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Seeking Advice - I'm New To Concertinas

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I’m new to concertinas but am interested in learning to play and have several questions. I can read music and play several instruments, the closest to a concertina being the harmonica. My playing would be for my own enjoyment but accompanying someone on guitar could be a possibility. I would like to get the least expensive 20 or 30 button instrument (new or used) until I determined I could play well enough, and enjoyed playing, to consider a more desirable concertina. I understand a 30 button instrument has more accidentals than a 20 button instrument. Are accidentals akin to sharps and flats? Is a 30 button unit as easy to play as a 20 button if I’m not using the additional 10 buttons? In other words, if I become proficient on a 20 button model would I be confused when encountering a 30 button model? Are all 20 or 30 button models identical in key arrangement regardless of manufacturer (similar to the piano). Would the added cost of a 30 button model be worth it if I’m just exploring at the moment and looking for low cost? What could I expect to pay for such a unit? Are there brands/models I should concentrate on, and conversely, are there any I should avoid? The major keys I would like to play in are G, C & D. Can you recommend a make/model for the beginner and a reputable business that deals with concertinas (new or used) that meet the desired requirements.

Thanks, Wayne. HWPELT@yahoo.com

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Hello Wayne


Welcome to the wonderful world of concertinas and concertina.net. I was in the same position as you two years ago, and I can tell you that learning to play is the most enriching thing I've ever done apart from dragging up my beloved daughter (aah!).


To answer your questions


Accidentals are sharps and flats and whilst it's perfectly possible to play well with a twenty button instrument it is a little limiting and so having having a few is worth while as all Anglos are in set keys (generally G/D). This means you can only play in those keys and their related minors without unless you fudge some of the tunes and that often takes away their uniqueness.


I'm not really qualified to comment on your question about whether you would be foxed by starting with a 20 button instrument and then moving to a 30 button instrument but I cheerfully change round different concertinas in my consort group and they all play in subtly different ways. It just takes a few moments to adjust. Gut instinct tells me it's best to buy the most expensive instrument you can afford to start and for these reasons. They sound better even when you can't play well at the start. It's a positive stroking thing - it still sounds nice so you carrying on trying and get better. Cheap instruments can sound rough and out of tune and I've found that discouraging for other learners. Concertinas are generally getting more expensive and so you'll pay proportionately more when you come to move up (and you will want to - I did very quickly). Even if you don't take to playing you won't lose your money if you buy a decent instrument as they retain their value.


This is the route I took and whilst it's not necessarily recommended I made the right choice and so you may like to think through the following points.


1 Work out what you already know. I played flute so I was comfortable with a linear type of instrument ie English system (same note on the push and pull). If you already play a harmonica it may be that you will ease straight into playing an Anglo (different note on the push and pull). Duets are many and varied but they all play with the treble on one hand and the bass on the other, rather like a piano. I know I can't play piano so this was a no-no from the start!


2 How much can you afford? It's a bit brutal this but concertinas are expensive even for 'beginner' instruments. The advice I was given was to buy the most expensive instrument I could afford. I did this with a lot of help from local players and without them I don't think I would have plucked up enough courage to take the plunge. I spent £750 on a rosewood metal buttoned English which I kept for my first year and then traded up to an Edeophone (has twelve sides and is fabulous). Anglos of a similar vintage and quality would cost thousands now. That said, there are some good accordion-reeded instruments made by Stagi for much less and although I don't think they sound like concertinas they are a good starting point. Just make sure you find one with a good action that feels comfortable in your hands.


