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What Defines A 'quality' Concertina?

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I have a cheap learners' concertina and it will do for at least a year, at a guess, while I learn to play. I was wondering what the qualities are which define a 'good' concertina.

 

Things I have noticed on the beginner instrument:

 

  • The reeds are difficult to play quietly.
  • The reeds don't respond well to small movements of the bellows
  • The buttons are not 'even' in their movement depth
  • Some of the buttons were 'sticking' and needed to be worked loose by repetitive pushing/releasing (prising back out with thumbnail on occasion) for about 15 minutes.
  • The Buttons are plastic.
  • Concertina seems bulky compared to the expensive Carroll anglo-30 as played by Edel Fox (Although her layout does not match my Wheatstone layout exactly)

 

I suspect it may be a 'hybrid' instrument using Accordion reeds to keep the price down, but that's guesswork.

 

Would anyone care to list the positive attributes of a 'decent quality' and even a 'top quality' instrument?

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You will probably be loaded with answers in due time since this is a popular kind of topic here and "everyone"

will have opinions on it so I take the chance to twist the question a little bit before it all gets started...

You already know, as you say, what defines a "cheap learners´ concertina" - or "a beginner instrument"...

or do you actually?

THAT is a question which is precisely as ambiguous - if you want it to be - as yours...or just as simple...

Not even the meaning of "cheap" is clear. It may simply be "low cost" of course but also "good value for money"

"Learners´ concertina" is even more difficult. In principle particularly the beginner should have the very best

instrument available NOT having to struggle with the kind of instrument-related obstacles you describe yourself

which make the strenous procedure learning to handle both the tool itself and to control the music a nightmare

The experienced/advanced player will always find ways to make good music even with an inferior instrument -

the beginner can not... so, abandon for good the expression "cheap learner/beginner" instrument...

 

Concerning instrument "quality" you will meet so many detailed or even contradictory opinions that you likely

will get more and more confused. Some reasons for this are that among the lot of concertinas "on the market"

many are old ones and since squeezeboxes are mechanical tools they will either be old and in "good shape"

or old and worn ( or worse...) or old but restored,repaired, reconditioned, reconstructed, renovated or more...

Some of these may be bad from the start, some may have been absolutely top of the line finest products from

the start. What they are now often is not known to "anybody" but the expert may find out by playing them and

closely examine the inside...some will then in real be "absolutely top of the line products" today also...

The comparison between an old instrument ( and its often not known condition) and a new instrument - often

with a completely different construction - mostly is a "mission impossible" and defining the "quality" in general

terms will be terribly difficult as well ...but I wish "everyone" good luck....

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Well, you already know what does not define a quality concertina....

 

One of my neighbours has recently taken up the concertina, with one of these 'learner models' and I can see how much effort it takes, even though she bought the ' best recommended' make.

 

Quality comes at an initial cost; musical instruments are not cheap things to make properly but the purchase should be viewed as an investment because 'real quality' instruments do not go down in value... unless there is a market collapse. So one can buy a really fine concertina, play and enjoy it for the rest of your life and at any stage sell it for as much as you paid , or more.

 

Quality is built into instruments that have been made by someone who has either spent years studying the best ways to achieve all the attributes the players want, or to have carefully copied an instrument on which such efforts have already been lavished.

 

Reed quality is much discussed in the accordion world and makers specify which type they have fitted to their instruments, and the customer can ask for a different grade... the top grade of reeds can make a significant difference to the price of an accordion. Concertina makers who hand make their own reeds will tell you how they value that part of the job in the overall cost of the instrument.

 

There is a world of difference between your 'cheap learner's' concertina and those offered by the best modern makers today. Lucky for you that you have chosen the anglo because there are fine makers who concentrate on this type... I don't play the anglo so I have to rely on my antique Wheatstones.. they are QUALITY!

 

Everything is important and all the little things combine to make Quality but Tone, Dynamic Range, Keyboard stability, Power Balance throughout the instrument... touch sensitivity, playing comfort... I could go on.

 

PS: of course there are one or two makers who produce the other keyboards... but there are (usually) sufficient old concertinas with these other keyboards on the secondhand market.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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Experience and knowledge of the concertina "market" come into it.

There might be no way of knowing, just from handling a brand new cheaper concertina, that it will not last and become wheezy and rickety over time.

People get to know that sort of thing by handling older ones, and talking to others who have owned them.

 

So personal experience, and word of mouth, play a big part in defining what's a good quality concertina. There's plenty of that on this site.

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In regards to your first point, if the instrument is in good condition and is less than a couple of thousand US dollars it is probably made with accordion reeds. Concertina reeds are not currently mass producible, so each individual reed needs to be manufactured by hand by a trained craftsman. In contrast accordion reeds are mass producible, although due to the nature of free reed instruments properly tuning one can be a laborious process. (Here's an example with an accordion.)

