COMPARISON ROCHELLE-2 V MARCUS DELUXE
This is not a fair comparison because they are different price brackets, with the Marcus costing 4 times the Rochelle, and different quality ranges, but that is the point. I am a lifelong musician, returning to concertinas after nearly half a century, and knew I would not be happy with a beginners instrument for very long, and bought the best I could afford at the time which was the 500 quid Rochelle-2. Something like the Marcus at nearly 2,000 quid is going to take some serious saving for pensioner me. I wanted to know how much I would need to save to get a decent instrument, so I went to Marcus Music to see what theirs were like.
I have had the Rochelle for around a month now, so, to be fair I am still breaking it in. First visual was the difference in quality, first feel was, "Wow, this is heavy!". The Marcus is over 3/4 of a pound heavier, 3.17 lb compared to 2.4 lb for the Rochelle. The Marcus is also 2/10ths of an inch smaller, 6.3 inches across the flats compared to the Rochelle's 6.5, so not just heavier, but more dense too. I like the lighter instrument.
Instantly with the Marcus in my hands, I was a better player! That is a qualitative change, but I can give some of the quantitative reasons. Bellows, both 7 fold, on the Rochelle are paper/cloth covered, and even after a month still feel tight, so when playing softly, rather than pushing in, I am pulling out less against the spring of the bellows, while the Marcus are leather covered, I think with deeper folds, and are much more compliant, stretched further, softer, easier to use, I did not feel like I was having to fight them.
Air button on the Rochelle makes quite a breathy noise and I can feel the air resistance, which plus the bellows resistance equals time and effort, while the air button on the Marcus was almost silent and seemed effortless and easy. Now I cannot believe that a larger hole and larger pad is going to cost the manufacturers anything, so it just seems a shame to skimp! Also, the Rochelle air button is the same height as the other buttons and I have to shift hand position to play it, while the Marcus air button is longer and easier to reach and press. For both of them, for me, if I had a choice, I would place the button an inch further from the hand rest, so I could play it with the thumb pad rather than the first knuckle
Apart from the weight, the other thing that was almost a shock was how little the button travel was on the Marcus compared to the Rochelle, and how much lighter the springs were, making the playing so much easier. At first, the Rochelle was leaving dents in my fingers and my fingertips were feeling bruised for weeks, the button travel is quite long, stiff springs, uncomfortable plastic button profile. Either the springs have softened with use or my fingers are getting used to them. The Marcus had much less travel on the buttons, the springs were softer and the profile more comfortable on the aluminium buttons. As a lifelong craftsman, I cannot see why any of that should cost more, surely it is a matter of the right gauge spring material? Why would it cost more to have a shorter range of movement, or a correct profile, whether plastic or aluminium (aloominum for our brethren across the pond 🙂 ). Concertina Connection who make the Rochelle-2 also make decent instruments, so it is not as if they do not know what they are doing. Are they deliberately making the cheaper instrument more difficult to play?
I like the sound of the Rochelle-2, but the Marcus was definitely sweeter, and apart from bellows construction, this is where I would expect the extra money to go. All the Marcus reeds spoke freely and easily, while, after a month, some Rochelle reeds are still having difficulty speaking. If one was playing vigorously, it would not be so noticeable, but I like to play softly. I have tried to use all the buttons so they free up equally, but the LH G, middle G row still requires quite some bellows pressure to get it to speak. The D and B buttons either side, which have had no more use both speak with quite low volume. All I can do is give it more time.
The Marcus Deluxe, with engraved metal ends, bellows stickers and gold leaf decorations was definitely a more stunning instrument to look at, but the standard with wooden ends, apart from a slight difference in tonality would still play the same. Personally, I do not need the bling, I like craftsmanship to speak for itself, so I would be happy with a plainer instrument, the important thing being that it played properly.
So, I think I have answered my question, that I am going to have to spend between 1,500 and 2,500 pounds to get a reasonable instrument and I am just going to have to save up. I can console myself that is better than 15,000 to 20,000 for a new concert harp :-D. I have no regrets, the Rochelle-2 was all I could afford, and the extra hard work, although limiting my playing now, will make it all the more easy to play a decent instrument when I can afford one.