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Advice please - Newbie, large hands!


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Hi guys, 

 

I’m considering taking up Anglo concertina, mainly with the desire to play Irish tunes etc. My background is in piano/pipe organ, but I do also play B/C Irish button accordion. Recently I’ve become more and more enchanted by the sweet single reed sound of the conc, and I think I will pick it up quickly due to my experience with another bisonoric

instrument. I don’t own a concertina yet. 
 

My concern is that my hands are quite large. They are not overly wide but I have long and skinny fingers. On a piano I can easily reach an 11th interval (eg C1 to F2). On a standard 30 button 3 row concertina, I’m worried that I would have to curl my fingers too much to reach the inside row and that my hands would cramp - this could have an effect on my speed and accuracy of playing.

 

The other issue is that I live in Brisbane, Australia and there are literally no music stores which sell concertinas so I don’t even have the opportunity to play one or hold one to see what the spacing and comfort is like. Of course if anyone here lives in Brisbane and would be happy for me to have a look at their concertina that would be great! 
 

Any advice anyone has would be greatly appreciated. Are there any other large-handed Anglo players out there? Am I wasting my time learning and should I just stick to diatonic accordion? Any suggestions or a good intermediate starter instrument better suited to larger hands? And out of curiosity what is the distance between the palm rest and the inner most row of buttons?
 

Thank you so much,
 

Andrew 

(excited newbie)

 

 

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My experience is that my (XL) large hands need a high hand/palm rest and that the actual button layout dimensions are not really a factor.

 

On most concertinas, it is fairly easy to diy a higher hand rest that can be swapped for an existing low hand rest without damaging the concertinas.  A easily reversible change should you later want to sell the concertina.

 

Watch out for the occasional concertina that has an air button embedded in the hand rest as it is not so easy to make a high replacement.

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51 minutes ago, Don Taylor said:

My experience is that my (XL) large hands need a high hand/palm rest and that the actual button layout dimensions are not really a factor.

 

On most concertinas, it is fairly easy to diy a higher hand rest that can be swapped for an existing low hand rest without damaging the concertinas.  A easily reversible change should you later want to sell the concertina.

 

Watch out for the occasional concertina that has an air button embedded in the hand rest as it is not so easy to make a high replacement.

Thanks Don, that’s great advice. Makes me feel more confident that I should at least be able to play the instrument. 
By DIY do you mean something solid like a piece of timber? Or something which can slot over the top like a piece of solid foam? 

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Hi Andrew, try to check the distance from the handrest to the apex of the buttons (well, that's what Chris Algar calls it) - which would be the maximum distance from the handrest to the middle button on the top row. This is not at all standardized, and most instruments don't give this dimension, but it's pretty important. The historical Wheatstone and current Minstrel layouts are pretty scrunched up and I find them difficult to play, so you'll probably want to look for something else. I really like the Herrington and Wolverton layout dimensions, but they are hard instruments to come by. 

 

And yes, a handrest height of 1" will make all the difference too.

 

Gary

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23 minutes ago, gcoover said:

Hi Andrew, try to check the distance from the handrest to the apex of the buttons (well, that's what Chris Algar calls it) - which would be the maximum distance from the handrest to the middle button on the top row. This is not at all standardized, and most instruments don't give this dimension, but it's pretty important. The historical Wheatstone and current Minstrel layouts are pretty scrunched up and I find them difficult to play, so you'll probably want to look for something else. I really like the Herrington and Wolverton layout dimensions, but they are hard instruments to come by. 

 

And yes, a handrest height of 1" will make all the difference too.

 

Gary


Thank you so much Gary. More great advice. I’ll definitely aim for a handrail height of 1’’ if at all possible, and you’ve given me a great way to be able to compare and measure from one instrument to another. I’m assuming by ‘top row’ you mean the row where all of the accidentals are…

 

Hopefully I can track down an instrument with a non-cramped layout such as those you mentioned.

 

On another note, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on some of your books such as the AC in the Harmonic Style, I’ve heard great things! 
 

Thanks again, 

 

Andrew 

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7 hours ago, Andrew W said:

Thanks Don, that’s great advice. Makes me feel more confident that I should at least be able to play the instrument. 
By DIY do you mean something solid like a piece of timber? Or something which can slot over the top like a piece of solid foam? 

