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Unusual Jeffries?

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4 hours ago, Pgidley said:

So am I reading right from the diagram that the rows are, from the outside in, F, Ab, Bb, C? 


The only others like this that I'm aware of are Ab/Eb/Bb/F, but no doubt there are others with vastly more experience than myself on this forum who may have seen more of these.


With such a unique layout, in original tuning, and in remarkably good condition, it would be bordering on criminal to make drastic changes to this instrument. It's in good hands luckily! 

Yes F, Ab, Bb and C are correct. 

As a button accordion player starting on the concertina I'm oblivious to the advantages/disadvantages of the different systems. So hopefully a unique sound will develop!

The chords are fun on this box. I'm finding the treble side a little sluggish though - I imagine the action should be faster and I sense the reeds are not speaking as fast as they should. I guess 120 years will do that. Time for a refresh for sure.

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So around 3 pounds, 7 oz or around 1.56 kg? That would put it a bit heavier than the 45 key Jeffries listed here:



Not unmanageable but as I thought, the weight might be noticed by many players if used as an instrument for fast dance music. Heavier than the 50 key Praed St Jeffries I've had, IIRC.


But fast dance music isn't the only context in which a Jeffries sounds great!


Absolutely it would be great if you can learn to use it with no mods in its present layout and pitch! That's certainly what I would do with it if I had it to work with.


But if someone is someday tempted to modify it, as is often the case when an instrument of superb quality has been custom-built in a system that is out of the mainstream, it would be great if the conversion were reversible. In this case it would be terrible to lose those deep low notes and terrible to make modifications in  those beautiful original reedpans. So a very expensive but very respectful path would be to get a top traditional-style builder to make a set of alternative reedpans. They could be made to fit the original F row and C row reeds, but in the current positions of the Ab and Bb row reeds, leaving the original Ab and Bb row reeds in the original reedpans. Then 40 more reeds (made to order ideally) would be swapped in and you'd have an instrument in "standard 30 key layout plus a row" in the gorgeous low keys of FCX, plus an extra inside row to be set up to the preferences of the player. This could be done to preserve not only the original sound of the instrument but its original pitch and temperament but made playable with a standard 30 key core layout in those very low keys, and allowing 100% reversibility to its original condition.


None of that would be needed if you can adjust to the original custom-built system, and it's really great news for the future of this historic instrument that you are willing to try!



Edited by Paul Groff
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The 50 key Ab/Eb Praed St Jeffries you sold me weighs 4lbs with 7 fold bellows so heavier than this one, and my 46 key GD Jeffries is 3lb 8oz so comparable - and that's by no means slow.  No reason why this instrument shouldn't be good for fast playing (although the lowest reeds might slow things down a bit) but maybe the reeds need voicing?


As I've advised someone else recently, unless you're standing, most of the weight is carried on the thigh anyway.


Agree with everything else you say


Alex West

Edited by Alex West
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So it looks like the original owner only played along a single row at a time, but wanted to play in those 4 different keys. 


It will be interesting to see what sort of unusual chords and tunes you can play across these very strange rows!



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This instrument makes perfect sense if you consider the purposes of its first owner, and the needs of the Sally Army in the 1870s and 1880s, when Anglos were their main instrument. I wrote a bit about those early SA days in my Anglo-German Concertina: A Social History, volume 1. If you don't have a copy, it is online on Google Books. Herbert is pretty much explained on p. 91, when he was arrested for playing a "noisy instrument" in a street procession, "to the annoyance of the inhabitants." As other passages show, these early Salvation Army street processions could be very rowdy and the participants themselves were not - shall we say - the most refined; arrests were common. What Herbert Booth needed was a simple instrument that persons completely untutored in music could play. Mainly, they needed to rhythmically hammer out the three chord trick -- the I, IV, and V chords - and little else. The Anglo seemed to fill the bill, but the problem was that they sometimes accompanied street brass bands, or singers who needed to sing in other keys. 


In theory, you can play chords on a three row Anglo chromatic concertina in any key. But it isn't easy, and there is lots of memory work. Herbert gave this a try in his 1888 tutor for the Anglo, which we posted some years ago on concertina.com. Here is the link: http://www.concertina.com/chambers/booth-salvation-army-concertina/booth-salvation-army-concertina-1888.pdf


On the second page of his explanatory notes, you can see that he is laying out the three chord trick in all the keys that were of interest to them. Then he spends the rest of the book showing one how to make those many chords on the Anglo. Looks straightforward, but there is a LOT of memory work to mastering that. This is likely not something that most of his street musicians were going to master. Eventually, English Concertinas and Duet concertinas took over in the SA, probably mainly because they were more easily playable in various keys....both in terms of chords and also of melody. It helps to be able to read music for that, which was a problem for the early street procession type groups, but not so much for the organized bands that were to follow, by the 1890s or so.


There is another potential solution, however, that would have occurred to any Anglo player - and Herbert was an Anglo player.  Just make the instrument in several different keys. 

Here are the I, IV, and V chords for each of the keys on your instrument:


Bb  Eb  F

F   Bb    C

Ab  Db  Eb

C   F   G


One could play the I and V chords very simply on the push and pull of each row....very easy (ok, the V chord isn't quite a full chord, but no matter).

For the IV chords, you can see that, for the most part, they are in either a simple pull or push form on one of the other rows. So, bingo, hammering out chords in various keys is a piece of cake that any untutored musician could easily master. Much easier using a standard 30 button Anglo and his Anglo tutor of 1888.


Obviously, it never took off. Cost may have been one factor. And of course, by the end of the 1880s the foot traffic was headed to the English and Duets. As I mentioned in my book, by that time the SA was trying to appeal to a larger and more refined crowd (including deep-pocketed donors), so they had to clean up their act a bit!


By the way, just as an aside, Herbert Booth tells us in the introductory text of his tutor that their "main key" was Ab, of all things. As he says, that was because Ab concert pitch was the same as Bb pitch played by brass bands, which these players needed to be able to do. With that in mind, the four concert pitch rows on your instrument are actually C, G, Bb, and D in brass band terminology. Quite commonly used keys for bands and orchestras.


Hope this is helpful. I vote with the others - don't change it! Just find a street corner and start singing!





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Thanks for the very interesting information Dan. I found the google book and it is such a treasure to read!


Good news...this concertina is currently on its way to Greg Jowaisas for a full overhaul (original tuning to be preserved). Looking forward to learning to play this unusual system once it's restored to its former glory.


Cheers all!


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