 

For me a good concertina is one which can clearly produce the note you desire by pressing one of the buttons assigned to it and working the bellows in an appropriate manner. As of current for me the Rochelle fits my needs, which makes sense because it's specifically designed as an affordable entry-level instrument. In order to make it affordable certain design compromises were made to keep costs down. Those compromises affect it, but I do not have the experience to know how nor the skill for it to matter at the moment.

 

Thankfully now early 21st century we have more options to acquire an instrument than we did during the mid to late 20th. I will likely order such an instrument this year to expect it by next year, as I am less likely to be absolutely devastated by its loss. However we tend to jump from mass produced directly into low production volume by skilled craftsmen, so costs go up accordingly. There does not appear to be the wide variety of grades available that were in years past, or with more popular instruments today such as guitars. This will likely keep our instrument limited to niche communities until higher production rates of acceptable instruments are achieved.

 

A final note, from my (admittedly limited) scholarship into the history of the instrument when people talk about older concertinas being quality, there is a bit of survivorship bias going on. Those late 19th century/early 20th century concertinas which we handle have been so good because they were made well from the outset and worth preserving. These instruments were repaired, restored, preserved, and found their way to discerning modern professionals and prosperous amateurs. However they have practically disappeared in North America. The less expensive instruments served their purpose (make music accessible for the masses), when they broke they tended to be replaced by another instrument and eventually the gramophone.

Edited by Roy M.

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I have a reasonable beginner's instrument and probably wouldn't have noticed it's minor 'defects' if I wasn't familiar with my grandfather's button accordion. :)

 

It does the job. It allows me to learn. It's very similar to the Wren/Trinity College starter instruments, although provided by another supplier. When you're only spending a few hundred pounds, you have to take what's available. I understand about the niche status of the instrument and supply/demand, so not shocked at the market at all.

 

Upgrading is going to be a challenge, since decent instruments seem to be over the thousand pounds mark, up to five thousand for the Carrolls with a 3 year waiting list. If I have to stick with this one, then that's what I'll do. I'm not afraid of taking things apart and fixing them myself if needed.

 

At my current, fumbling playing ability, it'll be months before I have a chance of pushing the concertina to the limits anyway and I'm not intending making a living from playing it. :D

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1. I have a reasonable beginner's instrument and probably wouldn't have noticed it's minor 'defects' if I wasn't familiar with my grandfather's button accordion. :)

 

2. It does the job. It allows me to learn.

 

3. Upgrading is going to be a challenge, since decent instruments seem to be over the thousand pounds mark, up to five thousand for the Carrolls with a 3 year waiting list. If I have to stick with this one, then that's what I'll do. I'm not afraid of taking things apart and fixing them myself if needed.

 

4. At my current, fumbling playing ability, it'll be months before I have a chance of pushing the concertina to the limits anyway and I'm not intending making a living from playing it. :D

I added 1-4 in the quotation

1. Please excuse my nagging...but I repeat what I said before ..there should be NOTHING like a "beginners concertina" .

The best concertina is the best for the beginner as well as the expert. There are other tools/instruments which have

models typically being gradually more advanced and thus more difficult to handle than basic models and in these cases

it may be motivated to speak about "beginners" models. A completely different field...take motor cars...if you are fresh at

the wheel and start "learning to drive" with a Ferrari there is a great risk you will kill yourself ( or someone else) on the

first trip with it. You do NOT have this situation with concertinas. You MAY have it with for example pianos in one respect

- the key "weight" may be greater with a Steinway than some "domestic" pianos and the beginner may like a lighter touch.

 

2. Certainly you will manage struggling on but if it has the flaws you have noticed it will slow down your progress

You obviously have a fairly cheap instrument and that is ok. But that does NOT make it a proper "learner's instrument"

 

3+4. In the meanwhile of learning try to find a potentially "very good old instrument" as a bargain in a junk shop or where

ever...since you ARE saying: "I'm not afraid of taking things apart and fixing them myself if needed" and learn as much

as you can of the technology with that one, fix it up and you may get your money back ( maybe a little more) and maybe

you have learnt a little about HOW to judge what you need later on IF you absolutely do....The joy of music is not always

related to the joy of possession....

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I had a cheap basic concertina then bought a better one. The difference: I made myself pick up the cheap one up for a few minutes every day to practice; I didn't want to put the good one down.

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A necessary, but insufficient, condition is that the bellows be made out of leather.

I wonder...if quality is related to expensive materials, fashion, and status/prestige (leather often is, isn't it?) certainly yes...but I can imagine that a cheap synthetic pleated tube ( reminding of those used for ventilation tubes in houses) might do the job perfectly for quality music with a concertina but it probably would be energetically dismissed by the conservative concertina community....

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I'd still rather have leather. I love the smell of it, and leather combined with real wood has "life" that other materials don't have.

 

Not logical, but it's still there.

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There may well be a synthetic material that would work as well, or better than, goat leather for bellows.

 

However, I don't think that any of the existing non-leather bellows come close to the real thing in terms of suppleness or lack of creaky noise. They are too stiff and too noisy.

 

I remember someone here reporting that they had Wim make some real leather bellows for an old Stagi and that it transformed it into a really nice concertina.

