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Duplais

Beginner: guidelines for evaluating vintage English concertinas

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Hello! First off, I don't want to waste anyone's time soliciting information that's already out there, so if you can answer by pointing me to a resource that has the answers I'm looking for, I'd be much obliged. 

 

I'm very interested in learning English concertina. I've been poking around forums and reading as much as I can find about the different types of concertinas and I believe I have enough information to know that I'd like a vintage, treble English concertina for playing English folk music (and Irish, though I understand this is a contentious proposition) as well as dabbling in other genres including Classical. I'm drawn to a vintage instrument because I don't want to spend a great deal of money (read: more than about $700) on a new concertina, and I'd rather have something that I plan to use for a long time rather than start with a beginner instrument. There's also a just a desire to have something with some history and character. 

 

So my questions are:

  • How do you recommend I go about finding one? 
  • Are there any manufacturers that I should trust implicitly? If so, which are they?
  • What are the best ones I can find around or under $700?
  • What are the tried-and-true models I ought to keep my eye out for?
  • Am I too much of a novice to be looking for a vintage concertina?
  • Would any of you be willing to look over eBay listings I send you?

 

Thank you! I look forward to a day when I know what I'm doing and can help out another beginner :)

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I think you are probably asking for too much, that is, a vintage instrument that fulfills the requirements you indicate. You might find a tutor model of a Lachenal for that price but it would not likely, for example, be something you would want to keep for a long time. But look at the website of Chris Algar in the UK or contact Greg Jowaisis at gjowaisis@fiopticscam1 or search his page on this site

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1 minute ago, jggunn said:

I think you are probably asking for too much, that is, a vintage instrument that fulfills the requirements you indicate. You might find a tutor model of a Lachenal for that price but it would not likely, for example, be something you would want to keep for a long time. But look at the website of Chris Algar in the UK or contact Greg Jowaisis at gjowaisis@fiopticscam1 or search his page on this site

 

Thanks a lot. How much more do you think I'd need to spend to get to the level of longevity/quality I'm looking for? I'll check out those websites shortly. Appreciate the help.

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A lot of the EC's in your price range will have brass reeds (somewhat quieter), only 4-fold bellows (very limiting), and some of the 1860's ones will have spruce "baffles" (making them even quieter).

 

Although some really good ones can appear on eBay, they can often need repairs and retuning which ultimately makes them more expensive. I would trust Barleycorn, Button Box, Greg Jowaisas and some of the others here on cnet for excellent advice and potential selection.

 

Gary

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, gcoover said:

A lot of the EC's in your price range will have brass reeds (somewhat quieter), only 4-fold bellows (very limiting), and some of the 1860's ones will have spruce "baffles" (making them even quieter).

Thanks Gary. For reference, is this one of the types of cheaper vintage concertinas you're referencing? Would one refer to this as one of the "tutor" concertinas?

Edited by Duplais
Truncating quote

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Posted (edited)

Could be a decent starter instrument, if steel reeds and in tune (maybe can ask the seller, or ask for photos of the insides). Retuning is not cost-prohibitive, but it can run a couple hundred dollars or more if it also needs new pads and valves. Bellows look fairly good, but then we're only seeing them from two angles. Buying on eBay is a bit of a crapshoot (voice of experience), but I've sometimes even called sellers and had them play the odd note over the phone to check the tuning and pitch with an instrument on my end.

 

Yes, the colored buttons would classify this a less-expensive "tutor" model originally.

 

I'd stick with Wheatstone or Lachenal instruments if possible (there are others but you'll see these most often). You might occasionally run across the "May Fair" concertinas made by Wheatstone in the 1950's which will be in your price range though definitely built as budget models in their day.

 

I'm sure others will chime in with additional suggestions, hope this helps!

 

Gary

Edited by gcoover

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Are brass reeds really so objectionable?  When these early instruments were made was brass considered inferior or simply a " somewhat quieter" option?  

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The first  rule  for  learning a new instrument  should be  to obtain the best  you can afford, however  one should afford enough to make the journey  worthwhile.  Those old Tutor models  were  hard work  50 years ago  when I started  so I  cannot see them having  improved  much  since.

 

A  good vintage EC  should hold its  value;  they have done exactly that for me, on average,  through the years.  I've mostly gained monetarily  on  concertina ownership  although of very recent years we can see a softening of prices.  All in all  the basic rule that  you will get your money back  if  you buy a good instrument  but  want to pass it on  either because you find a better one or  because you just do not get on  with  the system  and wish to jump ship.

