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Financial incentive of 20b manufacture

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I have 2 very nice vintage 20 button anglo tinas and keep wondering why early manufacturers made them. The 30b wouldn't be a problem to purchase instead if one could afford a high end 20b. I should add, that I find myself playing the 20b more often than my 2 very nice 30b tinas. 

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I suspect it's because many people played them in styles where 20 buttons were enough.

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In the melodeon world, there is a thriving sector of people playing beautiful craftsman-made single row boxes.  These people don't think, "It's only a 1 row."  They work with the single row that's available and play some amazing music in the traditional style.

 

In the concertina world, there is a little bit of an feeling of "it's ONLY a 20 b."  This may be because the biggest group of Anglo players is the people who play Irish fiddle tunes cross row in D (and other keys) on CG 30b boxes.

 

If the biggest demand is for 30b, that's where the specialist makers will concentrate their efforts.

 

I very much enjoy playing my 20b.  Furthermore, trying to work out tunes on 20b with out the "easy option" of a duplicate note in the 3rd row, has made me a better player.  I would love a 20b as nice as my 30b Dipper.  (Although I will almost certainly never have the funds to buy yet another concertina.) Such an instrument would be a joy to own.

 

That said, the rugged simplicity of the Lachenal with its bone buttons and clicky action is part of what gives it is character.

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20 button boxes were made because they were cheaper and many of the people who bought them in the early days were at the poorer end of society, plus of course the original German concertinas were 20 button and the extra buttons weren't added by English manufacturers until a little later.

 

Personally I think there's a lot to be said for 26 button anglos, I've had three such G/Ds over the years. They've much of the versatility of the 30 button without some of the weight and much of the cost. Jeffries wooden-ended 26 button concertinas are particularly worth looking out for, very playable but with a sweetness of tone not usually associated with Jeffries.

 

Chris

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I read the original question to be why were the NICE 20 button anglo concertinas made?  The implication being that they would not have been bought by the poorer end of society, since these would be more expensive than other more basic 20 button anglos, and the customer who could afford one could probably instead buy a 30 button of more basic construction for a similar price.

 

I can say that there is a pleasure in playing a good quality instrument which can outweigh the utility of additional buttons.  So if money is not quite as tight, but a high quality 30 button is out of reach, the high quality 20 button can be a better choice than poor quality 30 button.

 

That matches my own experience.  I chose a sweet vintage rosewood 20 button Lachenal, rather than the more versatile but less charming 30 button Rochelle as my first concertina, after trying both at the same shop.

 

 

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Not surprised you went for it. Rosewood ended Lachenals are a particular favourite of mine. I've owned three over the years, lovely combination of sweetness and playability and quite pretty with it. But SFAIK you won't find 20 button anglos any further up Lachenal's range, and the price difference between a 20 button and a 30 button in the same range was significant as it still is today.

 

Chris

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Tradewinds Ted: That's my thoughts, although versatility is at least a consideration.

 

I turned down several 38b concertinas, including at least 1 Jeffries, because I preferred the 30b Dipper that I bought.  I tried 5 or 6 20b Lachenals on the same day and one stood out: it wasn't the recently restored one with the longer bellows, but the one that felt right in my hands.  A concertina is easier to practise when you need to be reminded to put it down, rather than nagging yourself to pick it up.

 

The best concertina "on paper" isn't always the one I'll choose.  I'll choose the one that feels like it will be my voice when I play it.

 

As for simplicity and limited range of notes, I started on the diatonic harmonica, which is effectively a "one row" melodeon without the complication of bellows and bases.

