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Rochelle 1.0, a novice's review


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It's here!

My Rochelle has travelled halfway across the continent

in a leisurely enough manner,

but appears to have arrived intact

even from the baggage handlers at Customs.

Credit where credit is due.

My relief is substantial.

 

Opening the box,

I found the black nylon carrying case.

It seems to be substantial,

made of dense cloth and double stitched.

The plastic two-way zipper is pleasingly heavy.

The only fault I see in the construction

is the sewing of the handles to the case.

The straps are heavy enough for casual use

but they are attached with widely spaced and loosely sewn stitches.

The shoulder strap is conveniently removable via adequate shackles,

but the strap itself is made

by simply doubling the light webbing back onto itself

and running a very few of the same loose and large stitches across it.

I'll be reinforcing these before carrying it outside.

 

The shoulder strap is attached fore and aft

at an intelligent height

and is easily adjustable

via somewhat fine-finish-hostile hardware.

But only if you want to make it shorter,

which I find rather unlikely.

My vote would be for another thirty cent's worth of webbing.

The length is certainly usable

and I'm not really complaining,

but the adjustable feature is academic.

 

The handle lies fore and aft on the lid.

I've seen some heated discussions

regarding 'top' versus 'side' handle placement.

I have yet to see an opinion presented

on fore-and-aft versus transverse attachment.

 

Both the top and bottom of the bag

appear to be of single-layer construction.

The red velvety lining

(what's this material called?)

is nice and soft and slippery

and seems to resist lint and dust entrapment.

It's not silk, but it's appropriately non-scratchy stuff.

 

A nice enough bag, but it's really a dust jacket

rather than a busking bag.

With no padding, single-layer ends,

and minimally sewn handles

this is definitely not something to protect the box

from the rough and tumble of late-night pub sessions.

 

Unzipping the bag, I saw a broken concertina.

Sadly, I gently lifted out some shards of plastic.

The first bits proved to be remnants

of the jewel case holding the enclosed CD ROM tutor.

Digging deeper I found the bulk of the CD case,

and many smaller pieces in the bottom of the bag.

But the Rochelle appears to be...

well, not exactly unscathed,

but I see only a few tiny, thin scratches

in two plastic sides of the ends.

They may even be pre-existing scratches,

though I think not.

In any event,

I've been unconcerned with larger scratches than these

in the lenses my eye glasses.

Not a problem.

In the contest of the Rochelle against the CD case

the Rochelle is the clear winner.

 

I apologize to the packager

for mentioning this in public,

but I think it's both significant and impressive

that the force required to shatter the CD case

(it's in many pieces, more than twenty)

appears to have left the Rochelle unharmed,

and that the exterior resisted the gouging potential

of the very sharp shards,

possibly for many miles and bounces.

The edges of two bellows folds may have abraded a bit,

but less than the wear on several others.

This is a tough instrument!

For future reference,

a hands breadth of bubble wrap and a rubber band

can often bring a CD case through the roughest shipping.

 

Now, I'm definitely predisposed towards the Rochelle.

I admit it.

I am impressed by the credentials

and accomplishments of the designer.

Whether as an act of generosity

or of entrepreneurial brilliance,

or perhaps both together,

I think it's wonderful

that someone is making a reliably playable concertina

at a price lower than many tourist souvenir boxes.

And I expect that to be a long-term benefit

to everyone concerned,

from the impecunious or hesitant beginner

to the makers of higher-ticket instruments

to those working to preserve a musical heritage

to the collectors and performers

and the starving music-store retailers.

Besides all of which, this is MY concertina.

I have sold something I valued to buy it,

and I want to be happy about my purchase.

As such, I am not an objective reviewer.

You have been warned.

 

The Rochelle is black.

Unashamedly, shinily, unrelentingly black.

Which, aside from the shiny-ness

matches my wardrobe perfectly.

An aesthetic choice by the designer,

and one both shared and vindicated

by the other great watershed designers,

Henry Ford and Nate Herreshoff.

My daughter's first response was,

"Nice.

That should be played in an orchestra.

Or a rock band."

I only report, I do not interpret.

 

The straps are of the more traditional design

(I think) than the sandal straps on the Stagi.

They are wide across the metacarpals,

which should enhance control,

and adjust via screws on the 'top' of the instrument.

