Anglo Concertina Buyer's Guide
Where should you buy your concertina and what should you look for?
Table of contents:
I bought my first Lachenal concertina from The
Button Box in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, in May 1996. If you're in the U.S.,
I would recommend them very highly, especially to a first-time buyer.
These guys really know their free-reed instruments and are masters at
tuning and rebuilding concertinas (neither one an easy task). When you
get a concertina from them, you're guaranteed it will arrive tuned perfectly,
and rebuilt to fine working/playing condition. I was nervous when I bought
my concertina because I was buying it "mail-order" over the phone without
seeing or hearing it. It arrived very well packed and in perfect condition.
It was in perfect tune, and they had replaced. rebuilt and refurbished
many of the parts. The bellows were in nearly perfect condition and air-tight.
These are the things you have to watch for, and unless you get your concertina
from a shop like The Button Box, you'd better know your concertinas, or
be willing to send it to them for rebuilding and/or tuning. Ask if it
has been rebuilt and tuned. Ask if there's any cosmetic damage. Are the
bellows air-tight (they'll "wheeze" if they're not and it will be more
difficult to play)? Have the reeds, pads, buttons and valve flaps been
serviced? According to Suttner's brochure, there are over 1000 individual
parts in a concertina -- that's a lot of pieces for such a small instrument
and so repairing and servicing a sub-par concertina could be a costly
undertaking. If The Button Box web
site doesn't list one you're looking for, be sure to call them. They
may be able to put you on a waiting list or something.
From Ken Coles: "I had a chance to visit the Button
Box store in Amherst and had a lot of fun. I saw the repair facility,
where they were working on my concertina, and was impressed by the neat
and professional set up. I also learned their stock changes much more
rapidly than the used instrument lists might suggest, so if what they
have available makes a difference to you, you should call before travelling
Come along on a Visit to the Button Box with your Concertina.net editors.
I have also met Paul Groff and spoken to him several times and would
not hesitate to recommend him as an excellent source of finely restored
concertinas. Be sure to give him a call too before deciding on a purchase.
He's a superb anglo player, and very serious about the instrument, not
only from a sales standpoint, but perhaps just as importantly, from a
the perspective of a professional musician.
When it comes to bellows, you'll probably get 6 folds with a decent
Lachenal, or 6 or 7 with a new or high-end English-made model. Basically,
more is better because you have more air to work with and so you won't
need to use the air-button when you have a lot of notes, say, on the pull
only and you run out of air. Some lower-end Lachenals apparently have
only 5 folds. Mine has 6. Many fine vintage anglos, including Jeffries
have 6-folds, so don't get hung up on the current trend towards 7-fold
bellows. If you play music with lots of chords, the extra bellows volume
would be nice, but for Irish music with mostly single-note melody lines,
6 is fine.
Reeds: Steel reeds are better in a concertina than brass. The sound
is supposedly brighter, and they'll stay in tune and last longer. Most
decent anglos will have steel reeds. Some lower-end Lachenals will have
brass reeds though. I don't know what the Stagi reeds are made of, but
again, they're not generally considered "real" concertina reeds in the
first place (they're accordion-style actually).
Used and cheaper concertinas often don't come with cases. A good hard-shell
concertina case will run you about $100. Since I was already over my budget,
I got a soft case from them (around $36) and a funky IBM mainframe computer
component hard-shell case for about $15. The IBM hard-shell case is great.
The soft case really doesn't provide enough protection so I don't use
Vintage concertina buttons (keys) are usually made of metal or bone.
If you know what kind of bone, let me know -- I'm very curious about this!
My Lachenal had bone buttons. They're very strong and seem to hold up
well to vigorous playing (I've never broken one). As far as I know, most
high-end instruments now come with metal buttons, although many superb
vintage Jeffries do have bone buttons. Some Stagis have plastic buttons.
One thing to ask: do the buttons come right through the end plates or
is there a felt gasket.The gasket is good. It protects the button, the
end plate, and improves the action and longevity of the mechanism. It
also results in a quieter mechanism. As far as I know, no Lachenals have
gaskets, and I could see signs of wear both on the buttons and wooden
end plates where the buttons protrude from the end (little bits of wood
and/or bone dust). No big deal I suppose, but it's something to watch
for anyway, as wear on the buttons and end plates certainly can't help
the action (makes the buttons wobble a bit).
