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Introducing Alex Holden's #3: A Crane!

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Hi,

 

I returned from a trip to the UK today which was filled with music, the main item being... picking up my brand new 46 button Crane made to order by Alex:

 

(scroll down his instagram presence for a comprehensive history of the project).

 

the hiccups in the recording are to some degree owed to the slightly different keyboard layout compared to my other Cranes. But that doesn't matter, since this is not about my playing (An instrument like that in my hands may be considered pearls before swine anyways) but the instrument. Alex's appearance and subsequent work imho is something very very significant in the concertina world, and we can't appreciate it highly enough that young people like him help bridge the gap between traditional concertina making and modern technology. I hope all of this doesn't sound too corny, but obviously I'm very appreciative and wish him all the best to continue building high quality concertinas.

 

I'll refresh this thread informally because so much happened within the last three months from when he began the full time work to the finishing touch, so it'll take a while for me to sort all of that out. In particular, I hope to soon publish a few videos which directly compare the sound and look and feel of my three Cranes so it becomes evident how his concertinas compare to vintage instruments.

 

Part 1: The Prelude

 

I had inquired with pretty much every living concertina builder whether they'd be interested in making a new Crane for me (don't ask why I wanted this in the first place. I don't know.). Some didn't even respond, most declied briefly, and the only one who took the time to (kindly) explain why was Frank Edgley who argued (understandably) that the time needed for design work wouldn't pay off for possibly not more than one prospected Crane sale. I can perfectly relate to that.

 

So when I inquired with Alex, it was mostly to get a full book of rejection letters, but he showed interest (which is also owing to the fact that he had another pending commission for a Crane - in my understanding, that'll be his #4).  A number of things fell into place afterwards, and suddenly I was on the top of his order book! His approach is somewhat different from the other ones in that Alex is enthusiastic about everything related to concertinas, and he considers himself still in the learning phase, so making a design for a possibly dead-end layout to him was more than anything else a step in his learning curve. Also, he simply loves tools and materials, and one of his characteristics is that he masters digital tools as well as traditional ones (even though he likes the latter ones much better) which means the CAD designs for the action and reed pans were just another step in the chain of things to do for him. His concertinas are made of exactly the same all natural ingredients of the vintage instruments we have come to appreciate (wood, metal,leather, paper), but he makes every single part (including the reed frames as well as the reeds) himself.

 

I feel extremly fortunate to have had a chance to work with Alex. Our interaction was very intense and contructive; at times we exchanged as many a four emails a day, discussing details of the instrument. He was always open to any suggestion and was polite enough when letting me know that one of my ideas was suboptimal. In my layman opinion, he is a marvelously talented craftsman who (metaphorically speaking) explodes with ideas how things can be done.

 

I was also very fortunate to win Nina Dietrich (http://www.illustration.at/) to help with the project. Nina is a very gifted, accomplished and respected Vienna based visual artist and also a Crane player. She designed the end plates to my specs and she, Alex and I worked together closely to make the visual side of Holden#3 to what it is now. I designed the bellows papers with the help of a relative who is a professional photo finisher.

 

Whatever, a musical instrument is not made for the looks but the sound it produces. Even though a number of Alex's innovations will need to face the test of time (for example, he mills his reed frames out of aluminum for weight reasons which is something no one else has gained experience with), it's already safe to say that the instrument is very idiosyncratic in the best sense of the word. The buttons are very responsive and have a light touch (but if anybody wanted a harder action, Alex could change that at the wink of an eye via spring adjustment I'm sure), the sound of the reeds is very balanced over the two sides and not as bright as my Wheatstone, neither as sweet as my Lachenal - at this point I'm more inclined to dub it creamy or velvety. The reeds are set for favoring a broader dynamic range over volume, but the tone is still amazingly voluminous. The bellows are very efficient and flexible; the 7 folds we agreed on can easily extend the instrument more than the 8 folds of my 55 button Wheatstone can.

 

Even though he hasn't been in the concertina making world for long, Alex has a very prfound knowledge of free reed physics and knows exactly what it takes to make an instrument sound the way the player wants to make it sound. Combined with his talents as a craftsman, this is bound to produce outstanding concertinas in the best tradition of the concertina makers we now consider vintage.

 

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Alex, and I wish him all the best for his future as a concertina maker (as well as personally of course).

 

to be continued

Edited by RAc
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Very nice! 

 

How big is it across the flats and what are the button assignments?

 

Edited by Don Taylor

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Rüdiger and Alex, congrats to the both of you, this is just fantastic (and confirming what I seemed to have learnt about Alex the enthusiastic, gifted and thorough craftsman over the years).

