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.
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
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!