 

Speaking of screws,

I am puzzled by the choice of the screws and washers

protruding from the ends of the Rochelle

and securing the bitter end of the hand strap.

They would be quite suitable

for bathroom plumbing fixtures,

but are hardly what one expects

on a serious musical instrument.

I'll be shopping around for something a bit more elegant,

possibly in bronze.

 

The Rochelle has no straps to hold the bellows closed.

That seems odd to me,

but then the bellows and valves are tight enough

to make them perhaps unnecessary.

If I set my Stagi on the desk top

without first snapping down the straps,

it sprawls contentedly open like grandma's housecoat.

Do the better instruments dispense with these straps?

I'm concerned that some interested but ignorant person

might give it a big tug without pressing a button

and do some damage.

(I'm not just being paranoid here-

before I ever played the first note on my Stagi,

when I had just been given it

and was still thanking the givers,

my sister did just that.

She pulled so hard it swallowed the air valve pad

and was unplayable until repaired.

But then the Stagi has straps,

and they didn't stop her.

Which rather knocks my argument on the head...)

 

I've read so many comments

about the large size of the Rochelle

that I was expecting something pretty cumbersome.

That turns out to be a non-issue.

In fact, when I'm playing the Rochelle

I don't notice any difference at all.

It's no mini, but it seems quite normal to me.

Each flat side is a bit over four inches.

The diameter is seven and a half inches

from flat to flat,

and from end to end just under seven inches.

Substantial, yes, but hardly a Buick.

 

I squeezed my hands into the too-tight straps

(I know, but I was eager to try it out)

and took a breath of air.

Man, that really IS a slow air valve!

The rumours are definitely true,

and I am definitely going to enlarge it.

I'd love to know if that has been changed

in the new and improved edition.

 

I tried to whip off a couple of

Polly Wolly Doodle type tunes,

but things began to go badly wrong.

Nothing felt familiar,

and the notes were all over the map.

What the...?

Oh, right.

That outside bank of buttons is not the C scale.

Blushing, I tried again.

Much better, but hardly fluent.

I felt off balance.

The voice of the instrument was unfamiliar, too.

 

At my wife's brilliant suggestion

(she's a grade 10 pianist

and the only real musician around here),

I played one of my favourite airs,

Ar Eirinn Ni Neofainn Ce Hi,

as the initial test with a slow tune.

The first thing I noticed was the abruptness

with which each tone sprayed from the Rochelle.

Just as I intended to coax out

a zen-like tone of grief and resolve

with neither beginning nor end,

an impudent, pugnacious honk

would startle my usurped finger's

opposite-side analog into also stabbing its button,

resulting in a brash bark

as I jerked my shocked fingers away from the playing area.

The sound, whilst not inharmonious,

struck me as distinctively mocking.

After my third bark in the same bar

she announced that she needed to go start dinner

and I was becoming significantly paranoid

about pressing the buttons at all.

 

You're probably either grinning

or rolling your eyes and moving on,

but this is a strictly factual

account of the proceedings.

 

I see that this is going to be to some extent

a comparison of the Rochelle

with my paper-bellowsed, twenty-buttoned Stagi.

I suppose it's inevitable,

as these are the only 'tinas I have ever played.

I emphathize with your regret

that a more knowledgeable concertinist

is not conducting this review,

but in spite of repeated hints

no one else has stepped forward to do it.

Onward, then.

 

I gave up on that tune for the nonce

and spent some time just experimenting

with the air pressure required

to produce sound from the various keys,

how easily volume can be modified, and so on.

And all this time my doubts were increasing

about the quality of sounds I was hearing.

Clear, yes, as clear as a bell.

But I wasn't trying to play a bell.

I wanted this thing to sound like a concertina,

and in my mind that means sounding

like my ill-tempered and blowzy Stazi.

For all of the bad habits (and words)

the Stagi has been teaching me,

for all of the times I have despaired

at ever getting through a couple of tunes

without having a stuck button

or needing replacement fluids,

I have been confident that the noises it makes

are at least concertina noises.

In the higher register particularly,

the tone of the Rochelle seemed so clear

as to be lacking in character.

True, the lower tones did seem a bit 'quack'-ey,

but not in a masterful way.