3 What kind of music do you like to play? The traditional choice for Irish music or English dance (especially Morris) is an Anglo 'tina because arguably the punchiness bestowed on the music by the bellows changes are supposedly ideal. I'm not sure I fully support that idea as it seems sometimes that an Anglo is just about the worst choice for the smoothness and speed of Irish Traditional Music as it involves a lot of cross-row fingering and I'm willing to support that by saying that the most engaging player of ITM I've ever heard is a Dane playing English 'tina (take a bow Henrik!). I play English dance music and early consort type music on my Edeophone. We English players like to argue that we have the best of both worlds as we can play in a legato and in a punctuated style but I would admit that many players myself included struggle hard to achieve this. I've discovered it's very easy to play the English badly and very hard to play it well. Duets are excellent for accompanying singers and playing piano music. For some reason they seem to be popular with singers of music hall music (it's a mystery to me too)


Chris Timson, who regularly contributes here has written an excellent guide to concertinas and you can follow this link to get there. It will give you lots of information about retailers in the GB and USA too.


Good luck with your new obsession and let us know how you get on.



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Much of what Jill says is perfectly correct, and closely follows my own reasons for choosing an English. I strongly suggest that you read through the last 2 months board postings pretty thoroughly...I know that accordian vs. concertina reeds has been discussed, as has what entry-level to buy in at. I personally have gone through www.concertinaconnection.com to get a Jackie (beginner) based on their full-value trade-up policy and good reputation. I know there is an Anglo in the offing from this same company, but have no idea when. Let us all know where you are, and perhaps you'll find an experienced player in your own back yard!

(Not me! I'm a beginner too!)



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There is a subtle difference between "accidentals" and "sharps and flats."


The Anglo Concertina is a "diatonic" instrument, meaning that it is set up to play the notes of a given key. Actually in the case of the 20-button Anglo, two keys, one for each row. If those keys have sharps or flats built into their key signatures, those notes are not considered accidentals. For instance, on a G/D concertina, F# is not an accidental, and F natural is.


The third row (buttons 11 through 30 on a 30-button Anglo) contains notes that are missing from the keys of the other two rows, and they are called accidentals. There are several different schemes of arranging these notes, so not all 30-button instruments are the same, although this does not generally present much of a problem.


On a 20-button C/G, you will not be able to play in D because you will not have a C#.


Many here would suggest that rather than buy something cheap that will be difficult and unrewarding to learn on and lose its value quickly, try to find a decent 30 (or some number higher than 20 but less than 30) button instrument you can borrow or rent until you have a feel for where you want to go with it. If you can get the money together, it would probably make sense to buy one, knowing that (unlike the cheap instrument), you'll get it back if you need to sell it.

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Hi Wayne,


Welcome. If you absolutely have to buy a 20 button anglo, you can play all the notes in D except for C# (on the typical C/G anglo). Frank Edgley has a tutor and an Irish tunes book. I could play most of it with my 20 button before I moved up.


But I sorely missed that C# and that was my reason for moving up.


I echo everyone else. Buy the best instrument that you can. I like my 24 button Edgley a lot. It is very well made and sounds great. I have an inexpensive 30 button just so I can fumble through some tutor books.


If you can try out some instruments, that would be best.




I wrote typical C/G, because lots of people buy a C/G for Irish and folk music. Some people, however, buy a D/G. (This is for the 20 button discussion.)


It would help if you told us what type of music you want to play. And pay close attention to what Jill wrote as her advice was excellent.

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Hello Chaps,


I take the point about accidentals and sharps and flats. There's three reasons why I made the error.


1 I tried to keep it simple (and failed spectacularly!)


2 Whilst English concertinas are chromatic (play all of them there notes) the main rows are in C (give or take a raging argument or two about temper and what constitutes concert pitch and so on) so I tend to think that all sharps and flats are accidentals because I regard C as my 'home' key (probably a nasty hangover from being a flautist). and finally,


3 I can be very stupid at times especially when typing at speed (which hopefully explains the appalling punctuation too.


I've heard good reports about the Jackie and we are thinking about buying one for use in school - any news on how robust it is? At the moment the kids are borrowing my Edeophone which makes me feel very anxious at times!





