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Hand geometry and concertinas


John D
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I was traveling to a town up on the CT/MA border Saturday for a meeting involving my other hobby (Amateur Radio), and since I was 3/4 of the way there I decided to run up to Sunderland MA to pay a visit to the Button Box. I had recently sent them the Stagi I had bought a few years earlier for trade-in, and wanted to try out a Ceili and some of the vintage boxes they have in stock.

 

One of the big problems I had with the Stagi is the buttons didn't seem like they were in the right place. Even though I've got large hands the button spacing was so large that it was uncomfortable to play. My Edgley is much more comfortable though I'm still trying to find the right tightness for the straps to give me enough hand motion without losing bellows control. I was very interested to try the Lachenal 40-button box they had, but when I picked it up and tried to play a bit I found that I could barely get my hands into position to play Flop-Eared Mule from Bertram's book .. the buttons were much closer together and the entire pattern seemed rotated in relation to the handrest in a way that my hand didn't want to go! I next tried the Jeffries 45-button they had and though it also has closer spaced buttons I didn't have the same problem (and it sounded lovely, but I wasn't crazy about the little metal buttons). I then picked up the Dipper (http://www.buttonbox.com/cac0401.html), stuck my hands in the straps .. and fell in love! It fit me like a glove, the buttons were right where my fingers wanted them to be ..if it was in C/G or G/D I would have started negotiations instantly :) (is that a Cotswold? it has raised wooden ends)

 

So the question is: how much variation on button position/placement is there on vintage (and new non-hybrid) concertinas? It seems to me to reinforce the idea that I'd better not purchase anything without getting my hands into the straps first. I would assume that a given maker is going to have a single geometry .. but maybe even that isn't a safe assumption? e.g. if I order a Dipper, when it shows up sometime in the hazy future will it feel like that Geo. Salley special?

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Wally Carroll has developed an adjustable hand rest. Now I've always sensed, with sufficent practise, our fingers can get used to playing any button they can reach. That said, when my Carroll arrived last year, I adjusted the left hand rest so that the F# is exatly alligned with my left pinky. There are lots of flaws in how i play, but i can't use reaching for the F# as an excuse any more. Button placement matters, but so does everything else in the design of the concertina ends.

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Hi John,

 

You are apparently now going through what I experienced back in the late 1990s. I started off with a Suttner that was a clone of the Wheatstone Linota. It was quite cramped and the palmrest was ill positioned. Through lots of experimentation and measuring, I found out that Wheatstones and Lachenals have their rows of notes closer to the palmrest than do Jeffries, Crabbs and custom-made Dippers -- as you have experienced. George Salley's instrument is a one of a kind that I think became the basis for the Shantyman model that Dipper has made. I too had Dipper make me a small Cotswold (just a bit bigger than the County Clare model) that was customized to fit my hands.

 

You will find that virtually all of the concertinas -- regardless of brand -- with more than 30 buttons will have tighter and, for me, less comfortable button spacing. 40 button Wheatstones and 45 button Jeffries will be about the worst for this. So stick to 30 button models to avoid this issue.

 

Over the years I have found that just about any regular Jeffries, Crabb, Ball Beavon will fit my bigger hands just fine. But I have to pass on Wheatstones and Lachenals for the reason I mentioned. As was already mentioned, you can get a Carroll with adjustable palmrests (for some extra $$). Another way to get comfortable spacing for your hands on a Carroll and possibly the other two is to have a taller palmrest made. Wally Carroll did that for me and it solved the Linota spacing.

 

So, my advice is to either get on Carroll's wait list (with adjustable palmrest or taller palmrest) or hunt for a Jeffries, Crabb or possibly a Ball Beavon. Any of these will solve your hand comfort issues.

 

Best regards,

 

Ross Schlabach

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  • 10 years later...

I swapped my Kensington for a friend's Morse for a week recently.  One thing I do a lot is use the pull high g  on the RH 3rd row - it's great for a roll, the graces are a very musical d and a - or to mix it up phrasing-wise; or to just get a stronger tone - in general if I have a choice between pushing or pulling I'll pull, unless it screws up the playing itself, of course.  Sometimes it just has to be that push g on the RH g row.  

 

In fact, from the dribs and drabs of info about how people actually play Irish music on these things that I've been able to gather, it seems like using that push g is standard practice.

 

Anyway, back to this Morse - I noticed right off the bat that the pull g was seemingly placed about half a button's width to the left of where I expected it to be, making it pretty much impossible to use, one of various things I wasn't nuts about - I really hate the Wheatstone layout making me push all the C#s!  Or reverting back to accordion reeds.  Accept no substitute!  It was easy to play though, and had a nice sound in its own way.

