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New build concertina

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I am looking for someone to build me a new style concertina. I don't need any single notes, I just want all one-button chords - even if they are only two note chords. I am looking for something simple to play that will accompany my voice - getting a bit too old to lug my guitars around :-}


Is this something that can be done? If so, what will it cost?



Robert Tiffany

tiffany at vom.com

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Hi Robert, interesting idea. I think it would depend on how many chords you were expecting to be able to play, so would need a more detailed brief to make any call on cost or feasibility. If it is bespoke, there's a lot of design and testing to be done, so that needs to be considered and factored in.


You would probably want it to be a unisonoric instrument (sounds the same note/chord on push and pull), but you still could use an existing anglo concertina with accordion style double reed chambers as a basis, and replace these with bespoke blocks with the two notes you want under each button. Perhaps I and V together on the LH, the third and upper octave on the RH. With a 20K donor instrument you could cover at least 10 keys in this way, as long as the greater number of bass reeds could be accommodated.


I'd be interested to hear what others think, and whether similar instruments already exist. When I first read your comment I immediately thought of shruti boxes, but they are probably just as hard or harder to lug about as a guitar!





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This may not be the direction you're after, but your description makes me think of a Stradella bass layout. I don't know where you are, but in the US old piano accordions can be had for almost nothing - try garage/tag sales or the online classified ads. Try a smaller one, say 48 or 72 buttons on the bass side, to experiment with. And there must be books or web sites that explain how it is laid out - it is a brilliant system for western/pop music, really. You could use the bass button and counterbass button together, reach across rows (which are on the cycle of fifths like many three-chord songs), in addition to the buttons that give major, minor chords, etc.


I once saw the group "Those Darn Accordions" perform at Fitzgerald's night club in Chicago. Three of them (I think) had huge piano accordions and on most of the songs all they did was riff on the bass buttons now and then, between vocals - never used the treble-side piano keys. So you can even make a living this way.  😎



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You could even get two old piano accordions, take them apart, and suture the two bass ends together (the bellows/ends would have to be the same cross-section. Bingo - dirt cheap test-of-concept before you commission a custom instrument.



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Interesting thought - turning to free-reed technology to find something easier-to-use than fretted strings!


However, when I read your requirement,

On 1/6/2022 at 9:57 AM, RTiffany said:

I don't need any single notes, I just want all one-button chords

my first thought had nothing to do with concertinas. What I thought of was the Autoharp!


I play several accompaniment instruments to my singing: Anglo concertina, 5-string banjo and guitar.  But when I want to work up a quick accompaniment for an unfamiliar tune, and am not sure which key it will have to be in - that's when I reach for the Autoharp. One button, one chord. I,IV, V, V7 and vi chord buttons close together. What more do you want by way of ease of use? Perhaps someone could "invent" the "Free-reed Autoharp" for you!


My performance Autoharp has 21 chords, the maximum practicable number. I have 6 major chords, 6 dominant-seventh chords and 6 minor chords, plus the 3 dim chords. Like most serious Autoharpers, I have a customised chord set, my set supporting the major keys of F, C, G, D and A, and the minor keys of D and A. (If I dispensed with the dim chords, I could add the key of E major or Bb major and one more minor key.)

With these 21 buttons, I can play quite sophisticated accompaniments, albeit in a limited number of keys. And hey, the simplest concertinas have 21 buttons, if you count the air-button! All you'd need would be 3 or 4 reeds sounding for each button. That makes between 63 and 84 reeds. That's a lot of reeds - and you'd need as many again for the opposite bellows direction. The Autoharp has only 36 strings, but each string is used in several chords. And I'm sure the accordeon-makers have figured out a way to link multiple buttons to multiple reed pairs in their Stradella bass.


And while you're waiting for the concertina developers to come up with something, why not just try the Autoharp? It's not much lighter than a guitar, but the case is certainly smaller! And it meets your "one button, one chord" requirement exactly ...




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On 1/9/2022 at 5:08 PM, dabbler said:

Not sure if they'll ship overseas though.

Sounds super - that transposing feature beats any Autoharp hands down!

Their homepage says they don't answer casual e-mail enquiries, but they have a phone number. They're just over the border from where I live, so I could give them a tinkle, and ask about sending kits to the US of A.

A show-stopper could be the instruction book, which will be in German (possibly even Swiss German).

BTW, I'm a retired technical translator for German and English. I wonder if they get a lot of orders from the English-speaking world ...


I'll try a phone conversation for a start!



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Great suggestion of the Akkordoline.


However, my recommendation is that you check out the Hohner Terzett.


It's a small instrument that looks like a Vienna-style accordion with 1 row of 10 buttons on the right side, and 4 bass buttons, plus a stop on top.


But the 10 buttons in the row each play 3-note chords. The stop adds an additional fourth note to each chord (usually converting that chord into a 6 or a 7 chord).  Playing it actually reminds me of playing autoharp. Chords do change on the same button with changing bellows direction, but it wouldn't be hard to re-reed one for unisonoric chords.


If you don't have the exact chords you want in the stock layout, again you could have it retuned.


Here's a discussion (note that you must register and sign in to see most photos posted to melnet):



Here's one listed for sale; others can be found listed on Reverb.com:



And I'll try to attach a layout diagram found in this discussion:











Edited by Paul Groff
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On 1/6/2022 at 8:57 AM, RTiffany said:

... I just want all one-button chords - even if they are only two note chords. I am looking for something simple to play that will accompany my voice ...


Before throwing away thousands of pounds on a bespoke instrument that would have no resale value, why not try an English concertina? Triad chords are easily formed with just two fingers, and fifths ("open chords") can be played with one finger. Thirds are extremely easy too.


A modest instrument won't cost anything like a custom instrument, and if you don't take to it you can sell it for something close to what you paid for it. If you like it, you have the option to expand into more adventurous (and rewarding) accompaniment.

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  • 1 month later...



-Which kind of concertina? (Anglo, English, Duet?)


-How many chords/what kinds of chords?


-Why not just buy an accordion (the left hand buttons are all chords and can do what you are asking)?


That being said, a duet-type layout would probably be the best because it is the same note for push-pull and it's also fully chromatic with the single hand (again, we're basically building a miniature accordion here). For the chord side, you can assign a chord arrangement to a duet-style layout, or use a miniature version of what the accordion already uses, it is the most sensible arrangement in my opinion:



I imagine that there would be an array of holes, and a single lever would uncover three pads. For example, a single lever would uncover the holes for C E G for the C major chord. The accordion accomplishes this by a system of "rakes" which each pull a set of levers, uncovering the desired holes, when a button is pushed.


What you're proposing here is basically an accordion, except it probably would cost thousands more dollars than an accordion and have less than half of the functionality.


Basically what I'm saying is: just buy an accordion.



Bonus round: You could always consider looking into electronic instruments/software capable of mapping chord sounds onto sets of buttons or a (computer) keyboard. This would be a much cheaper option. You can even acquire electronic accordion sounds.

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