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What Defines A 'quality' Concertina?


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#19 Chris Ghent

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 09:13 PM

A high level guitar making friend of mine told me after about $2200 (he was talking about his own product) the sound and playability of a guitar would not get any better, all that would happen for a higher price is there would be more bling. The same is true of concertinas though I won't chance a guess at the tipping point. A corollary is not that the presence of bling equals a quality guitar.

One way to turn this to your advantage would be to say to a maker when commissioning an instrument, it is OK for it to be plain, put the extra time into the reeds (this idea first voiced to me by Paul Groff). Unless of course you have the money and can declare you want both.

#20 Bill N

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 10:41 PM

One way to turn this to your advantage would be to say to a maker when commissioning an instrument, it is OK for it to be plain, put the extra time into the reeds

I think this is the philosophy behind Kensington concertinas.  Although they are very handsome in a form follows function sort of way, Dana doesn't do any customization or extra ornamentations.  When you take them apart you realize how beautifully they are engineered and built, and the playability and sound quality is in the same league as instruments that cost twice as much.  



#21 BW77

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 11:49 PM

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.

Even if that may happen I can't see anything making it "likely"...Imagine that you are going to pay the "skilled craftsman"

a certain sum of money for an instrument. IF extra effort is put down on the aesthetics you inevitably have to accept that

compromises need to be done on features with importance for  "playability and durability" and maybe tone as well...you

will most "likely" loose some musical quality by your aesthetic demands  but that is a preference of yours, it is a choice

You make, and personally you may of course be quite happy IF looks were that important for you but have to accept that

you most "likely" lost something else...and the same judgement has to be done when comparing any objects...



#22 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 17 February 2017 - 11:53 PM

I have a friend who is a violin maker of the highest order. This luthier often takes great care to distress the patina of the varnish making it look like an old instrument. Instead of a shiny new fiddle he makes his instruments look like they were built centuries ago. I've seen him do it. After varnishing he rubs most of the varnish off, revarnishes, over-polishes, adds pits and scratches and scrapes and black soot, rubs his nose grease into the wood and I don't know what all. He keeps at it to mimic the aging process of a wooden object that is constantly handled and subject to the mishaps of use.

 

He told me that he was convinced the players who requested this treatment wanted to sound like they were playing a Strad or Amati and the fact that the instrument looked like one helped them actually play and sound better. These are great sounding fiddles regardless of the treatment and top notch classical musicians who play them. Even though his customers knew they were playing a modern instrument, the appearance of age seemed to give them a psychological edge in their quest for musical excellence.

 

I'm not sure if I buy all this, but that's the story.


Edited by Jody Kruskal, 18 February 2017 - 12:16 AM.


#23 BW77

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 12:39 AM

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.

 

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?

 

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

Hmm...you "agree" with Ted about appearance BUT then you say  "The instrument that I, as a musician, will pay most

money for is the one that  sounds best and is most playable" but then again you speak about "ornate" .I am confused...

 

That - like I replied to Ted - means that you should NOT compromise with these "qualities" either. Even if you have a 

thick wallet you have to regard the likelihood that the maker made compromises to prioritize looks instead of function.

You definitely come across concertinas having all the ornates you can ask for - expensive materials, various inlays,

decorated leather, and so on - but not first class reedworks. Obviously made for looks firstly, maybe ordered by some

amateur with high aesthetic or prestige ambitions but not caring as much about musical quality. You do not find grand

pianos today with expensive extra ornates but you did 100+ years ago - and some extraordinary monster furniture too

- but I doubt you did find the best musical instruments among those. And I am sure most public performers of music

would prefer an instrument that sounds well on stage to one that looks good for the audience. Personally I don't care

at all - I listen...My own instruments?..the best ones look terrible since they have been used so much...

 



#24 Jody Kruskal

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 01:37 AM

Dear BW&&, Do you have any evidence of this...?