 

I didn't say it out loud in front of her, of course,

but I was feeling a bit let-down.

I turned to Ar Eirinn et al. again.

 

I found that I still had to be

both conscious and careful

to avoid a premature, abrupt beginning

to each note and especially to each phrase.

No doubt practice will inform my cortex.

 

The next peculiarity that struck me

was the white, waxy- (I can't spell "plastic-ey") feeling buttons

which are only half the diameter

of the ivory-feeling buttons of my Stazi.

They also protrude with admirable uniformity

about twice as far from the instrument ends as I am used to.

Wow. These seem really long, and poke-ey.

That's not the odd bit, though.

 

What was odd is that,

while I admit to anthropomorphizing boats

and to a certain extent

instruments of trades, technology and music,

I do not really believe

that they are capable of independent action.

Yet this Rochelle seemed to be somehow

resisting my efforts to depress the keys.

The buttons inevitably rub against the unbushed sides of their holes

with whatever side pressure is applied by the player's fingers,

but that doesn't appear to hinder them.

Each button moves in and out freely enough.

Yet as I played, or rather tried to play

(the whole experience was proving so unexpected

that I was having to 'think'

about where my fingers were

and what they were supposed to be doing,

with the result that I regressed discouragingly)

the machine seemed determined to oppose my every intent.

 

While my elders, so to speak,

and betters, to speak precisely,

may know what was happening,

it was a revelation to me

when I figured out what was going on;

 

These buttons,

regarding which I am with-holding judgement,

move almost exclusively in a single plane.

They move towards the lever perpendicularly,

then they move away perpendicularly.

The button tips on the Stagi move in every direction,

with the movement of each very liberally defined.

Consequently, many buttons require specific

and idiosyncratic input

from the relevant fingertip

in order to prevent sticking.

A comfortable, welcoming,

'you can do whatever you like

so long as you keep doing that'

kind of feeling.

 

By contrast,

the Rochelle keyboard is about as inviting

as one of those tough-love reform educators

we used to read about in the late 70s:

"Every button on that shirt

is going to be in a hole in two minutes, boy.

Which and how are entirely up to you."

 

The bellows is air tight.

The reeds speak easily

and readily range from rather loud to very loud

Logic tells me that this instrument will respond

to whatever actions I invest in it.

It's going to be up to me to make the music.

There is no doubt whatsoever

that I am going to become a much better player

with this new concertina,

but the rather distasteful discipline

is going to take some getting used to.

 

The sound is still not concertina-like to my ear,

but as I learn to drive with a lighter foot

it's starting to be a pleasing sound.

There are four buttons

that have a reedy, duck-calling sound;

G2 and C3 in the C row

and their sharps in the third row.

I could wish they were more consistent,

but again I am with holding judgement

because of my lack of experience

with this and will all concertinas.

 

The G row is very sweet and pure in the upper register.

Lovely sounds, really.

I fear they will never be heard

if I attempt to accompany them with my left hand.

In fact, all of the right-hand notes

are overwhelmed by the left hand

when they are played together.

The volume differential between bass and treble

is substantially greater than the Stagi.

If this can be ameliorated by playing techniques

I hope someone will advise me.

 

This is a loud instrument.

The decibel output is readily manipilated,

but it ranges only from loud to very loud.

I am often awake in the middle of the night,

and for years have quietly played an instrument

in the bedroom as my wife soundly slept on.

Ukulele, pennywhistle, Native flute, the Stagi,

all have been unobtrusive companions to me

in the restless wee hours,

but that won't be happening with the Rochelle.

Maybe I can wrap a quilt around it or something.

It's not an instrument for lullabies.

It would be great for serenading, though!

 

I'll just mention the idiosyncrasies

of a few of the valves and/or reeds:

 

When playing the two lowest buttons in the C row

on both the squeeze and the draw,

the notes are preceded by a tiny papery "whoomph!",

similar to the sound a baggy kazoo diaphragm makes

as it reverses orientation

when you alternately inhale and exhale

through the kazoo.

I'll have a look soon to see if the previous owner

has inadvertently left a sandwich bag inside.

 

Also, the high notes of the Stagi spoke immediately

while the bass notes took a bit of time

to accelerate into action.

The Rochelle is much the opposite.

