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MatthewVanitas

A Durable/climate-Resistant Concertina?

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As I'm looking at changing careers, several of the jobs I'm looking at would involve traveling between very different climates. If I do get one of these heavily-traveling jobs, I was thinking to get a small 20 or 22 button hybrid Anglo so I could leave my vintage Anglo safe at home. Maybe not quite a miniature, but perhaps something like the 21b Marcus Traveller [sic] which is 5" across the flats.

 

I recall having read (maybe in one of Dan's books) that some nicer English concertinas were made for customers stationed in tropical British colonies, so the construction choices were made to resist corrosion, swelling, cracking, etc.

 

If one were to order a small hybrid that's durable for travel, not so much in terms of getting knocked around, but in terms of not as inclined to suffer from heat or humidity, or lack thereof, what kind of features could be reasonably included?

 

  • Any particular woods more resistant to climate?
  • Any type of bellows construction more resistant to getting soggy from the air?
  • Is there anything to be done at all with reed selection to pick the more rust-resistant option?
  • Screwed-in vice waxed-in reeds? Despite assurances of waxes with high melt points.
  • In terms of having fewer small bits to break, maintaining structural integrity and all that, there must be more conservative ways of doing the fretwork rather than the normal intricate twistiness. Either maybe just some separated round holes like some early German concertinas, or maybe even "fretless" ends like Tedrow builds, where the soundholes are instead openings around the side of the flats. (photo, and a prior thread on fretless)
Edited by MatthewVanitas

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I'm sorry that no one has responded to this query yet, as these are interesting questions, but I did enjoy the link to the previous cnet discussion about fretless concertinas. It occurred three years or so before I even picked up a concertina, let alone became an avid cnetter. It was a wonderful, rambling thread, typical of many forum discussions. I enjoyed it enormously.

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That Traveller model looks interesting, wish I could try one out. I think I'd really miss having a G#'s, but I suppose I could get along without it.

 

As to your questions, I'll offer my perspective.

 

I spent two years commuting (with a concertina) between Seattle and Phoenix every week. Three days in one location and four in the other, and quite a difference between them for humidity and temperatures at some times of the year. I tried to avoid subjecting the concertinas to temperature extremes by keeping them in an air conditioned environment in Phoenix but they were subject humidity changes. On one occasion I unintentionally permitted a concertina to be exposed to 115 degree F for about 90 minutes (in a car trunk during a drive to the Phoenix airport). When I subsequently got it out to play it at the airport I noted the first time I expelled air from the bellows it felt both hot and quite moist - I shudder to think of the wood giving up that much moisture in so short a time and what affect longer exposure to the heat might have had. After that I made a point to always put my luggage in the backseat so that it was in air conditioning on the drive.

 

Over the span of those two years I traveled with Edgley, Tedrow and Dipper concertinas, trading out now and then. All seemed unaffected by the travel, but of course, as stated above, for the most part they were kept in air conditioning. The Tedrow was Bob's Zephyr model and the small size made it easy to travel with, I could fit it into a carry-on bag along with my clothing and so traveled light with a single bag.

 

I used to know a fellow that lived in Nevada and had a hybrid concertina. After a few years the sound board apparently shrank from the low humidity and it started leaking air very badly. I believe the maker replaced the sound board with a different material and that fixed the problem.

 

You asked about materials, I have been intrigued by the notion of the plastic (rather than leather) valves for traveling concertinas. It's a notion more than something I can substantiate by facts, but I'm of the mind that leather valves might be affected by low humidity and heat and more inclined to lose their suppleness over time. I think I've heard that the Carroll line uses plastic valves, but I could be wrong about that.

 

Just a guess on my part, but I imagine that so long as you don't get the bellows physically wet, they will not be degraded by high humidity environments. I suppose I could imagine problems with an environment where the air is fully saturated and everything is virtually dripping wet, but I wouldn't imagine problems with anything short of that.