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That’s a really good question.
The 20 key anglo is such a great instrument in its own right, not just to learn on, or play while we save for a 30 key.
I think the comparison with the one-row melodeon is spot on, and shows that instruments are not necessarily better if they are more complicated, with more notes, buttons and reeds.
I have a decent Lachenal mahogany-ended anglo, and the Lachenal rosewood-ended models can be wonderful  - I had a lovely one that was loud, fast and bright.  Only let it go as a trade-in for a better 20-key, but I still miss it.  Trouble is, while there are lots of decent 20-keys, and plenty of good ones, there are very few of top-quality.  For example, I only know of one of Wheatstone’s best: a 20-key Linota made in the 1920s, and a few basic Jeffries.   Any more?
So (sadly) I’m a bit short of evidence for why less is more, and why the 20-key is so special, and isn’t just a poor person’s 30 key.  Lighter, punchier, more responsive, more space for bigger reeds…..?  It could be, but I need more proof.
Where is the brilliant player to demonstrate that the 20-key anglo can be the supreme concertina?
Then there will be a waiting list for 20-key Dippers.
I live in hope.
Best wishes, Steve

 

 

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1 hour ago, March Hare said:


So (sadly) I’m a bit short of evidence for why less is more, and why the 20-key is so special, and isn’t just a poor person’s 30 key.  Lighter, punchier, more responsive, more space for bigger reeds…..?  It could be, but I need more proof.
Where is the brilliant player to demonstrate that the 20-key anglo can be the supreme concertina?
Then there will be a waiting list for 20-key Dippers.

A waiting list for Dippers?  I think the waiting list is already 100 years long!

 

Why is the 20 key so special?  Because the 20 button layout is the heart of every Anglo.  All Anglos are a 20 key plus extras.

 

Each one of those extras makes it more versatile or easier to play, but at the expense of the essential purity of the instrument.

 

When you only have 20 keys, you need to play push pull most of the time.  When you have a 30, there are many ways to play short runs of notes in the same bellows direction.  It becomes faster and more legato.

 

When you have a 30, you have more chords, or richer versions of the chords available on the 20, and different inversions.  It becomes more like a pocket piano and less like a pump action harmonica.  Every improvement makes it a better and more rounded musical instrument, but at the expense of the simple charm of the basic layout.

 

This is true of so many products.  Manufacturers bring out something that fits a clear design brief, then spend the next few years improving it until it is something completely different, often "better" on paper, but somehow less characterful.  My first Moto Guzzi had only 5 gears but they were exactly the right ones; my latest has 6 gears and that means I have to change more often.  The first Ford Ka was glorious in its unpretentious simplicity; the current one is prettier, more complex, better in every way except it's less practical and more expensive to repair.  Who can deny that a 21 speed bicycle is more versatile and practical than a fixed gear?  Yet a fixed gear is somehow more rewarding to ride.  Add your own examples here:

 

I love my 30b Dipper and play it every day.  I recently traded a 38b Jeffries because I seldom played it, despite it being a beautiful instrument.  I found I was playing my cheap and cheerful 20b Lachenal more often.

 

I also found that the extra work required to fit some tunes on a 20b with an imaginative accompaniment has made me a better player all round, and has helped me to move away from the temptingly easy bass options that the 30 offers.

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This thread makes me think of "historically informed performance practice" in the world of academic music. Since J.S. Bach's day, the orchestral instruments and keyboards have been improving steadily. Bach composed for the harpsichord, whereas Mozart and Beethoven composed for and played the piano. But Beethoven's piano was not nearly as advanced as Glen Gould's piano. Until fairly recently, there was the notion that the older composers' music was "upgraded" by playing it on modern instruments. But recently I heard an eye-opener (or ear-opener) on the radio: a Mozart piano sonata played on a Steinway, and then on a reproduction Hammerklavier of Mozart's day. It was astonishing how much more ... authentic the music sounded on the older instrument. Its timbre was what Mozart wrote for, and it did deal with the "noteyness" of Mozarts music better than the modern piano with its long sustain.

Thanks to my daughter's involvement in a good church choir, I've become accustomed to hearing Bach played on historical instruments: violins with gut strings, oboes and flutes without flaps, natural trumpets and horns. Modern instruments just don't sound right to me any more in this context. Of course, when there's a post-romantic work involved, the modern brass, woodwind and steel-strung strings are the way to go - that's what the more recent composers wrote for.

 

This is all rather removed from the musical world of the Anglo concertina, but I do see an analogy. There was a time when popular music was such that a 20-button German or Anglo-German concertina was all that was needed to play it adequately. If we play the popular music of that period, a 20-button concertina will help to keep us "authentic!"