You may be wondering what C/G refers to everywhere you see concertinas mentioned. It means that the
notes on the middle row are in the key of C, the notes on the bottom row
play in the key of G, and the top row plays the accidentals. Don't let
anyone tell you that you need any other tuning, especially if you're planning
on playing Irish music. All the books refer to the C/G concertina, and
contrary to what some people assume, it's still fully chromatic, so you
don't need another tuning to play in whatever strange key some fiddle
player may like. You may need agile fingers and lots of practice, but
not a new concertina.
Although I don't have any experience with them, House
of Musical Traditions in Maryland also has a good reputation, but they
don't usually have much in the high-end and vintage lines. If you're looking
for an inexpensive model, be sure to check them out as they sometimes have sales
on used or overstock Stagis. The Button
Box also stocks a wide assortment of affordable new and used Stagi models.
Instrument Co. also carries new and used concertinas, with what appears
to be fair pricing and sound knowledge of the instrument. They are the source
for Marcus Anglo concertinas in the US and Canada. They assemble a custom
Italian concertina from imported parts, and are now custom-building fine-looking anglo concertinas (in the same class as the Marcus, Norman and Herrington models for example). They're also a potential source
for replacement parts for vintage intruments. I've recently had some e-mail
exchanges with Bob Tedrow, owner of Homewood Musical Instruments, and he
had this to say about himself and his anglo-playing experience:
"I have been playing for fifteen or so years, I should be much
better by now. I think the problem is that I do not have any real talent,
I was raised in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and have lived in
North Carolina and Alabama for the past 20 years."
If you're in the market for a Stagi, I'd definitely check out the "HMI
Anglos" (30-button C/G) which are upgraded by Bob himself. They're nearly
the same price as an off-the-shelf Stagi and likely to be better-playing/sounding
and longer-lasting. Here's what he has to say about them:
- replace the "weatherstripping" on the bellows frames with leather
- "point" and lube the machine screws so that dissassembly is easier
- replace all the pads with those I make here in the shop
- retune and reset each reed
- inspect and replace reed valves as needed
- remove or replace the shiny grill cloth that comes standard
- redo the hand straps for comfort and adjustability
- replace the stock buttons with a better system
"I get a much tighter and responsive Italian concertina this way. The
design of the Stagy is OK, but the execution by the factory is hit or miss. My
concertinas are very consistent."
Groff comes highly recommended as a source for fine instruments (and
tuning) by Ross Schlabach (see
above) who bought his Jeffries anglo from him and had this to say (April
"Paul is an excellent, concertina tuner, a very good teacher
(he taught concertina last year at the Boston College Gaelic Roots week),
and he is a fabulous source for anglos. [...]
He is very careful about his tuning work and has done instruments
for the likes of Noel Hill, and others (like me). He is very helpful
to those looking for instruments and gives excellent advice. I bought
my Jeffries from him and was highly pleased with both the instrument
and the price. With him, you get what you pay for -- nothing less! He
is very honest. I have sent him three large checks and instruments arrived
as promised -- when promised."
Paul also teaches anglo concertina.
I recently (April 24, 1998) had the pleasure of having a long phone conversation
with Paul and he certainly seems to know what he's doing, and a number
of people have e-mailed me with nothing but good things to say about Paul,
his business practices and his skill as both a concertina restorer/tuner
and seller of fine restored vintage anglos. He played a few passages on
two of his Jeffries during our conversation -- he's clearly a very accomplished
musician with an amazing grasp of the anglo, which he has been playing
since 1985. He is also very knowledgeable about the history and technical
details of vintage instruments. Overall, I'd have to say that Paul would
be a great place to start your search for a quality vintage instrument!
I finally met Paul in person in July 1998 and found him to be a very nice
guy and a great anglo player in the Irish style. The concertinas he showed
me were in absolutely perfect order and the sound was to die for. As someone
who makes what I believe is a good part of his living playing Irish music
on the anglo concertina, I think Paul is in a great position to both appreciate
the needs of both new and experienced players, and to service provide
the level of personalized and knowledgeable service that really sets him
apart from other more generic music shops. Paul also specializes in music
and recordings by Ed Reavy and other traditional Irish musicians and he
sells CDs and cassettes by mail order at very reasonable prices. He also
plays button accordion and guitar (both very well if I'm any judge) and
carries selected instruments in his shop, so give him a call if you're
looking for something particular of if you're just looking to get going
and don't know where to start.
