided to take my "instrument" to the "Bucksteep" concertina gathering, to let a few real
concertina people have a look at it. That was a real comedown.
Most of the concertina purist in attendance treated me like a "Leper". Many would not even pick it up, possibly out of fear that they might be contaminated. In the crowd there was a man from Canada with the courage to pick it up and play it, and play it he did. That man was Frank Edgley of Windsor, Ontario. He astounded everyone in ear shot and drew a small crowd. Later he tactfully asked me if I would like some suggestions. I told him I would truly appreciate any suggestions he might have. I explained that I had developed this instrument in isolation, since at that time there weren't a handful of concertina players in the whole state of Texas.
He suggested the following:
- Go to a standard concertina tuning, either Wheatstone or Jeffries.
- The buttons should be closer together, and arranged as you would find in an English made Anglo.
- The stroke (or travel) of the button should be kept to about 3/32".
- It should be designed to look more like a concertina.
Frank was very encouraging to me, and so were a few others after hearing Frank play this new experimental instrument. I went home and began to work on a new design, specifically a design
that would not set to flight all of the serious concertina people. By the Summer of 1997 I had a prototype. It was not the final version, a few other changes would be made, but it was hexagonal and was tuned like a concertina. I took the latest version to the Willie Clancy Week in
Miltown-Malbay, County Clare, Ireland. I did this without knowing anyone
there or having any firm plans about how I would promote the concertina. But again the angel of fortune was smiling on me and I ran into Frank Edgley coming out of "The Larks Nest Pub". Frank took me under his wing and lead me all over town, playing my concertina for anyone that would sit and listen. Many did. We met and auditioned for a number of concertina notables. Among them were three of the best known concertina players in Ireland. I came home from that trip with five orders.
In August of 1997 I was offered early retirement and took it. I have been building concertinas full time ever since. I had three primary objectives in building concertinas. I wanted them to be tough and reliable. I wanted the quality of construction to be first class. I wanted to keep the price within reach of any serious player. As word of these instruments spread orders started coming in at a fast pace. Soon I had a waiting list of over a year and the list still growing. I began to look around for some help.
I met John O'Shaughnessy of Middlesex, New York over the Internet. He expressed an interest in learning to build concertinas. On an impulse I offered to teach him my construction method, and he accepted. John came to my shop in Texas and spent some time under my instruction. He was a good student, and his background as a machinist was helpful in constructing the fixtures and tools necessary to build a good concertina. John is now producing a small quantity of really excellent concertinas.
A year or so later I was talking to my friend Frank Edgley, who had just retired from a long career as a teacher. In our conversation I said, now that you are retired you should let me teach you to build concertinas. He said he would like to do just that, and came to Mesquite, Texas to spend some time in my shop. It was the least I could do for a man who had been such a help and encouragement to me. In addition to being a master piper and concertina player, Frank had for many years been doing repairs and tuning on vintage English made concertinas. Learning to build concertinas was for him a natural step. Frank became the third in our association and, like John O'Shaughnessy, is now producing high quality instruments.
Each of us operate independently, but we share developments and common
material sources. We also share the original primary objectives.