 

A friend with a Carroll mentioned something about this after I described it - it's a fluke of the design, somehow.  Maybe it was this business of handrest placement she meant - would having the buttons closer make it tricky to get to that button?  Maybe my having to use the middle finger for it is what's throwing me - the original customers of these instruments perhaps weren't so adamant about that.

 

I wonder if, assuming this business of using the push g almost exclusively is true, if it's a byproduct of this aspect of the Wheatstone design - that if playing pull g on old instruments was uncomfortable, then it wasn't used widely.  Assuming old Wheatstones etc are really like this Morse.  

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As the owner of a Kensington and a Morse (I'm looking at them both right now), I might suggest there could be another factor: button rake, as I've heard it referred to. A Morse has the rake of a Lachenal: as you go from, say the first button in row 1 to the one in row 2 and then row 3, that third button is still to the left of the 2nd button down in the first row. On instruments that follow a Jeffries rake, that 3rd row 1st button lines up with the  2nd button in the first row. I paid little heed to this until I played the "traveling" instrument Wim Walker sent around about a decade ago. During my few days with it, I marveled at how well it fit my hands. I realized it had the button rake of the Lachenal and Morse, and not the Jeffries rake found on many new instruments, including the Kensington. This certainly could feel like "half a button off" in row 3 until you adjust to it. I don't avoid Jeffries rake, but it is a consideration in trying (or commissioning) an instrument. Maybe I can find some pictures to illustrate the contrast.

 

Look at the options for anglos on www.wakker-concertinas.com and you'll see this ordering option:

Keyboard rake: Wheatstone or Jeffries
Few makers give you a choice; many seem to always use one or the other.

 

Maybe it doesn't matter for others (just like my no-bent-wrist-or-I-get-carpal-inflammation doesn't seem to be a concern for many), but I discovered it is noticeable for me.

 

Ken

 

Edited to add: this topic may require its own thread....

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Ah, I figured there was some term for this I just hadn't stumbled across.  Lots of mentions here.  It's mentioned in various threads here over the years.  I'll read up later.  Do you find the Kensington comfortable to play?  Mine feels perfect; there are things I wonder about - playing some runs in the bass like DBA is tricky for me to do without inadvertently sounding some notes in the third row, but maybe that's just something I need to keep practicing at.

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7 hours ago, Ken_Coles said:

A Morse has the rake of a Lachenal: as you go from, say the first button in row 1 to the one in row 2 and then row 3, that third button is still to the left of the 2nd button down in the first row. On instruments that follow a Jeffries rake, that 3rd row 1st button lines up with the  2nd button in the first row.

 

Jeffries Anglo Concertina.jpg

Wheatstone Linota Anglo Concertina.jpg

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11 hours ago, LR71 said:

Ah, I figured there was some term for this I just hadn't stumbled across.  Lots of mentions here.  It's mentioned in various threads here over the years.  I'll read up later.  Do you find the Kensington comfortable to play?  Mine feels perfect; there are things I wonder about - playing some runs in the bass like DBA is tricky for me to do without inadvertently sounding some notes in the third row, but maybe that's just something I need to keep practicing at.

 

Like switching between Lach/Wheatstone and Jeffries fingering, I find I can switch rake after some muscular reset and do OK. I'm not a lightning or virtuoso player so others may be able to tell you more. And the Kensington was made by a good friend (I knew Dana before he was making them) and I love the sound. That said I play the Morse a lot (Rich Morse was another friend, such a community this is). Everyone has their ideal setup and it is individual.

 

Keep the tunes going,

Ken

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I trust these are representative of instruments from any era - it was really difficult to find end-on photos of the RH side.  Now, the Wheatstone looks quite close to geometric - you can draw lines through rows of 3 buttons' middles.  The Jeffries looks much more deliberately offset; perhaps the C and G rows match the Wheatstone design, but the accidentals row is offset.  In fact, the groups of buttons almost look like equilateral triangles on the Wheatstone, and isosceles on the Jeffries.  It would be interesting to hear from builders about this, as well as hearing more opinions from players. 

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One consideration we don't see (without opening the instrument) is that the design needs to route all the levers among the buttons and that may account for slight irregularities one sees on some old instruments. Agreed that the modern builders can shed light on this; we'll see if they chime in here.

 

Ken

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Without throwing a cog into the spring of this fascinating discussion!; I have often been slightly criticised for putting my whole hands extremely loosely  inside strap of my Anglo (30 button variety)! And maybe it helps me reach all the awkward buttons with less effort. It certainly caused a lot of comments!

 

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I don't tighten the straps much, either, it just isn't necessary.  I still found it awkward to hit that one button on the Morse.  Some other buttons might have been easier to get at, I didn't play it too much really.

 

The friend who I swapped instruments with just acquired her own Kensington, which I got to play last night.  It was interesting how it had its own personality; mine is 6 folds and hers 7, mine seems perhaps the tiniest bit brighter.  Hers sounded great in its own right.

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