 

I don't have any experience with reeds rusting, so can't comment in that area.

 

As to waxed-in reeds vs. mechanical screw mounting, I prefer the latter for convenience of removal for clearing problems, but I don't think it makes much difference for most environments from a functional point. It would seem to me that if you permit the concertina to get warm enough to melt wax then other problems will likely result.

 

Bertram Levy has commented to me that he has a Bastari that he is willing to take just about anywhere, hot, cold or humid and it has held up well over the years. If you anticipate that your travel and work circumstances might result in a concertina being exposed to high temperatures or other rough conditions, it might be worthwhile to explore a Bastari/Stagi for travel. While I can't advise which model might be best, I've played Bertram's and it works well with a good action. Much better than the one I used to have, a different model with a weak sound and buttons that frequently stuck despite my efforts to rework the internal mechanism. The advantage I see with Bastari/Stagi is that they are inexpensive, so less to lose if they degrade, get lost or stolen.

 

Your question regarding fretwork makes me wonder just how rough you anticipate your travel conditions being. While I acknowledge that fretwork can be fragile, I would like to think you would be able to protect the instrument well enough that it wouldn't be subjected to conditions that might cause fretwork to break. Perhaps you're just trying to explore the possibility of a very hardy concertina design? It wasn't mentioned in the above comments on waxed vs. mechanical screw mounted reeds, but I'll mention here that should you have a concertina with a radial reed pan and reeds pressed in slots, sudden shock to the instrument could cause reeds to dislodge and start leaking air past them.

 

Regardless, I'm of the opinion that the fretwork influences the volume and sound of the instrument. Not the shape or design so much as the overall degree of openness and location of the principal openings. Of course, baffling is also a big factor when it's used and depending on your situation, it might be desirable. My biggest issue when traveling with a concertina is with trying to find a place where I can play without disturbing others. The softer the sound of the instrument, the more likely you'll be able to find a place to play it.

 

Good luck in finding something that works for your situation.

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Willie van Wyk uses Perspex for his reed pans. I doesn't appear to affect the sound quality.

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I've travelled to Hawaii, been on a two week Mediterranean cruise as well as Caribbean and an Alaskan cruise with concertinas. I've also driven across the continent, camping all the way. The instruments I brought with me were a Lachenal (61/4"), Dipper, and more recently my own make (61/8"). The concertina is one of the rare instruments that you can do this with. I have had no problems, either with portability or climate issues. When crossing the plains during a 108 degree heat wave, I just purchased a small Styrofoam cooler, as my van didn't have air conditioning. Otherwise, I just used a soft padded case.

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As I'm looking at changing careers, several of the jobs I'm looking at would involve traveling between very different climates. If I do get one of these heavily-traveling jobs, I was thinking to get a small 20 or 22 button hybrid Anglo so I could leave my vintage Anglo safe at home. Maybe not quite a miniature, but perhaps something like the 21b Marcus Traveller [sic] which is 5" across the flats.

 

I recall having read (maybe in one of Dan's books) that some nicer English concertinas were made for customers stationed in tropical British colonies, so the construction choices were made to resist corrosion, swelling, cracking, etc.

 

If one were to order a small hybrid that's durable for travel, not so much in terms of getting knocked around, but in terms of not as inclined to suffer from heat or humidity, or lack thereof, what kind of features could be reasonably included?

 

  • Any particular woods more resistant to climate?
  • Any type of bellows construction more resistant to getting soggy from the air?
  • Is there anything to be done at all with reed selection to pick the more rust-resistant option?
  • Screwed-in vice waxed-in reeds? Despite assurances of waxes with high melt points.
  • In terms of having fewer small bits to break, maintaining structural integrity and all that, there must be more conservative ways of doing the fretwork rather than the normal intricate twistiness. Either maybe just some separated round holes like some early German concertinas, or maybe even "fretless" ends like Tedrow builds, where the soundholes are instead openings around the side of the flats. (photo, and a prior thread on fretless)

 

 

I've been abusing concertinas for years by playing for the Morris - which means playing in the rain, in scorching heat, in crowded bars where the instruments get bumped, in 18 degree weather during a misguided Christmas parade. In all that time, I've had very few problems, and then only with one older instrument that had some unreliability issues until Greg Jowaisis got his hands on it.