True, the very lowest button in the C row

requires a bit of forethought,

but all of the other left hand notes

speak promptly and easily.

It is near the top of the range

that the Rochelle hesitates.

My impression is that so much air pressure

is required to operate the reeds

that it takes a small yet noticeable

amount of time to achieve it,

and to get the air moving through the tiny orifices.

And a lot of pressure IS required;

an evening of playing at the upper end

would leave my arms as limp as a boned fish.

Also, both G4 and E4 in the G row

demand noticeably greater pressure than their neighbours,

 

Speaking of arm work,

the amazing tightness of the new box cuts both ways.

The Stagi is so loose and leaky

that any attempt to play chords

is a bit like operating the bilge pumps

on a rapidly sinking ship.

It ss nearly impossible to keep ahead of the losses.

However almost no effort is required

to squeeze sound out of it.

The Rochelle demands very little pumping,

but the flight muscles still get a real work-out.

If my harmonica required that sort of pressure to play

I would have burst my ear drums long ago.

 

On the other side of this hermetic tightness,

every variation in bellows input

produces prompt, sharply defined results.

That unexpected precision should be very gratifying

when my skill level increases enough

to appreciate the advantages of it.

Also, the miniscule air valve

is less of a problem than I anticipated.

Unless a tune has an unusual series

of either 'draw' or 'push' notes

I hardly need to use the air button.

A quick gasp or sigh now and then is sufficient.

Maybe I'll hold off on that air hole-ectomy for a bit.

 

To my surprise, my ability to play a tune by ear

has increased by, well, by a bunch.

Playing concertina by ear has always been

a bit of a guessing game for me,

and by no means have I always guessed correctly.

I theorize that the lush overtones of the Stagi

come at the price of a lack of precision,

so that I am uncertain where the 'bulls eye' is.

A bit like walking into a warm, steamy pub

and attempting to shoot darts

through fogged spectacles.

With the clear voice of the Rochelle

I seem to confidently know what must come next.

A welcome surprise, indeed.

 

I've had the Rochelle for two days now,

and am rapidly becoming comfortable

with the unforgiving keyboard

as well as the instrument generally.

I'm very glad I bought her,

and am certain she will make me a better musician.

I have no real complaints.

I do wish she could be played quietly,

and I am ambivalent about the keyboard-like sound,

but I may learn to attenuate the one

and appreciate the other.

I'm eager to engage the mysteries

of the third row of buttons.

And, just so you're forewarned,

I'll try to keep you updated.

Edited by Shas Cho
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Thank you for your epic poetry. I'm sure many will appreciate such a detailed review of the Rochelle. My experience is that the Stagi is a particularly quiet example of what is a generally loud instrument. Only the best concertinas allow you to play at both ends of the dynamic spectrum with ease. Paradoxically, it takes more effort to play quietly because you have to hold yourself back. Also, most concertinas don't have a consistent minimum pressure to make the all the reeds speak. So as you play very quietly (or try to) some notes sound and others don't.

 

A skilled technician might well be able to improve things by voicing or setting the reeds but it's a tricky business and changing the voicing can effect tuning as well.

 

Best of luck with your new toy. Keep us posted how you get on with it.

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The sound is still not concertina-like to my ear,

but as I learn to drive with a lighter foot

it's starting to be a pleasing sound.

There are four buttons

that have a reedy, duck-calling sound;

G2 and C3 in the C row

and their sharps in the third row.

I could wish they were more consistent,

but again I am with holding judgement

because of my lack of experience

with this and will all concertinas.

 

The G row is very sweet and pure in the upper register.

Lovely sounds, really.

I fear they will never be heard

if I attempt to accompany them with my left hand.

In fact, all of the right-hand notes

are overwhelmed by the left hand

when they are played together.

The volume differential between bass and treble

is substantially greater than the Stagi.

If this can be ameliorated by playing techniques

I hope someone will advise me.

 

 

Hi Shas,

 

Don't panic! In a few weeks you'll wonder how you ever got a decent tune out of your old box.

 

Just a few thoughts from someone who followed the same path:

 

re: the sound. Is your Stagi double reeded? My old Scholer was, and it had a pleasant slushy sound, but having now been exposed to many "real" concertinas, I realize that a honky bark and a clear tone are often the hall mark of a very good concertina. And having heard very good players play such instruments, i also realize that it is very possible to play them expressively and dynamically. (I should live so long!)