 

Cheers,

John

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That's an interesting comparison. :)

 

Thinking also of (?) the Plymouth Philharmonic (?) which many years ago did some experimental thing where they did minimal rehearsal because that's what orchestras had to do back in the day when the score arrived with the ink still wet on the day of the concert.

 

Thinking also of recordings of William Kimber, whose playing sounds odd and crunchy to modern ears, and not at all like the style that many people now call "English".

 

Every generation, including ours, is part of the folk/popular process.  It's not an us and them situation.  Just as the Victorians did, we play the music that is known to us, using techniques and harmonies that we hear around us.

 

We are able to listen to a wider range of music and styles, and have far greater access to theory.  This has many advantages, but the disadvantage is that some of the simplicity and soul of the music may be sacrificed to sophistication and smoothness.  "Handicapping" ourselves by playing the simpler instrument forces us to find what is already in the tune, rather than showing what we can put into the tune.

Edited by Mikefule

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Here in UK most sessions play major-key tunes in G or D.  We have a chap at our session who plays a 20b C/G, and plays it very nicely, but he has to put it down when the session goes into D.

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5 hours ago, Mikefule said:

That's an interesting comparison. :)

 

Thinking also of (?) the Plymouth Philharmonic (?) which many years ago did some experimental thing where they did minimal rehearsal because that's what orchestras had to do back in the day when the score arrived with the ink still wet on the day of the concert.

 

Thinking also of recordings of William Kimber, whose playing sounds odd and crunchy to modern ears, and not at all like the style that many people now call "English".

 

Every generation, including ours, is part of the folk/popular process.  It's not an us and them situation.  Just as the Victorians did, we play the music that is known to us, using techniques and harmonies that we hear around us.

 

We are able to listen to a wider range of music and styles, and have far greater access to theory.  This has many advantages, but the disadvantage is that some of the simplicity and soul of the music may be sacrificed to sophistication and smoothness.  "Handicapping" ourselves by playing the simpler instrument forces us to find what is already in the tune, rather than showing what we can put into the tune.

That's very well put Mikefule.  Simplicity and constraint yield expression and "soul".  

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Yes - such brilliant examples: fixed-wheel bike, early piano, Ford Ka, etc.  

Also the classical guitar, which changed from a smaller, lighter, more resonant instrument in the early 1800s, to a bigger and heavier box for big concert halls.  Guitarists are going back to the earlier guitars because the pieces by Sor, Aguado, Carulli, Giuliani etc sound right.

Same for the 20-key anglo which, for decades did all that the player wanted to make music.  Like John K with the Hohner one-row and two-row melodeons, Oscar Woods and his Hohners, and the great William Kimber, who played the 30-key as if it was a 20-key, ignoring the extra buttons.  So perhaps that is why there was never a need for high end 20-key anglos.

Less is more.

 

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6 hours ago, March Hare said:

and the great William Kimber, who played the 30-key as if it was a 20-key, ignoring the extra buttons.  So perhaps that is why there was never a need for high end 20-key anglos.

Less is more.

 

 

My understanding is that Kimber refused to change his 20b arrangements of the Morris tunes, but was happy to use the 3rd row for other popular tunes that required it.

 

Less is sometimes more, especially with music, but sometimes it is fairer to say that "enough is sufficient".  When you need those extra buttons because the tune modulates through 3 keys, less isn't more, it's a handicap.  However, that doesn't mean that you have to use every full chord and bass run you can find, every time, on every tune, because that can lead to a "death by chocolate" style of music.

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Agreed - enough is sufficient is apt here.  I won’t pretend that the 20-key will cope easily with lots of modulations, bass runs etc.

I just want us to celebrate what this simply wonderful instrument will do, and that is: play thousands of joyful tunes and songs for dancing, singing, playing, listening.  No apologies or reservations.

William Kimber is our best example - I wish there were more good players and hope there soon will be.  (I only know of one recorded tune where WK uses a top-row button, but I can’t deny that he played a 30-key Jeffries, not a 20-key.  I like to think that wasn’t his choice, or it just didn’t matter to him, but I am very grateful that we have recordings of a lot of his tunes.)

Cheers, Steve

 

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