10 Norumbega Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Web site: www.groffsmusic.com
Home Phone (not after 9:00 PM please): (617) 497-0841
Shop Phone (call for directions and an appointment): (617) 499-9928
Barleycorn Concertinas / Chris Algar
I had a nice long conversation with Chris Algar of Barleycorn Concertinas
on May 3rd, 1998. He has been buying and selling concertinas for over 25
years now and is clearly VERY knowledgeable about every aspect of them.
He has had over 4000 (!) concertinas pass through his business and had 157
concertinas in stock when I spoke to him! At any one time he might have
quite a range of anglos in stock, ranging from an inexpensive 20-button
Lachenal all the way to a top-of-the-line Jeffries. I think that would definitely
qualify him as the largest dealer in the world. Unfortunately, he also said
that the Irish culture and music revival has made the anglo market a bit
crazy lately, so finding decent anglos and selling them at a fair price
can be difficult. He clearly does his best to find good instruments and
wanted to make it very clear to me that he's not just a clearing house and
he really cares about selling good instruments at fair prices to the right
people -- he said he wouldn't sell someone junk.
David Cornell (DavidC285@aol.com),
a McCann duet concertina player, has dealt with Chris Algar several times
and had the following to say:
"I go to England two to three times a year for concertina events
and have dealt with Chris Algar of Barleycorn Concertinas both in person
and over the phone / mail order. He is an excellent person with whom to
do business. He has never over represented an instrument and can be counted
on in all regards. This has, needless to say, not been my experience with
everyone. Chris stands out."
Because of the very long delays in ordering a new Dickinson
(Wheatstone) or Dipper, and because of the potentially
long delays which usually occur when sending a vintage concertina to one
of these individuals for repair or restoration, Chris is also very active
in finding new sources for restoration and also appears to be having some
success with rebuilding concertinas using a combination of new and vintage
parts, which results in a quality instrument with a real concertina sound
without breaking the bank and without interminable delays. Chris is a
busy individual though, so if you're seriously looking for an instrument,
I wouldn't bother e-mailing him -- give him a call. Check out the photo
on his web site of Chris surrounded
(Located in the UK)
Tel: + 44 (0) 1782 851449
Lark In The Morning has a nice
catalog with lots of cool instruments and info, but they don't specialize
in free-reed instruments, and their prices look a little high. They do have
some good concertina tidbits though: check out their little interview with
Colin Dipper, the photos of his concertinas (in the catalog section) and
the sound clip of his "Clare" model. Yum!
I don't have any experience with any of the UK or other anglo concertina
sources listed in the FAQ
and on the links page.
If you do or if you know anyone who does, let me know and I'll add the info
Should you buy from an individual?
Well, this is tricky. If you're nearby and can inspect the box (or have
it inspected by a pro) then I might consider it if the price was right
and the instrument was really appealing. Still, as a beginner, I'd be
VERY VERY careful. You really don't want to get burned here, so post a
question about any potential seller first to the squeezebox newsgroup
to see if anyone else has dealt with this person. This is standard 'Net
practice and sound advice. Buying an instrument sight-unseen from someone
on the Internet could be very dangerous. I wouldn't hand over cash without
the instrument in the other hand. At least when buying a concertina sight-unseen
from a shop (like I did), you can pay with a credit card which can offer
some measure of protection.
Should you go direct or through a shop when buying new? I'm not sure
on this one. If you want maximum protection and peace of mind, then I
suppose a shop would be a good choice, but by "shop" I mean something
like The Button Box or another reputable dealer who knows a lot about
concertinas. This way, if the maker never delivers or goes out of business,
you're probably not going to lose your deposit, and shipping and other
hassles (duty) won't be a worry. I do know of people who have ordered
instruments such as Dippers or Wheatstone from shops such as The Button
Box to get a local guarantee and service and to avoid potential delivery
Now I don't want to make any enemies here, but I'd personally be VERY uncomfortable
sending final payment to anyone on this page before I had their word that
my concertina was really finished and ready to ship. Not that they're
dishonest or anything, but paying for something before it's done simply
kills all incentive to actually do it (car mechanic, building contractor,