Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018
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Anglo Concertina Buyer's Guide


A name you'll often hear mentioned whenever anglo concertinas are being discussed is Jeffries. These anglos are generally considered the finest anglo concertinas ever made, with the superb "honky" sound often associated with Irish concertina music (listen to any Noel Hill recording!), action (how the buttons feel and react when they're pushed and how fast the reeds respond), and a nice loud volume. You'll sometimes hear stories of someone finding a Jeffries at a garage sale for $20. I can't help glancing into pawn shop windows sometimes on the off chance that a Jeffries might be sitting there... If you ever find a concertina at a garage sale and and see imprint "C. Jeffries", buy it! When one does come up for sale, it will probably go for between $3500 and $5000. Keep in mind though that these prices are for fully restored instruments! If you have an old Jeffries you'd like to sell, you're going to get a fraction of the prices you'll see mentioned here (and elsewhere), as restoring an old instrument to working order is usually a very time-consuming and expensive task.

Of Concertinas and Keys

Wow, just how many buttons can they fit on a concertina! Quite a few it turns out. Actually, this 49-key Jeffries is unique in that it almost certainly wasn't an anglo when it was born. It looks very similar to the Jeffries duet pictured on Nick Robertshaw's Concertina Spotters' Guide site. Now some of you are probably thinking, "hey, all those buttons must make it a better instrument". Well, yes and no. For traditional Irish music, 30-keys are still the way to go because they seem to offer (and this is a generalization, but I think a pretty good one) the best combination of tone and light weight. Don't dismiss weight as an important factor in the handling of an instrument. Once you try a nice and light instrument, a heavy one feels difficult to control and play quickly and smoothly. While the issue of tone is more subjective, in general, instruments with fewer buttons -- and so reeds -- are not only lighter since they have less metal in them, but they also have more room for the reed chambers and so require fewer compromises in terms of achieving the desired tone which is most definitely influenced by the size and shape of the reed chambers. This seems to be especially true of Jeffries instruments which use parallel reed chambers (Wheatstones use a radial layout similar to the photos of my Lachenal reed-pan). During NHICS 1998 this was apparent and confirmed by Noel. Again, it's not a "rule", but overall, instruments with fewer keys can have a more rich and deep tone whereas instruments with lots of keys can be more "squeaky". Let's just say that it's no coincidence that just about every great player you see these days plays a 30-key instrument. Mind you, there are lots of 38-key Jeffries out there and I love the way they sound and play, but if I had a choice, for Irish music, I'd get a 30-key. This doesn't necessarily hold true for playing other types of music (in different keys), as the extra buttons can sometimes make playing in certain keys and styles easier, but I don't have much experience in this area so I can't really explain it more than this! In any case, don't turn down a monster like the one above just based on the number of keys, but don't assume that it's going to be better either.
Thanks to Paul Groff and Noel Hill for sharing some of these details with me.

Here are some nice photos of the ends of a very nice 38-button Jeffries. They're interesting because they're not the usual angle-shots and so they really show the button layout as it would appear while holding the instrument. Drawings often show the straps in a horizontal position, but when you play, they're pretty much vertical. Photos courtesy of Joe Kesselman. Be sure to check out his web site for more photos and some great key-layout diagrams (VERY useful reference -- thanks to Joe for taking the time to document and post these diagrams!) Interestingly, Joe actually just laid the concertina ends on his scanner and scanned these directly!

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