 

Here is how I've been doing it for over twenty years. I should add that soon after coming up with this, I inverted the foam so it is wider at the lower end, to aid my rather short fifth fingers. Experiment and see what works for you.

 

Welcome aboard.

 

Ken

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10 hours ago, Andrew W said:

By DIY do you mean something solid like a piece of timber? Or something which can slot over the top like a piece of solid foam? 

I meant wood, but the foam works too.

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One fairly reliable test for checking whether the button spacing is cramped or not would be to draw an imaginary line from the points of the hexagonal end plate that would pass through the top row of buttons (left to right). On my Wolverton 30-button this passes through the middle of the farthest button, but on Wheatstones you'll find that all the buttons are below that line. It's only a few millimeters, but it can make a world of difference - to me the Minstrel is pretty much unplayable with it's cramped spacing and low handrest.

 

Gary

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20 hours ago, Ken_Coles said:

 

Here is how I've been doing it for over twenty years. I should add that soon after coming up with this, I inverted the foam so it is wider at the lower end, to aid my rather short fifth fingers. Experiment and see what works for you.

 

Welcome aboard.

 

Ken

Thank you Ken! Looks great, I’ll do the same thing. Just have to track down the right instrument now. Not an easy feat when there are apparently none in Australia to try 🥺

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I find if your fingers have to bend back towards your hand ( from the proximal interphalangeal joint, sorry, don’t know the common name, is it second knuckle?) to use  the closest row then it is harder to play. Raising the handrest height does not increase the distance to the close row at all but it allows you to straighten the last joint.
 

I have my handrest set at 30mm. More valuable for a larger hand would be to incline the handrest back at an angle a little. This would be relatively straightforward if making a new rest. I did it once on a 4.5 inch concertina to make it easier for an adult to play. The handrests could be swapped to the other ends so the incline then set the top closer towards the buttons and it could be played by a very small child. 

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Maybe not useful advice for your beginner phase, but a few of the modern top-end makers do offer adjustable hand rests. Carroll concertinas uses a system that lets you move the rest forward and back, and vary the angle relative to the button rows.  Kensington offers different sizes of ergonomically shaped (and very beautiful) hand rests that can be easily swapped.  There may be some others that I haven't encountered.

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1 hour ago, Bill N said:

Maybe not useful advice for your beginner phase, but a few of the modern top-end makers do offer adjustable hand rests. Carroll concertinas uses a system that lets you move the rest forward and back, and vary the angle relative to the button rows.  Kensington offers different sizes of ergonomically shaped (and very beautiful) hand rests that can be easily swapped.  There may be some others that I haven't encountered.

Actually very useful thanks Bill. I’m not too worried about budget, I would just like a high quality, good sounding instrument that is comfortable to play. I think because I already know a couple of hundred Irish tunes on BC accordion, it will just be a matter of relearning them on the concertina! Hopefully I won’t find it too difficult 😅 

I just want to be able to blend in at sessions and not offend anyone’s ears! 

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I had this issue on a concertina which originally had metal handrests so I replaced them with shaped wooden handrests which lifted the joints (which Chris Ghent so anatomically described!) and made it much easier.

 

On another note, there are concertina players in Brisbane who might be able to let you try their instruments.  I sold one there a year or so ago - a fairly basic Lachenal - but I know of at least one person there who has a stable of more exotic instruments.  I'll ask and see if they're prepared to let you have a try - if lockdown permits...

 

Alex West

 

757150013_CarvedHandrest1.thumb.JPG.320ba09af76a633cde5f8c231f19b57e.JPG

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2 hours ago, Alex West said:

I had this issue on a concertina which originally had metal handrests so I replaced them with shaped wooden handrests which lifted the joints (which Chris Ghent so anatomically described!) and made it much easier.

 

On another note, there are concertina players in Brisbane who might be able to let you try their instruments.  I sold one there a year or so ago - a fairly basic Lachenal - but I know of at least one person there who has a stable of more exotic instruments.  I'll ask and see if they're prepared to let you have a try - if lockdown permits...

 

Alex West

 

757150013_CarvedHandrest1.thumb.JPG.320ba09af76a633cde5f8c231f19b57e.JPG

Thanks so much Alex. Your modified hand rests look great. It seems that this is the kind of thing I’ll need to do.

 

I really appreciate you asking. And yes, weird times we’re living in so totally understand if they’re not comfortable with it. 
 

Andrew

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