 

My hybrid instruments - Morses, you know, you've played them - seem to stand up to anything you throw at them.

 

At this year's Marlboro Morris ale I played outside, in 38 degree weather with blowing rain, with my Jeffries (taking care, of course, to keep the bellows relatively dry) with no ill effects.

 

Honestly, I don't see the point of trying to construct a "weatherproof" concertina.

 

Yes, you have to use common sense. I use the hybrids when I know the weather could be a problem; I line up umbrella holders before playing when it's raining; I don't leave concertinas in locked cars in 90 degree heat.

 

But in my years of playing I've had no real weather related problems, or problems resulting from climate changes.

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I agree with Jim that available concertinas are already pretty hardy in all kinds of weather. But at the same time, with all the progress being made with 3D printers, I wonder whether that might lead to an all-plastic (or all but the reeds) concertina.

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Concertinas are extremely durable. Take common sense precautions to avoid extreme heat, use an umbrella in the rain, and don't play it immediately after taking indoors when it's very cold outside, and you'll be fine. Oh, and avoid getting on Fiona's bad side (she probably hates concertina players, too):

 

shrek-disneyscreencaps.com-6172.jpg?w=20 shrek-disneyscreencaps.com-6173.jpg?w=20 shrek-disneyscreencaps.com-6174.jpg?w=20 shrek-disneyscreencaps.com-6175.jpg?w=20

 

(I cried at this scene, the first time I saw Shrek!!!)

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Well, that is some reassuring news. I guess maybe I was being over-cautious, and/or basing it off of having read of other instruments designed for extreme climates. As mentioned, I'd read somewhere about the small hand-pump harmoniums that missionaries took to India, being marketed in offerings with specially-impregnated wood to prevent borer beetles, or to hold up in bad climates. Part of what also put it in my head was a post on Chiff & Fipple where a tinwhistler in Singapore wanted recommendations on a non-corroding tinwhistle since his harmonica kept getting moldy in the tropical climate; I ended up suggesting to him a plastic tinwhistle I bought made by a guy who developed it for backpacking in the Everglades. Granted, those are extreme damp climates I'm less likely to be in, but I suppose if concertinas hold up in damp regions of the UK then they have some resilience.

 

I did keep an Elise in Afghanistan for half a year with no particular ill effects. It may be that it has some amount of dust deep inside it as a result, so that might somewhat increase it's eventual need for cleaning and tuning, but it didn't go completely cattawampus or anything. It did quite quite a bit of dust in the external folds of the bellows, easily wiped off but maybe a troubling sign for dust getting in it.

 

Does the gauze in the fretwork really have much use in keeping dust and gunk out of there, or is the really pernicious stuff the dust that's so fine it'll go through any such fabric freely? I didn't take a concertina to Iraq (just ukulele, harmonica, tinwhistle) but they had some dust there that was just like talcum powder and could seep into a building or vehicle through the smallest cracks.

 

 

Okay, so overall climate isn't an great factor so long as basic precautions are taken?

 

So far as woods, I'd asked because some piece on vintage concertinas noted that the hardest woods were at the most risk of cracking and thus damage to the fretwork over the centuries, whereas softer woods might flex over time without necessarily cracking apart. This made me wonder about mesquite, which a few American makers like for bagpipes since it has an unusual tendency to expand/contract equally in all directions, so never goes "out of round" and compromises the bore. I don't know if that trait would be helpful or not for concertinas, or whether the easiest wood would be one that doesn't tend to change much under any condition, and has enough "flex" or non-hardness to it that it would resist cracking.

