I’ve been following Paul Harvey’s work for many years now, as a lifelong vegetarian/vegan the idea of a concertina made without animal derived components has always interested me and when Paul announced his new range of budget instruments I was fascinated.
My main instrument is a 45 key Jeffries C/G which I love, but it’s not perfect for everything and I’d been considering buying a cheap 20 key concertina to use when teaching one-on-one lessons with beginners and to use in schools as an instrument that I’d be happy for school pupils to be let loose on. I’d been considering a new Chinese instrument, but Paul’s announcement persuaded me to reconsider and I’m very glad that I did, because this is a very impressive instrument.
This is a very comfortable instrument to play- it is a good size (only slightly larger than a standard vintage 20 key instrument) and very lightweight.
It has rounded plastic buttons which are comfortable to the touch, these are placed slightly further apart than I am used to, but I didn’t find this to be a hinderance. The button action is reasonably fast, and the button travel is limited so that they do not disappear into the ends of the instrument- a real nice feature to have on an instrument in this price range.
Since this is a vegan instrument, the bellows are made from a washable paper instead of leather. I was interested in seeing how this would hold up when compared to leather, and perhaps after a few years of playing I would be better placed to answer this question, but they have already had a lot of hard playing from both myself and about 100+ school children and appear no worse for wear. The bellows are airtight and very flexible- I found that they were much easier to play straight out of the box than most new bellows are.
The hand straps are adjustable and (interestingly) the hand rests can be adjusted to be closer or further away from the buttons- this is a nice addition although the hand rests were fine for me in their default position. The method for adjusting strap tightness was unusual (it involves dismantling the hand rests) though it was simple, if slightly fiddly to do for the first time.
So, perhaps the most important question… how does the instrument sound?
Paul uses reclaimed reeds from vintage piano accordions which he tunes and voices to function as Anglo concertina reeds and he does a fantastic job at it. The tuning is good- far more in tune than most factory-built beginners instruments arrive. The sound of the reeds is also surprisingly impressive- of course as this is an accordion reeded instrument, the tone is very different to an instrument with traditional concertina reeds, but I find it to be far more concertina like than any other budget instrument, closer to the tone of a mid-range hybrid like a Tedrow or A.P. James than the tone of a Stagi or Rochelle. I’m sure that this is helped in no small part by the fact that the reeds are mounted flat, rather than in accordion style reeds blocks.
For the price, this is a stunning instrument, very playable and with a pleasing tone. I would actually go as far as to say that I prefer it to some instruments that I’ve played priced at over £1000.
It’s been a great boon for my one-on-one teaching and I’ve used it in dozens of lessons over the past few months. More importantly, so far its done (and survived!) 5 full days in schools. It’s been really interesting to watch pupils that have no experience of concertinas getting to grips with the instrument. I think that this is the perfect instrument for that job- it seems to be a comfortable size and weight for most of the students and is much more hardwearing than say a Scarlatti which in my experience don’t tend to last more than a couple of months of hard playing.
A truly excellent instrument, I look forward to seeing what Paul comes up with next!
More details on Paul’s work can be seen at https://www.flyingduckconcertinas.co.uk/
Video demo to come in the next post…