 

"You definitely come across concertinas having all the ornates you can ask for - expensive materials, various inlays,

decorated leather, and so on - but not first class reedworks.

 

I doubt seriously that this happens very often, if ever.

 

My guess is that any craftsman who puts that kind of effort into the fancy stuff will do their best to make the whole instrument to the highest quality they are capable of. Probably the plain ones as well, if you are buying a top of the line 'tina. I believe that makers who offer the gold plated hardware and other bling today charge extra for it, and well they should.

 

I remember getting an old Jefferies from Crabb long, long ago when they were still in Islington. It needed a new bellows and they wanted to know how fancy I required it. All the extras like gold tooling and fancy papers had a cost. I went with the plainest and cheapest bellows offered and they still work fine today, 30 years later. No stinting on quality there.


Edited by Jody Kruskal, 18 February 2017 - 01:39 AM.


#25 BW77

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 03:22 AM

Dear BW&&, Do you have any evidence of this...?

"You definitely come across concertinas having all the ornates you can ask for - expensive materials, various inlays,

decorated leather, and so on - but not first class reedworks.

I doubt seriously that this happens very often, if ever.

 

"Very often"...who knows...maybe not on the very highest level of fraud...but "ever"? certainly, since I have at least 

met it a couple of times. When talking about the mid level situations more often, and "we" all know, don't we? but

it is a sad thing being cheated and evenly sad complaining about it. You can pick any other field of experience -

you certainly recognize the hazard of various luxury fronts covering quality compromises among any commercial

products. Even the ambitious craftsman does the job for a living and considering common human nature morals

with vary, not only between individuals, but for the individual too, and you can't always call it "fraud" - just common

practise, sometimes you do a good job, sometimes worse. The knowledgeable and critical customer will pay for

extra bling of course as you say, if wanting that...but the ornaments may not motivate the extra cost if you are not

sure it will be accompanied by super musical qualities too.. . that was your own consideration was it not?..  but the

illiterate will risk be paying for something else...



#26 Chris Ghent

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 03:46 AM

I doubt seriously that this happens very often, if ever.


Sorry Jody, but I think it has happened a lot. Most of the concertinas out there were made in a factory system and the work was done for money rather than with any idealised craft notions.

&

#27 Patrick McMahon

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 05:58 AM

The comment about "ageing" a violin rings very true. It's fashion, that's all. Nobody is immune to it, and if it makes you feel good, why not? Certain things just look better with a bit of ageing, even if it's fake.

 

Go into Tesco's, and look at the denim jeans section. You will see brand new jeans with the knees deliberately ripped and frayed, and they are faded and stone-washed to make them look old. They start at twenty pounds.

 

Go next door to the charity shop, and you can buy genuinely worn and faded ones for 99p. It's a crazy world out there.



#28 Roy M.

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Posted 18 February 2017 - 04:27 PM

Honestly, if money was no object then I'd rather invest in a material like bird's eye maple for the end caps and leave the rest of the concertina understated.



#29 Tradewinds Ted

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 09:52 AM

The idea of a trade off between appearance and sound is a false dichotomy.  OK, it is true that the builder must put effort into each, and if you are going to commission an instrument to be built, and have only a fixed budget, then choosing more expensive options for the appearance while choosing the cheapest options for the function is possible.  After all, the builder will desire to be paid for that effort, and I'm not suggesting that time and effort to make an instrument more ornate adds anything to the sound or function.  But if you are at the point of commissioning an instrument, and choosing whether to pay for quality performance, that is well beyond the scope of trying to learn how to identify the relative quality of existing instruments.

 

Please note, I've certainly not suggested that adding bling necessarily makes the instrument more beautiful.  Perhaps the example given of the ornate guitar confused the issue.  That can certainly happen, but to my eye, the opposite is more often true: The beauty is in the care of construction, and an instrument that is poorly constructed will not be beautiful, no matter how much bling is tacked on.

