What Is A Well Tempered Concertina?
Posted 30 October 2003 - 08:58 PM
The title is self evident: what temperament is used in tuning anglo concertinas? Mean tone? Equal? Something more arcane?
As a piano tuner, I'd be interested in what you tuners and builders are doing out there.
Posted 04 November 2003 - 04:31 AM
I am not sure I like the fact that this new forum seems to give everyone a James Bond code name.
But here goes. The Anglo concertinas I make here in Australia are usually in even temperament as they are chromatic and are used with other instruments and have to match up. However I have tuned some instruments both English and Anglo to 1/4 comma mean tone for people who use their concertinas for song accompaniement. I have a twenty key instrument of my own in mean tone and it seems to blend in pretty well with other even temperament concertinas for jigs and reels, I'm not sure how it would go on hymns though. The English concertina is especially suited to the mean tone system as it has enough buttons or keys to include both Eb's and D#'s, as well as Ab's and G#'s.
Posted 04 November 2003 - 09:47 AM
I have also experimented with 1/4 comma meantone for anglos (actually using it as a workhorse for several years) and I think it is a very nice sound. The major thirds (and the triads, despite the narrow fifths) are heavenly. It works quite well in general playing, even with equal tempered instruments. You have to pick your pitch with care, as if the key of "A" is maximally in tune with A 440 equal temperament, the key of "F" will be quite sharp. (See discussion with Dave Barnert elsewhere in this forum). BTW, some lovely modern keyboards like my Yamaha electric piano allow you to change not only pitch but temperament (selecting not only, e. g. meantone, but also the key it's centered on) at the touch of a button. So you can get meantone concertina with meantone "piano" or "organ" accompaniment! I'm sure you know that a well-known pipe maker and concertinist as well as Juergen Suttner have used other meantone temperaments for anglos.
Re: hymns, the old pipe organ in the church I attended as a child is actually in meantone, as are many older ones. Maybe this is one reason I have a personal affinity for pure thirds.
Pure meantone is not one of my current favorite anglo tunings (which are trade secrets, just until my research is done), and though it was used for englishes, it is not one of the original 19th century anglo temperaments, as far as I have been able to tell from study of the rare original, old pitch instruments which have stayed pretty much "in tune" with themselves. I am still trying to gather more data on the original anglo temperaments and promise to share these in publication (and to share the results of my work in the meantime with those who help me find original instruments, etc.). However, many of the anglos with 28 or more buttons did originally have separate reeds for (e. g.) D# and Eb (for a C/G), so these could easily accommodate a 1/4 comma meantone scale with 13 tones to the octave; some with more buttons could have (like the english keyboard) 14 tones to the octave. There is a brief discussion of this on Dave Keshlam's website.
As Frank, Clive, Ken, Greg and I have been discussing elsewhere, there are different schools of thought on the best pitch and tuning for anglos. I agree with Clive, "vive la difference." But I want to repeat my plea that if anyone comes across an old anglo in high pitch that is still in tune with itself (as the one that began the "aged Jeffries" thread clearly was, according to the owner who is a professional violinist), they should not immediately and automatically repitch it to A440 equal temperament as has been done to almost all of those restored in the past 30 years. Much important information (and a sound that at least some of us love) may be lost.
Edited by Paul Groff, 04 November 2003 - 09:50 AM.
Posted 04 November 2003 - 10:39 AM
Goran:Any indications that the oldest ("Anglo"-) *German* ....mostly 20 key
instruments... were not 'tempered' at all but tuned 'clean' in their two keys??
What about early accordions? one row...'clean'? two row...tempered???
Posted 04 November 2003 - 01:23 PM
As I mentioned it is a little premature to publish all my results. Due to the fragility of early German concertinas and my difficulty reading the German literature, I know relatively less about them than about the English-made anglos. But Hohner was advertising German-made 20-keyed concertinas with "just intonation," as recently as the 1990s. Rick Epping or Juergen Suttner (or perhaps you) might help us. Definitely the old ones I have seen were neither in equal temperament nor mean-tone, and the same goes for (at least some) 1, 2, and 3-row diatonic button accordions made at least through the 1930s by Hohner, etc.