 

In fact, i have a Morse and a Tedrow (both capable of being louder than the Rochelle), and find the Rochelle to be the least "accordion-ey" of the 3. (although I very much like my hybrids)

 

I received 3 pieces of very good advice that helped me with some of the issues you mention above.

 

Jody Kruskal told me when playing in a two handed style to keep the left hand light and staccato. Sometimes that's not what you want for the tune, but it's a really good thing to master, and really helps with the bellows and balance of left & right. He also suggested sometimes practicing by playing as quietly as possible. Really good for developing some dynamic control and bellows technique.

 

Re: the bellows- Daniel Payne, a wonderful accordion player, told me not to fight them. He suggested just trying to keep them in a middle position of expansion with small adjustments from the air valve, often applied at the same time as a long push or pull note. It's become pretty automatic, and i don't think about the bellows or pump away as much as I used to.

 

Looking forward to hearing your first posted tune!

 

Bill

.

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to address your concern, the only concertinas that have buttons or straps to keep the bellows closed are a select few stagis. otherwise, those straps are reserved for accordions.

 

Not quite!

The German-made 20-button hexagonal concertina, e.g. those from Klingenthal, like my first concertina, mostly have bellows straps.

 

I think the point about Stagi is that they produce both English-style and German-style concertinas, and put bellows straps on them or not, depending on the type they are emulating. So their leather-bellows 30-button Anglos have no bellows straps, but the 20-button Klingenthal clones do have them.

 

Cheers,

John

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Thanks for the input and advice, guys.

 

So, is there a method or an etiquette for resting a strapless evening box?

Surely the instrument doesn't go back into its case

every time a player leaves for a moment

to acquire or dispose of a beer,

yet I can't imagine leaving a concertina to gradually crawl across the table...

 

I may have to travel to the northern isles

(or at least to Nova Scotia)

to observe these creatures in their native habitat!

 

Regarding the 'light left hand'

and the 'medially positioned bellows',

Jody and Daniel told Bill

and Bill told me

and I have already passed it on to my son in law.

The folk process is still alive and well!

I am honoured to be a part of it.

 

Anyone else?

Keep 'em coming!

 

ps (this is the 'edit'):

I have taken a couple of snapshots

of the Stagi and Rochelle side by side.

If anyone is interested I will post them

as soon as I figure out how.

Edited by Shas Cho
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Surely the instrument doesn't go back into its case every time a player leaves for a moment to acquire or dispose of a beer...

Mine sure does!
:ph34r:

 

Damn straight - if I ever caught someone making eyes at my Dipper or Jeffries it would be lights out! When you've spent several thousand dollars and several years acquiring a fine instrument, it doesn't get left out in the pub and it never leaves your sight. Also, a properly made set of bellows will not crawl around on its own, especially after having been broken in for a few hours. In fact, if the instrument is airtight, the bellows won't move at all. Straps are an anathema that you will find yourself happy to leave behind as you progress to better boxes!

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Surely the instrument doesn't go back into its case

every time a player leaves for a moment

 

It really should, as much as possible. Its a good habit to develop. I may on occasion leave mine out of the box for a moment or two at home, if I have to answer the phone. But even that's not a great idea. Several years ago my cat once knocked my concertina off a table. The fall caused some internal damage, which fortunately was fixable.

 

For the instruments own protection, don't leave it out of its case when not being played. And if out in public with it, do not leave it out of case or out of sight.

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These are the sensible ones, Shas. On the other hand you have me. My instruments only go in their cases for travelling. Otherwise they live outside, free to roam the house, (or at least be carried to where I want to play). If I have ten minutes I want to spend it playing not fiddling about with boxes. Yes it probably saves seconds only, but that's me.

 

We don't have a house full of cats and children mind you.

 

There is one unarguable reason for using the box regularly and that is to 'train' new bellows to like being fully compressed. The blocks in the box are arranged to keep it closed when not in use to help this. Old instruments like mine are already quite relaxed in their duties and will stay shut without help.

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If I have ten minutes I want to spend it playing not fiddling about with boxes. Yes it probably saves seconds only...

and - at least in the case of my instrument and its narrow hexagonal garage - the 'tina itself as well (which I'd have to kind of spill otherwise, and vice versa).