 

Instead, a craftsman who has built the workings of an instrument with care, absolutely will not allow for it to be completed with a shoddy appearance.  So that puts all of the quality instruments in the appearance categories of "good, very good, to beautiful" and absolutely none in the category of "poor" appearance.

 

Yes, I agree that appearance of an instrument is no guarantee that it sounds or plays well.  On the other hand one that looks to be of poor construction is a near guarantee of disappointment when playing.  In that way appearance and function do tend to coincide, so choosing the instrument that appears to be made with care is a very good start.



#30 Jake of Hertford

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 11:52 AM

I have a friend who is a violin maker of the highest order. This luthier often takes great care to distress the patina of the varnish making it look like an old instrument. Instead of a shiny new fiddle he makes his instruments look like they were built centuries ago. I've seen him do it. After varnishing he rubs most of the varnish off, revarnishes, over-polishes, adds pits and scratches and scrapes and black soot, rubs his nose grease into the wood and I don't know what all. He keeps at it to mimic the aging process of a wooden object that is constantly handled and subject to the mishaps of use.

 

He told me that he was convinced the players who requested this treatment wanted to sound like they were playing a Strad or Amati and the fact that the instrument looked like one helped them actually play and sound better. These are great sounding fiddles regardless of the treatment and top notch classical musicians who play them. Even though his customers knew they were playing a modern instrument, the appearance of age seemed to give them a psychological edge in their quest for musical excellence.

 

I'm not sure if I buy all this, but that's the story.

 

I have seen this sort of thing going on too, my father in law has a great fiddle. I always thought it was very old but recently learned it was 2009.

 

To be honest this sort of thing makes me kind of sad, it feels so fake.



#31 Ken_Coles

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Posted 20 February 2017 - 02:07 PM

The violin world (in my impression) is more obsessed with "old-equals-best" than we are.  Articles and books about the top violin makers like Jody's friend suggest their customers hate to be seen with a new-looking instrument even if they like its sound best among the instruments they own or have used.  That's the practice with violinists, though I suspect they have just talked themselves into old-looking giving a psychological "advantage."  Every musical subculture has its customs, it seems.

 

We don't have (so far as I'm aware!) people taking new top-end concertinas and scuffing up the bellows, rubbing finish off the ends, breaking out pieces of fretwork, etc. to make them look like old Jeffries or Linotas or Aeolas.  Thank goodness for that.

 

Ken



#32 Jake of Hertford

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Posted 21 February 2017 - 03:54 AM

 

 

We don't have (so far as I'm aware!) people taking new top-end concertinas and scuffing up the bellows, rubbing finish off the ends, breaking out pieces of fretwork, etc. to make them look like old Jeffries or Linotas or Aeolas.  Thank goodness for that.

 

Ken

 

:)


Edited by Jake of Hertford, 21 February 2017 - 03:55 AM.


#33 Patrick McMahon

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Posted 22 February 2017 - 07:23 AM

If anyone out there wants to pay far too much money for an old-looking, battered, damaged, distressed concertina, feel free to pm me.



#34 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 22 February 2017 - 09:41 AM

I think the violin and the concertina are two very different kettles of fish in this respect. Except to the very experienced eye, and old violin and a new violin look exactly alike. Most of them are as-faithful-as-possible copies of the Stadivari. The only indication of age is the presence or absence of age marks and wear. So a well-kept old violin that's been renovated could look like a new one.

 

Concertinas, on the other hand, do vary quite a bit visually. The fretwork, the material of the buttons, the bellows papers, the action (hook or rivet), the reeds and a few other criteria tell us immediately, "Low-end Lachenal" or "New Suttner" or "Early Wheatstone", or even "Cheap Chinese hybrid" or "Superior American Hybrid". 

 

So I don't think a concertina maker could get away with artificially ageing his products, even though vintage instruments do enjoy a certain status with us players. We'd see through the deceit straight away.

 

Cheers,

John






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