 

Granted, from what's said above anything that would put that much hurt on the wood is probably very bad in general and just prevention is the key, but it's still interesting to ponder.

 

 

 

 

Regardless, I'm of the opinion that the fretwork influences the volume and sound of the instrument. Not the shape or design so much as the overall degree of openness and location of the principal openings. Of course, baffling is also a big factor when it's used and depending on your situation, it might be desirable. My biggest issue when traveling with a concertina is with trying to find a place where I can play without disturbing others. The softer the sound of the instrument, the more likely you'll be able to find a place to play it.

 

Both the loudness issue and the fretwork size issue are things that made the Tedrow "fretless" models interesting to me. They seem to have fewer little fragile tendrils of wood in the fretwork, so fewer little bits at risk of chipping? So far as being able to play it while traveling, I'd thought initially the fretless might be notably quieter, but per Tedrow's post though the sound was "quiet and enclosed" when purely fretless, with the side-vents added it becomes "volume is near that of a fretted concertina, but with a nasal timbre, no sharpness.. very pleasant." That said, would a fretless concertina with just side vents be easier than average to baffle (and/or dust-proof) since it has fewer openings, and very simply/easy ones rather than trying to pad across a large expanse of irregular fretting? In whatever case, I wouldn't expect to be needing a session-loud instrument while traveling, so a small one that can keep up in volume with just voice and a guitar would likely be totally sufficient.

 

 

Bruce (among his many great points) brings up the convenience of his little Zephyr (20b? 30b?), and I'd imagine a smaller 'box is maybe slightly safer both for having fewer long stretches of sensitive wood and for being easier to wrap/box safely in a small place. Any such decision for me is likely a good year or so off (barring a few key job options), but if I do end up getting one of the travel-heavy jobs going to scruffy places, something akin to a fretless Zephyr has great appeal; I note too one version of the Zephyr is an octagonal 24b (2 rows of 6, Edgley-Herrington system?). I note though that Tedrow's square "Dandy" model itself is only 5 3/4" in 30 button, so nearly as small; is that just because a square shape lets one efficiently fit in more reeds into smaller space?

 

Though I mainly play Hayden duet, I play and enjoy a little Anglo, and Anglo seems the easiest in a little traveling box. That said, if Tedrow's Dandy is that small, it does make me wonder if a 30b square mini-Hayden would be doable. 15 buttons per side could manage two major keys, so the following layout gives a total of 2.5 octaves of Dmaj, 2 of Gmaj, 2.2 of Em, and their derivatives:

 

-g-a-b

c-d-e-f#

G-A-B-c#

C-D-E-F#

 

 

A small-sized, semi-chromatic square concertina would be largely what the "Wheatstone Duett" was, back from 1854: http://www.concertinamuseum.com/CM00097.htm

 

o0osnk.jpg

 

Appealingly primitive little boxes, just 4.5" x 5.9", so smaller in cross-section than even my vintage 20b Jones. The Duett was 24b, so not sure how much larger a 30b with hybrid reeds would be (if at all, the Duett reedpan only takes up half the case, not sure if that's because it's hard to use the full case in a rectangle while keeping the action consistent). At worst, a 24b Hayden "Duett" would be diatonic, but still 2.5 octaves in its main key, 2.4 in its Dorian, 2.0 in its Aeolian ("standard" minor), etc. So not any worse (on some level) than the 10-button melodeon I play, just with more versatility on the left-hand chords (though tying up the left hand in chording ties up an octave of the range).

 

 

So lots of theorizing, but I figure anyone terribly bored by this would've moved on to a different thread by now. I always feel a bit indulgent pondering potential instruments on a forum, since sometimes I field ideas that never come to anything. But I figure the discussion is educational, and so far as this forum goes I did indeed end up getting an Elise, then a Jones Anglo, and then a Beaumont, all based on input from this board. So y'all are indubitably having an effect on me. :D

Edited by MatthewVanitas

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