 

All the very best - 🐺

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I saw the post on Alex’s site about this instrument and am really excited about possibly signing up to get one!  My Connor is one of the last modern Cranes and this  could be an opportunity to come up with something more like we have discussed ... less overlap and more range

 overall.  

Of course, I’m really pleased that Alex has agreed to help with my Lachenal “MacCrane” conversion.  But, that’s a different thread ...

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7 hours ago, Don Taylor said:

Very nice! 

 

How big is it across the flats and what are the button assignments?

 

 

I't a standard 6,25" casing which makes it very small for a Crane. If you scroll down Alex's instagram presence, you'll see the inside (it's very tightly packed). The layout is standard Crane with the low B added on the right and the lowermost c# removed on the left for space constraint reasons.

 

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Thanks very much RAc, it was a pleasure to work with you and I am glad you like the instrument! I look forward to hearing more recordings once you have had a chance to get used to it.

 

The post @saguaro_squeezer referred to is the writeup on my blog here:

https://www.holdenconcertinas.com/?p=1528

 

Regarding the reed frames, I can make them in either brass or aluminium (6082-T6). Brass is more traditional and has some advantages, but aluminium gives an appreciable weight saving per button. I discussed that in a bit more detail in the blog post.

 

@Don Taylor here is the keyboard chart. The one for @Little John will be slightly different.

Button_Layout.png.1957cec8fb62e719218f5999e91e072f.png

 

Side point, is it the case that the stated button count for a duet includes the air button if present, whereas the count for an Anglo doesn't include the air button? This one has 45 notes + air.

 

P.S. if I recall correctly RAc was the first to contact me about a Crane, and I was still thinking about whether to take it on when a couple of days later I received a very similar inquiry from Little John, which told me there are still players out there who are interested in this system.

Edited by alex_holden

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Congratulations to @alex_holden and @RAc on this achievement! In producing a small-sized but high-quality Crane they have filled a gap in the market that has existed, as far as I can see, since the Butterworth patent of 1896. Appropriate, then, that it should be announced in the history section of this forum.

 

Whatever the expectations of the early makers, the range of notes on this instrument is pretty well ideal for those of us whose main interest is in traditional tunes and songs. On the RHS the two octaves C4 - C6 cover the vast majority of old tunes* and the additional B3 is useful for a handful of modern tunes and transpositions. On the LHS the octave-and-a-half C3 - G4 allows the player to form any standard chord he/she might want, as well as to play counter-melodies.

 

In addition the light weight is perfect for those who prefer to sing or play standing (e.g. in a folk club) or who have no choice but to stand (e.g. playing for Morris dancing). I'm greatly looking forward to receiving alex's #4 in a couple of months' time!

 

LJ

 

*A while ago I flicked through the first 60 tunes in one of Dave Townsend's books and the first 60 in Playford's Dancing Master. Every single one of those 120 tunes fitted in this two-octave range.

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Everyone interested will find a comparative video between my 55 button Wheatstone and Alex's #3 here:


Youtube link

 

Since Youtube compresses videos during upload, the audio quality may not be too useful. I have a raw .wav file of the recording. Please contact me via PM if you are interested in the file.

 

It is already evident that Alex's bellows are amazingly efficient. I attach a picture of my 8 fold 55 button Wheatstone and Alex's #3 (7 folds) fully extended and left to relax. As you can see in the video, I rarely need to work Alex's concertina nearly as much as the Wheatstone's.

 

comp_ws_h1.jpg

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Thanks RAc! One point to mention, Holden #3 is tuned in 1/5th comma meantone and I think the Wheatstone is in ET.

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3 hours ago, alex_holden said:

Thanks RAc! One point to mention, Holden #3 is tuned in 1/5th comma meantone and I think the Wheatstone is in ET.

 

Rüdiger, would you care to provide a somewhat slower tune with more sustain - the temperament's sweetening the sound should be more perceptible then...

 

Edited by Wolf Molkentin

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On 2/18/2019 at 7:58 AM, Wolf Molkentin said:

 

Rüdiger, would you care to provide a somewhat slower tune with more sustain - the temperament's sweetening the sound should be more perceptible then...

 

 

valid point and good idea, Wolf, I'm working on it. Will be a few days though.

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well, the slow air is still in the pipeline, but I have recorded the first full tune with #3:

 

This qualifies somewhat as a knuckle buster, even at the comparatively moderate speed I play it at. What already helps greatly here is the huge air volume in Alex's bellows (one less thing to worry about when attempting a tune like that). I deliberately did not normalize this track as I normally do to add as little distortion to the dynamic range as possible (although Soundcloud probably did it instead).

 

Thanks for listening as usual! The comparative slow air is scheduled next.

 

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