 

I'd suggest the benefit of a suitable place behind a locked cabinet door or so...

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Here are a few small photos of the Rochelle with my Stagi.

 

Alrighty, then.

Looks like I'll have to make myself a case, and use it.

The supplied 'gig bag' is far too slippery to leave on a table top,

and far too roomy to train the bellows to stay closed at rest;

the sides of the bag are solidly two inches longer than the Rochelle itself.

 

All advice and information is eagerly and gratefully received!

post-9541-0-04235100-1318872970_thumb.jpg

post-9541-0-06478100-1318873125_thumb.jpg

post-9541-0-11502500-1318873266_thumb.jpg

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All advice and information is eagerly and gratefully received!

 

OK then,

 

Get those 'tinas away from that open fire!!

 

Keeping your instrument in its case will protect it from changes in temperature and humidity, from sun damage, and in my area, from falling plaster/timbers/roof tiles during an earthquake. :)

Edited by sidesqueeze
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Alrighty, then.

Looks like I'll have to make myself a case, and use it.

The supplied 'gig bag' is far too slippery to leave on a table top,

and far too roomy to train the bellows to stay closed at rest;

the sides of the bag are solidly two inches longer than the Rochelle itself.

 

 

A hard case is a good thing, although I've never bothered for my Rochelle. As you noted, the gig bag is pretty roomy, so I have lined mine with closed cell foam. It's been on numerous canoe trips thusly protected, and no harm has come to it. As for keeping the bellows closed, since the concertina sits vertically in the gig bag, gravity does a fine job. I admit to leaving it unattended on the table for a few minutes at a friendly session-it's no Jeffries or Dipper- and it's always waiting for me when I return. (reminds me of the joke where the punchline is: When I got back from the WC, there were TWO Rochelles on the table.)

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As for keeping the bellows closed, since the concertina sits vertically in the gig bag, gravity does a fine job.

 

Another teaching opportunity:

Haven't I read somewhere

that vertical storage is a no-no,

because the hell-facing valves learn to hang away from their respective slots,

resulting in chronic leakage and unwanted reed activity?

Or does that apply only to 'tinas with leather valves?

 

"...TWO Rochelles on the table"

How rude.

:)

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because the hell-facing valves learn to hang away from their respective slots,

resulting in chronic leakage and unwanted reed activity?

Or does that apply only to 'tinas with leather valves?

 

 

 

I think this is really only an issue with traditional concertinas, where the reeds are mounted flat to the reed board, all in one plane. The Rochelle looks more like an accordion inside, with the reeds mounted to reed blocks that are perpendicular to the action board, so in theory, vertical storage might even be better. In any case, mine's been sitting on end since I got it nearly 4 years ago, and no valve problems yet.

 

B

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If I may suggest a possible solution to the "too big gig bag" problem that Shas mentions, here's what I did with a thinly padded black nylon case, for use at those times when a gig-bag-type case with shoulder strap is the best choice for carrying (as oposed to, let's say, a hard box-like case with only a carrying handle).

 

At the local hardware store, I found some jute matting, sold by the yard from a roll, so I paid a couple of bucks for a yard thereof, took it home, cut it to fit neatly inside the gig-bag and thereby succeeded in decreasing the diameter by about an inch or so. The matting rolled nicely -- fiber side inside, towards the instrument. I ran the matting piece through the washing machine a couple of times to remove the smell, and then covered it with some fairly sturdy canvas, stiched on by hand (needle & thread), added a couple of end pieces of packing foam (also covered in canvas) and made my concertina a safer, happier instrument. Is that not a owrthy goal? Yes, it did take a a couple of hours of the "measure twice, cut once" approach, but I'm pleased with the results. I even excavated in the two end inserts a cruved space for the button rows, so that all the weight of the instrument rests on the frame & end plates rather than on the buttons.

 

Now, if I were ever to buy -- and master -- a digital camera, I'd take photos. Alas, I'm a fan of old technology, and old instruments, besides, hence, no photos.

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Shas,

Your review is great, thank you.

I've had my Rochelle for 11 months now, still a long way to go.

I wonder, what do you think of the placement of the air button? I find it difficult to reach.

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