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Thoughts and Questions from a Beginning Player


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Years ago I inherited an old and beat up Anglo concertina, called The Gremlin. I suppose that is the manufacturer or brand name, but how do you say it in conversation? “I have a The Gremlin? Where’d you get that The Gremlin?” A Fender is a Fender; a Roland, a Roland. Why is there an article in the brand name? It’s confusing. 

 

It works, but the thing really is a wreck—scratches and dents, candle wax drippings, yellow tape on the bellows, a small dog collar in place of the strap on one side. More seriously, on that one bad side, some of the keys are mashed a little at an angle, one key in particular has to be double tapped or the note will stick open, and on another key the note is just slightly off, so I assume the reed has been damaged. 

 

But I don’t want to linger on the disgraceful state of my near ruined concertina for too long. Mainly I wanted to discuss the technique of playing concertina, and to see if anyone had any suggestions.

 

I’ve rejected YouTube instructional videos for the simple reason that none seem to use a concertina with my layout. It has 18 keys to a side, and I couldn’t find a fingering chart on the internet that matches that layout either, not with all the notes marked at the correct places, anyway. But a fingering chart was easily constructed with a pen, paper and chromatic tuner. 

 

I also rejected the idea of practicing scales, which seemed to be the method put forward in the YouTube videos I sampled. Practicing scales is a perfectly logical way to learn to play, but to me it’s boring. Instead, I picked out a little melody that I liked and tried to learn that. 

 

The song I picked was “Hog of the Forsaken” by Michael Hurley. It turned out to be a fortuitous choice, because the melody that I’m trying to copy (played by fiddle in the original) continually returns to the note of d, and I have three ways to play that note by either pushing or pulling the bellows. 

 

I very quickly discovered that playing concertina involves a certain level of strategy. For example, the first dozen or so notes of my melody can all be played on the left hand side, but I have to constantly change the direction of the bellows to do that, which is awkward. On the other hand, I can play those same dozen notes on one continuous pull with a combination of right and left hand, but then, unless I’m playing at a very rapid tempo, I run out of air before I’m through the dozen notes. I had to find a good strategic place in the middle of those dozen notes to reverse course, so on the first six or so notes I’m pulling the bellows out, and then pushing them in. This was also important because for the next part of the melody I want to be pulling the bellows out again, so I want to end that first dozen notes with the bellows depressed. 

 

I’ve more or less mastered this first melody I’ve chosen to learn. I’m open to any advise on technique that will advance my playing. Also, any suggestions for a new song to learn. I like old timey American music, and Irish music. 

 

One further consideration. I really like this instrument, but like a said, it is in bad shape physically, so eventually I’m going to want to replace it. However, when I do a google search for a 36 key Gremlin, I’m not finding it. Is this a rare type of concertina? Will I have trouble replacing it?

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From your comment about 3 ways to play "D", it sounds like your concertina is in G/D tuning with some extra buttons. If you Google "G/D anglo concertina button layout" you might find some that are close to what you have.  You'll probably find that the core 30 buttons are pretty standard for a G/D instrument.

 

"The Gremlin" was a model, the maker I think was Stagi.  If you look for Stagi, or Bastari (earlier maker taken over by Stagi) you'll find similar instruments.  Some of them use fairly soft aluminum levers, with the buttons held on by short pieces of rubber tubing. Given your description of crooked buttons this might be the case with yours.  There is info elsewhere on this site about an easy repair technique to correct the crooked buttons on a Stagi/Bastari.

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I will defer to those who will know better, but I have a feeling some of the early instruments branded "for" the Dealer who marketed the Gremlin range were generally held to be 'better" instruments, made to a design/standard above the generic Stagi/Bastari boxes.  I think a 'Maker' may have had a hand ? I may be wrong....it's only a bad recollection of something I have seen / read/.  Someone will know.

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I think the Gremlin fell into the mid range of concertinas . Slightly better than the Hohner ,but nowhere near as expensive as A Crabb, Jeffries or Wheatstone.

A good beginners learning instrument and capable of playing a large range of music even with ten buttons each side and an air button.

Al

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I knew I had read something somewhere.....it is no wonder I forgot (a) what & (b) where !

 

but, it is what it is and from the horses mouth, so to speak.  This is from C. Net, 2006.  It look as if a 36k is NOT one of Andrew Normans, 60 personally built early ones which have been said ( somewhere else I have forgotten ) to be good 'accordion reeded' options.

 