Part of my work includes an examination of what "just" tuning might mean for different button layouts, key systems, and playing techniques in the English-made instruments. It turns out to be a subtle question. But as I said, I really need to do more work on this before formal publication. I have only gone "public' in this limited way because I am more and more convinced I'm in a race to see the last concertinas in original pitch before they are modernized.
Keep in mind that I receive no grant funding or salary from any museum or university, nor does my business make the kind of money that would make it easy to buy everything I need to see, or even to travel sufficiently to do so. I am making progress, but it is slow.
Edited by Paul Groff, 04 November 2003 - 01:26 PM.
Posted 04 November 2003 - 04:55 PM
It's not just *information* that will be lost. There are people today who would prefer an unaltered (some might even phrase that as "undamaged") instrument. There are *lots* of A440 equal-tempered concertinas around now, even though it's not enough to drop the price of a good Jeffries below $1000. Consider trading the unaltered instrument for one that's already "restored" (it just struck me what a contradiction that word is in a case like this). I would guess that there's a good chance it could be done in most cases (I would certainly consider trading one of my Jeffries -- restored by the best -- for an unaltered instrument of equal quality). That way, both parties could get what they want, while having the original-tuned instrument altered prevents satisfying the person who prefers it that way.
I want to repeat my plea that if anyone comes across an old anglo in high pitch that is still in tune with itself they should not immediately and automatically repitch it to A440 equal temperament as has been done to almost all of those restored in the past 30 years. Much important information (and a sound that at least some of us love) may be lost.
But there's another consideration that deserves to presented: There are many people today "restoring" and retuning concertinas, and they're not all equally good at it, not even -- I suspect or fear -- all the well-known ones. (No, I will not name names; at the moment I'm only trying to express a general concept.) So there's a real danger that after the retuning the tone and response of an instrument will be poorer than originally, and it may not be possible for even the best craftsman to regain what is lost. Some people even talk about doing such a job themselves with no prior experience. I think that's scary!
Posted 04 November 2003 - 08:21 PM
I'm with you 100%. I should have put that word "restored" in quotes. I am already on record questioning the appropriateness of this term to describe the way antique concertinas have often been "fixed up" ("old anglo on ebay" thread where Chris and I had a back and forth on this subject). This is also what I meant in describing A440 as a Procrustean bed for the poor antiques ("What to do with aged Jeffries" thread).
In defense of these practices we are now questioning (!) , I would argue that they may have made much sense and done much good back in the concertina's dark days, when great old concertinas were 50 pounds or less and abundant, when very few wanted to play the instrument and the makers and repairmen had to reach out in every way possible to those who are now the older generation of players. One well known player here in the U.S. told me how Harry Crabb sold him a lovely Jeffries in the early 60s for 50 pounds - including a new bellows. Later Harry made him a beautiful G/D for not that much more. I'm sure that the first priority of dealers and repairers at that time was cultivating new players and providing them with general-purpose instruments of the highest playability possible. I suspect there was little profit involved, if not outright loss. [Bless their hearts. I am a grateful beneficiary of this practice, which enabled me to start playing on a nice old Lachenal repitched to A 440. For my students, I still repitch some concertinas (chiefly student to intermediate quality, and fine ones that are so out of tune there is little original temperament left). I do so only after learning all I can from them, and prefer to do so by reversible substitution of an extra reed set. I won't tune up all the reeds of a Bb/F until it is a C/G, as was done by a dealer to my first Jeffries.]
Maybe the situation is different now. Large numbers of anglo players again appreciate the instrument enough to make a sacrifice to obtain a great one (as they must have in the days of John Crabb and Jeffries -- those instruments cannot have been cheap in terms of 19th century salaries). This may allow really fine craftsman to make a fair wage making new anglos as well as they can be made. I hope so (although I think the makers are still underpaid). This in turn will free up for resale some of the repitched antiques, which really can be excellent instruments. And some few of us (maybe more) will make great sacrifices to obtain (usually as a second instrument) one of the few remaining original-pitch antique instruments, not as a bargain to be reworked into a session-blaster, but to be appreciated for its own sake, and on its own terms, and (I hope) to safeguard it through to a period in history when it may be even more cherished.
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