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I remember someone here reporting that they had Wim make some real leather bellows for an old Stagi and that it transformed it into a really nice concertina.

Don,

That was me!

The original Stagi bellows was also leather, as far as I could tell, but the leather Wim (Wakker, of Concertina Connection) used was both stouter and more supple at the same time.

But the leather is not the only factor. The Stagi bellows were useless because the innards had become unglued from the leather, which of course, being rather flimsy, wore through very quickly at the corners. So I guess Wim's construction was better than the original, too.

 

There are many components in musical-instrument making that are best made of natural materials: spruce for sounding-boards of stringed instruments; ivory for nuts of fretted instruments; ebony and rosewood for fretboards and keys that have to take a lot of wear from fingers; tortoise-shell plectrums for Neapolitan mandolins; gut for lutee and (Baroque) violin strings ...

 

I know, some of them are outlawed nowadays and have been replaced by synthetics, but the components of old instruments, or the caches of raw materials that do crop up here and there, let you feel/hear the difference!

 

And I prefer leather shoes to synthetic ones.

 

Cheers,

John

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The question from the OP set me thinking, and I wrote this. My definition of quality is very orientated to playability and durability. As such, questions of leather or synthetic don't matter as long as the material does the job. It so happens, at this time and in my opinion, only leather does the job on the bellows. Definition as follows...

 

The quality concertina will have even and relatively light button pressure and consistent button height and travel. It will be comfortable in your hands and able to be held in a way which does not create injury. Notes will start evenly and easily. It will have the volume you require and will be able to be adjusted to play softly as well as loudly. The tone will be neither dull nor piercing; it will be pleasing. The structure of the bellows will be airtight and not impede opening and closing actions. The bellows will not be floppy, nor inclined to swell under pressure. The materials used will be durable, as will the construction methods. It will not be heavy or light where heavy or light is defined as having such a weight as to make any aspect of operation difficult. It will have a good case.

 

Less important but unlikely not to be present when all of the above are satisfied, the external structure may have a pleasing appearance. This may contribute to longevity as evidenced by the test, "you have two concertinas which play equally well and in your need to run from a bushfire you can only carry one concertina. Which will you pick..?" I find myself, after reading this paragraph back, inclined to add, it must make you love it. If you do not love your instrument, how can you play well on it?

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1.There are many components in musical-instrument making that are best made of natural materials: spruce for sounding-boards of stringed instruments; ivory for nuts of fretted instruments; ebony and rosewood for fretboards and keys that have to take a lot of wear from fingers; tortoise-shell plectrums for Neapolitan mandolins; gut for lutee and (Baroque) violin strings ...

 

2. I know, some of them are outlawed nowadays and have been replaced by synthetics, but the components of old instruments, or the caches of raw materials that do crop up here and there, let you feel/hear the difference!

 

3. And I prefer leather shoes to synthetic ones.

 

Cheers,

John

 

1. I can agree possibly when speaking about string instruments but for squeezeboxes/concertinas I think there

is hardly any of the trad components that can not be replaced by synthetic ones without musical disadvantages. There

may be other disadvantage like possiby some general aversion against novelties or against use of petrol products etc

( which I may share or not depending on the net effect on the health of the planet...)

2. Is there something with concertinas you certainly "hear the difference" from, and how?

3. Partly yes but definitely some modern shoe materials are as good as or superior to leather, depending on purpose

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My definition of quality is very orientated to playability and durability.

 

Less important but unlikely not to be present when all of the above are satisfied, the external structure may have a pleasing appearance. If you do not love your instrument, how can you play well on it?

Hmm..are you not contradicting yourself a bit here after all?? Are there in real any reasons assuming (" not unlikely....")

that the technical qualities ( "playability and durability" ) will coincide with aesthetical ones?? And why would "pleasing

appearance" have anything at all to do with the "quality of a concertina" or any other musical instrument ??

Your example with bushfire does not seem fully adequate in that respect...let' s say instead that you have to choose

between one having the best musical qualities but looking quite ugly and one looking very well but awful to play...?

If you add the economic value vs the musical value your "love" of them may be at stake even more dramatically...

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Both appearance and function are likely to be better in an instrument built with care and pride by a skilled craftsman, so it is "not unlikely" that these qualities tend to coincide.

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I agree with Ted here. The instrument that I, as a musician, will pay most money for is the one that sounds best and is most playable. The luthier or manufacturer knows that he will get a good price for a good-sounding, playable istrument, so for him it's worth investing care and attention (and, lastly, money) in its appearance.

 

Also, professional players, who need a good (i.e. playable and good-sounding) instrument, will appear with it in public - and who wants to appear on stage with an ugly instrument?

 

Most of my instruments are either inherited or bought second-hand. But once I went into a guitar shop to buy a new guitar. I tried quite a few until I found the best-sounding, most playable one I could afford - and it was the most ornate one I could afford (if you can use the term "ornate" with Spanish guitars). Certainly, the best Neapolitan Mandolin I've ever played was also the most ornate (and I do mean "ornate").

 

Cheers,

John

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