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Thanks to everyone for the advice. The more info I can gather the better decision I can make. I will closely review all that has been submitted and will also use the links provided for additional material. From the proceeding posts I gather there are 3 or 4 distinct varities of concertinas and a clarification on the following points will assist me greatly. Are Anglos, English and Duets differing varities (such as Ford, Mercedes & BMW motorcars for example)? Or are they like Ford Escort, Ford Thunderbird & Ford Crown Victoria? Or is it more like a left hand drive as opposed to a right hand drive? I apologize for the poor analogy :rolleyes: but it was all I could think of at the moment. Also Stagi and Edeophone were mentioned...is one a manufacture and the other a model?

I promise to not ask any more neophyte questions until I have read some texts on concertinas in general.... Thanks again, Wayne. Oh, by the way, I'm located in Tallahassee, Florida, USA and am interested in religious and folk/country music. HWPELT@yahoo.com

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I take the point about accidentals and sharps and flats.  There's three reasons why I made the error...
It really was no error. On most (chromatic) instruments, the word "accidentals" is used only to refer to the "black notes." As you play the English Concertina and the Flute, this is perfectly correct.


But Wayne was asking in the context of an Anglo Concertina (ie., what are those things called "accidentals" that a 30-button Anglo has and a 20-button doesn't?) and in that case the answer is a little non-standard.

Are Anglos, English and Duets differing varities (such as Ford, Mercedes & BMW motorcars for example)?
That may be a little misleading. If you can drive a Ford, you can probably drive a Mercedes, even if you miss out on some of the fine points. But Anglo, English, and Duet Concertina players are likely to be totally lost on each other's instruments. A better analogy might be that they're like the difference between English, Swahili, and Mandarin. They have a lot in common (they're all spoken languages, and therefore serve the same purpose and someone unfamiliar with all of them might not be able to tell them apart) but knowing one doesn't help you communicate in another.


Guitar/Balalaika/Sitar/Banjo might be another analogy.


The English Concertina plays all the notes over a given range, with the "white" notes being in the center rows and the "black" notes being next to them in the outside rows. They play the same note whether being squeezed or drawn, and the notes of a scale go back and forth between the left hand and the right.


The Anglo Concertina plays different notes on the squeeze or draw, they are arranged diatonically (only have the notes of a given key) on the two main rows, with the accidentals, if present, in a third row. Most of the notes on the left are lower than most of the notes on the right, but there is some crossover.


Duet concertinas (and there are several incompatible flavors) give you enough notes on the right (usually chromatic) to play a melody and a similar pattern in a lower range on the left to play an accompaniment.


I have played the Hayden Duet since the mid 1980s. Although I know how most of the others are arranged and might haltingly be able to pick out a tune on them, I have no facility with anything but the Hayden.


I hope this helps.

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You keep asking away Wayne and don't worry because this is the place to ask. I tell my students it's better to ask than to remain in ignorance. Besides which, you can bet your last penny that somebody else is sitting at the back thinking I'm glad he asked that question.


David is quite right with his language analogy. I'm trying to learn to play the melodeon at the moment (plays like an Anglo) and it's just requires a different mindset and understanding.


You asked about makers and what they made and Chris' Concertina FAQ is the best place for that but a brief guide goes something like this (and it will be contentious).......


Wheatstone made a variety of instruments but largely English and Duets in the 19thC. They are often very beautiful instruments in their many guises. The Aeola was the their 'best' instrument (made from the (1890s onwards) and has a characteristic dry note much treasured by players, they are identified by having 8 sides although some very early instruments had 6, they are generally black in colour. There isn't a cheap Wheatstone but £1000 will buy a reasonable instrument. Aeolas (last time I looked) were around £2500 from Barleycorn Concertinas. Wheatstones are still made today by Steve Dickinson in East Anglia and he makes Anglos too, but waiting lists are very long and supply uncertain.


Lachenals are found fairly readily, made Englishes and Anglos (and Duets)and are generally considered to be lesser instrument and are slightly cheaper. I'm not sure I always agree with this, for some fairly complicated reasons, but barebones are that £700 will buy you a reasonably good instrument and that's where I started. Excelsiors and New Model Lachenals are slightly more and are better built with nicer reeds. Edeophones are their 'best' instrument (also made from the 1890s), have twelve sides and a very distinctive haunting mellowness in tone. The sound is very distinctive and will cut through other instruments so it's not for the faint-hearted, but I love mine despite not being able to play it properly. Edeophone Englishes are about £1800 - 2200.