 

That is a long winded way of  saying   your budget  is  too low  and the more expensive instrument will /might  cost you nothing in the end. Double ( or treble)  your  budget and  play happy music.  

 

Good luck.

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The great maestro of 19th century classical English concertina was Regondi, who also played (and started with) guitar, playing with

great skill and creative verve on both instruments.

 

Why is this relevant here? Because both the English concertina and the guitar share something else, which is that so many

of the instruments out there are of shockingly low playability. A beginner has a difficult path to travel....many good and

dedicated beginners are put off because so many (vintage) ECs in a  somewhat lower price range, if you can find one, are discouraging to play.

The early basic tutor models were mass produced for a craze that swept  Britain  in the 19th C...just like guitars from the 1960s onward.

The tutor models (ECs) were intentionally inexpensive, and the enthusiastic amateur might soon move on to a better instrument in a culture riddled, blessed, with

many concertinas. Today these old starter instruments are still, in effect, what they were made to be, cheap try-it-out instruments, but now become Expensive Vintage or Antique, with a hundred years or so of wear, and various restorations. They were intended for the beginner to learn scales and fingering, usually from read-the-dots tutor books, to decide if this complex and beautiful type of instrument was for them.  Today vintage "starters" have a cachet which is, perhaps, somewhat inflated.

The newcomer (to any instrument) should buy the best possible even it means stretching the budget.  The better the instrument, the more chance the beginner has to value

and respect his/her concertina, rather than struggle with its limitations. Then the concertina can be sold onward with no, or little loss of money, either to upgrade or give up(grade).

 

I am sure that this advice, or variants thereof, will come flying in from all the directions in response to the questions. To hell with prudence...it's only money. Get the best concertina

you can...sell the I-phone or the giant flat screen. A good concertina will be your friend...

R J Stewart

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1). Since you appear to be in the US then you should contact Greg Jowaisas about his available vintage instruments, even better to go to Cincinnati and visit him.  He is 'your man' and will stand by whatever he sells you and will probably let you upgrade later once you become infected by these damn things.

 

2). Another option for you is first to rent a Jack or a Jackie from the Button Box to find out if you really take to the EC.

 

3). If you buy a Jack or a Jackie from the Button Box then they will later take it back in part exchange for one of their better Morse ECs, similarly the Concertina Connection will take back a Jack or a Jackie bought anywhere in part exchange for any of their better quality concertinas.  A member here recently bought their mid-range Minstrel and was very enthusiastic about it.

 

4).  You have sort of done this already, but explicitly asking here if anyone has a playable EC for sale might yield a good result.  I have had very satisfactory purchases and swaps with folks here.  Just be wary of anyone without a posting history.

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4 hours ago, wunks said:

Are brass reeds really so objectionable?  When these early instruments were made was brass considered inferior or simply a " somewhat quieter" option?  

 

I think brass reeds were simply forming the standard in the early days, and steel reeds were introduced because of their improved volume, responsiveness and durability. Brass reeds are normally quieter (or even very quiet), but my most recent EC (as well as some Aeolas) has brass reeds which are fairly loud, much louder than f.i my steel-reeded Lachenal Excelsior, and really good.

 

Brass-reeds will always be more delicat, tending to develop cracks and/or break, difficult to work on - and in most cases, notably with "tutor" models, poorly-fabricated. But there are more factors, and the best option would be to let an experienced player try out the instrument you might be wiling to acquire.

 

Best wishes - 🐺

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Posted (edited)

There is some good info and advice in all of these. But you're starting at the middle. Rent or buy a cheap instrument and learn some music you want to play. Take some lessons, go to sessions. When you decide to upgrade your instrument, and if you bought from a reputable place that has a buy back program, get the next best instrument in you price range.

Just saying...

Edited by Randy Stein

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Posted (edited)

Your desire for something with history and character should weigh heavy on your decision.  Learn as much as you can and play a few.  I think those old Lachenals are a great deal if you know what to look for.  

 

Edited by wunks
unhelpful

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I agree that one should buy the best that one can afford, but I see no great harm in starting with a very basic instrument, for just long enough to find out whether or not one gets on with how the notes are laid out.

 

I started on a cheap and cheerful 20 key German concertina, which cost me £2 and was enough for me to decide to continue with the diatonic system. I was very soon offered a 30 key Lachenal (for no money at all!) , which was potentially a much better instrument but leaked like a sieve and had had some of its worst leaks stuffed with toilet paper. I forget what I did to make it playable, but it served me adequately for a few years until I upgraded again.

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