"Dear Daniel,

Isn't it always easier to go straight to the person who knows! Around about 1980 (I think) Hobgoblin Music of Crawley, in Sussex (for whom I did a lot of repairs, to mostly concertinas, in a self-employed capacity) decided to go into wholesale. Gremlin Musical Instruments was established at that time. They import instruments from all over the world, as well as sourcing from U.K. manufacturers. The intention was that I would be contracted to make a certain number of concertinas of a better standard than the Italian or German made concertinas. These would look and sound similar to traditional instruments but would be designed to be made and sold much cheaper than traditional concertinas. These were sold by Gremlin (marked Gremlin) under the Saxon brand name, at the same time Italian made concertinas (also badged Gremlin) were sold under the Roman brand name. Cases were sold under the Viking name. See the pattern emerging? The intention was to later make better concertinas under the Norman name. I stopped making Saxon concertinas as there were too many other people involved, too much cost cutting, and it would have been too demanding to make them all myself ( I was living in London and driving down to Crawley, working late, and playing in a band in the evenings). The workshop was only rented temporarily too. I didn't fall out with the owner of Gremlin/Hobgoblin I carried on repairing for him and occasionally supplying them with an A.C.Norman. concertina. The few Saxons that I was entirely responsible for were signed by me, although I did some work on all of them. About 60 were made over 1980-81, 30 key anglos in G/D and C/G, and 40 key English. Later on when I was making the instruments as they are now, I sold to Gremlin (badged Gremlin, and made down to a lower price, sold by Gremlin as the Ashdown), Accordions of London (badged Exselsior), Bob Tedrow in Birmingham U.S.A. (badged Homewood, sold as the Model H) and Jim Shiels (badged Clareman). I have supplied to other dealers under the A.C.Norman name in Ireland, U.K and Germany, who may sell under their own model name! Just to make things even more confusing, Hobgoblin/Gremlin have been advertising their own anglo concertinas under the Ashdown name with an end design based off the original Saxon end! (this is the design I use as my logo) This will be a cheaper concertina, and although I have not seen one, nor had any input whatsoever, I'm sure it will be much better than the Italian Stagis(badged Gremlin!). I reckon that's the definitive history, and you are welcome to quote from this letter, or forward it to anyone who really wants to know more. I can provide more technical information on how they were built and who was involved, but that's enough to put it all into perspective, I hope! Best Regards,

Andrew Norman."

 

.....& link to an A.N. Gremlin in G/D which was being passed along by a well regarded member.  NOT saying this is the same model and obviously this one has been looked after, but just goes to show what can be done in the right hands.....

 

Edited by Sprunghub
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Hopefully Jacob will post up an image of the 36k ?  It does seem to be an unusual model Anglo or the 'Gremlin" logo.  Having said that, given how they operated in commissioning instruments designed - in some cases - by respected / reputable individual's, you just never know what it might be.  Their later Ashdown branded stringed instruments range from boxwood basics to 'semi-pro' quality......as do some other 'Made for' brands.

 

It may just be a basic Italian 'job'.  

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The bellows and the buttons (and the fact that some buttons are falling over) look like Bastari/Stagi, though the fretwork pattern isn't familiar to me and I haven't seen 36-key Bastari/Stagi concertinas in this size.  If you'd be willing to take off an end and post some photos of the action and/or reeds, that would help with ID.

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I won’t remove the end just to take pictures for an ID, although I am curious. I did take the end off about a month ago because one of the stoppers had come off of its lever, but I did not realize then that the instrument would be difficult to ID or that pictures of the inside would be useful to that purpose. I am not mechanically inclined and was deathly afraid I would make things worse. But it turned out okay, I reattached the stopper with superglue and it has been fine ever since. 

 

I may have to make another repair at some point, if another problem develops, or if my skill improves to the point that I discover a preexisting problem with another button that I’m not using right now. In that case, I will take pictures. 

 

It’s probably nothing special anyway. It was first purchased in the 1980s or possibly the 70s, by a steel worker in the St. Louis, Missouri area. 

 

But I can live with not knowing what it is, for the time being. I’m really enjoying it, just playing and sometimes recording it.

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I’m beginning to wonder if these instruments are worth the effort. 
 

I had “solved” my problem with the messed up stoppers that stuck together, not with a physical repair, but through playing technique. I discovered that if I hit the two buttons in question with a sharp, stabbing motion, then the two stoppers would not interfere with each other, and then the one could close before the other would open. 
 

Now the problem is the bellows. As I became more used to the instrument, I began to play more vigorously, and then I started to hear farting sounds, because little pieces of tape on the bellows were coming loose. I seem to have less pressure now, and I see a big leaking hole on one corner. 
 

Now I have to tape up the bellows some more. I’m sure there’s lots of useful info on that here. I wish I could just buy a new one, but where am I am I going to find a 36 button D/G Anglo in this size?

 

 

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I had a button stick and had to open the thing up again in order to unstick it, so here’s some photos. The spring mechanism on that particular lever seems to be the cause in this case, but you can see that other notes stick open because the levers are bent and the stoppers don’t fall exactly where they are supposed to; some are in fact rubbing right up against each other, and hence one stopper will sometimes prevent the one next to it from closing properly. 
 

Perhaps if the make and model can be identified I can replace the entire plate that houses the levers and the reeds. I’d hate to have to go through it lever by lever, bending this one, replacing that one. Plus one of the notes is off by about a quarter tone, so I assume the reed itself is damaged. 
 

I’ve also including a picture of the only marking I could find, the number six in pencil, on the inside of the outer covering. 

45B3B801-B873-4FB9-8EC1-3741273942BB.jpeg

77551872-20F2-4084-B6DD-19C730C7F9A5.jpeg

79FE848D-AA24-4AA7-932C-61C17700082B.jpeg

85C332AB-725E-4B27-9945-38276A9EBC8D.jpeg

84F3E06C-689E-4270-8FA7-991E7751F52E.jpeg

3F5125BD-9B93-4A4A-96B0-A44D6B1D0045.jpeg

9DFF80D4-50BB-4DE0-A294-B65F407C2981.jpeg

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