It's arguable, but the most sought after Anglo will be a Jefferies. They too are utterly distinctive, bright, punchy and will cut through the noisiest session. They are nearly all metal-ended which will add brightness to any instrument. Currently horribly expensive (£3500 and upwards). They were made in a variety of key sets but the most common are C/G (often used in ITM), D/G (English dance) Bb/F (now song accompaniment) but this list is not complete and reed sets could be ordered to customer preference.


Crabb made good instruments from the 19thC and continued to make them into the 20thC. All the Crabbs I've seen have been Anglos (John Kirkpatrick was playing one at the weekend in Bath) and I like the sound very much. They cost a bit less than a Jefferies and come in various key sets.


You will often see other makes such as Rock Chidley and Jones and so on. These were made mostly in the 19thC could be made in different workshops but some are re-badged Lachenals. They can be good.


Current makers include Colin Dipper who makes mostly Anglos and others to order. Waiting lists are long again (it takes a long time to make a concertina) but worth the wait if you can (about 5 - 10 years). Colin's an all-round decent bloke and Rosalie makes the best bellows.


Andy Norman (AC Norman) makes good anglos as does Marcus in Newport and both will mail order from the UK. Everybody I've known has been very happy with their instruments from both makers. Wim Wakkers (Concertina Connection) makes good instruments and has designed the Jackie mentioned before. Frank Edgely makes concertinas in the States, as does Bob Tedrow and Richard Morse (who regularly posts here) makes some lovely instruments available from the Button Box (www.buttonbox.com I think). I play between an Morse English baritone (one octave lower) and an Morse Anglo every Thursday evening. Stagi make a series of concertinas which are significantly cheaper made in Italy/China, and Hohner still make Anglos too.


There are differences in construction too, but generally wooden-ended instruments are fairly mellow and metal-ended much brighter and louder. Reeds are generally made from brass or steel. Steel is stronger, brighter and stays in tune longer, but brass reeds are very gentle and sweet and an ideal choice for a quiet singer.


In order to make sense of this you will need to ......


1 Think about hiring an instrument

2 Think about what you want to do with it

3 Think carefully about cost

4 Listen to other players

5 Listen to as many instruments as you can before you choose

6 Go with an open mind but with clear objectives

7 Find local help if you can

8 Caveat Emptor (buyer beware)


I should have done all these things but in the end just fell in love with my Edeophone and abandoned all rational thought. It'll probably happen to you too!


Well, that turned out quite lengthy, but I hope it helps






PS This forum isn't short on thoughts, but English (nationality) players I like to listen to include:

Rob Harbron (plays with Dr Faustus, English Acoustic Collective and Tim van Eyken), Dave Townsend, Pauline de Snoo, Alistair Anderson and Sandra Kerr (all EC) and Chris Sherborne (plays with Last Night's Fun - Anglo), Tim Laycock and John Morgan (duets) and all my mates from the forum and there's loads I've missed!


PPS and edited for syntax errors. Memo to self - don't write long posts when on holiday!

Edited by Wrigglefingers
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Jill, please let me applaud you thoughtful and insightful reply - bravo!


I'd just like to add that my first 30 button C/G Anglo was a Stagi LN model, that I bought second hand through this very site. A lot of people don't like Stagis, but I was very happy with mine. It was a great beginners instrument and it gave me a lot of pleasure. The only downside is that it can be a little tiring to play when you first start out.


The other advantage of the Stagi is the cost. When I first ventured into the world of Concertinas I didn't have a lot of money, and managed to pick up one in perfect nick second hand for AUD$800 (around US$600 or 477 Euros).


(I also tend to play mostly Irish Traditional music, so the Anglo is more suited to the music I play.)


Anyway I hope this helps, and please let us know how you get on :)


Cheers, Morgana :D

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