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english vs hayden duet vs chemnitzer for newcomer


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So I have been doing some research for the past 2 or so months on which type I would like to start with. I am new to learning music, finding a new way to relax after my Dr told me no more impact sports if I want to keep my original knees. I have tampered with harmonica and piano in the past and am good at it, though I still have difficulty in reading sheet music. My ears can't take the high pitch of the harmonica so close anymore, so I am looking for something with a little more baritone in it. I am not interested in anglo, as I don't intend to play irish or any type of rapid fire tempo. 


I will mostly play solo as I learn and become more accomplished; occasionally I may play accompiment alongside a piano with my wife or acoustic guitar with my brother-in-law. Im leaning towards the hayden duet (Stagi 46) because of the solo work and I like the idea of high and lows separated. The chemnitzer is also intresting and is adaptable, but a bit larger than I am looking for. The english is only in there because its common and seemingly easier to find a learner 30-40 button than a hayden, but I'm not sold on it. 


I intend to eventually play slower ballads, contemporary covers of christian worship music, some waltzes, covers of piano classical pieces, blues, covers of some seasonal songs and maybe some faster tempo rock covers (if I am ever able to get there). With all that in mind, what do you recommend? My max working budget is $1,000-1,200. 


Any help from more seasoned people is appreciated. 

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I started with a Stagi 46 two years ago at age 70 and with no instrumental experience since giving up piano lessons at age 10, and never having touched a concertina. It's easy to play - I liked it. But I had to stop after 9 months because of painful wrists.

I now have a Peacock which is lighter and has 42 buttons, which are positioned better for me. The fewer buttons limits what I can tackle - tunes go off the ends. I wouldn't recommend starting with an Elise with even fewer buttons.

I (re?)learned staff notation, but only the treble clef. I find it essential for what I play.  And I seem to have developed a very partial hayden-centric mapping of the dots to the buttons.

The main problem with starting on a Hayden is trading up. Secondhand instruments are scarce. If you really get into the Hayden system you may need to spend big money in a year or two. My plan was to get a Beaumont, but they're no longer made. Maybe Edward Jay will make a 46- or 52-key 3d-printed one. Maybe.


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Just a thought; you do not necessarily have to play fast music or 'traditional' tunes on an Anglo, see it, and other 'free reed' instruments like many others, as a musical means of expression in themselves. There is no fixed rule as to what you can play on them; it is entirely up to the musician.

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1 hour ago, alex_holden said:

I'd suggest a vintage duet, which for availability reasons probably means a Maccann or Crane.


To add to this, you'll probably need a small duet to keep within your budget. All small instruments have limitations of one sort or another, though you can usually work within them. Small Haydens have some missing accidental notes (as DaveRo mentions above). Small Maccanns (39 and 46 buttons) start at G4 (G above middle C) on the right hand, which means the lower notes of several dance tunes and hymns/songs are missing. All Cranes start at C3 (octave below middle C) on the left and C4 (middle C) on the right and proceed chromatically from there, though some higher notes you need might be missing.


A 42-button Crane as indicated by Alex is a pretty useable instrument. In fact such an instrument was the basis for the 44 and 45 button instruments he subsequently made for me. I learned on a 35 button Crane, which are more common than 42s, and certainly affordable.

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On 1/27/2023 at 11:58 AM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

Just a thought; you do not necessarily have to play fast music or 'traditional' tunes on an Anglo

Very true! The true usefulness of the Anglo lies, not in fast, purely melodic dance music, but rather in the easy harmonisation of song tunes at singable tempo.

Also, the Anglo is an obvious candidate for someone like you, who has expertise on the harmonica - the same Richter scale lies behond the button arrangement. So you don't have to learn scales or chords. The basic, 20-button Anglo has all the notes of two harmonicas, with the added freedom to play notes from both "harmonicas" at once. And the 30-button Anglo allows you to play chromatic passages as well.

The only limitation is that full harmonisation is easy only in the Anglos two "home" keys, e.g. C  and G or G and D major. Further keys get more difficult to impossible, and there comes a point when even a 30-button Anglo can only manage plain melody with a few double-stops.


For free choice of key, the duet is, in fact, the way to go. But they're like the piano - to move on to the next key, you have to learn where the sharps or flats are. In this way, the Crane is like the English system: the sharps and flats are all in the outer rows.

The Hayden' claim to fame is  the fact that transposing is relatively easy - once you've learnt the fingering for a tune in, say, C, you just move your fingers to a different starting-point, and carry out the same finger movements.


The difference between the Hayden and the other duet systems (Maccann and Crane) lies in the limitations imposed by smaller instruments with fewer notes. The Maccan has been described; the Crane also remains fully chromatic as far as it goes, and the smaller instruments simply lack a few of the very top notes.

The limitations of the small Haydens, on the other hand, mean that some sharps and flats are missing, i.e. certain keys cannot be played.

In any case, you should compare the limitations of a particular instrument with your requirements. If you don't need the missing keys on a small Hayden or the missing high notes on a small Crane, that's fine!

Hope this helps,



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Thank you all for the suggestions. After further research and questions on other forums I’ve decided to exclude the Chemnitzer based mostly off the type of music I want to play. I’m still leaning towards the Hayden because the format makes sense to me, though I have no practical experience with it. I’ve downloaded the Hayden concertina app on my iPad and am tinkering with it, though it’s weird to cant my arms out to use the buttons. 

So I’ve narrowed it down to the Hayden, Maccan or a baritone English. For my budget I would like to try the Elise in order to save my funds for a higher quality instrument later, and I understand the limits of trading up in Haydens in the future. I fully anticipate that I will outgrow the Elise and will have to go with the troubadour or peacock from CC or some other version. The only reason why I’m considering the English still is due to the higher availability of instruments and training tools. 

Also, one last thing I forgot to mention: about 3 years ago I had carpal tunnel surgery on my wrists. Will playing with a wrist strap and the positioning of the hand on a duet prove to cause me discomfort? Will thumb straps on a English allow for more free movement of my wrists?

i know the danger in asking this question, but am I making the right choice? Right now I am simply wanting to learn and play on my own and within the musical whims already stated above. 

Edited by ScoEck
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All systems have plus and minus.


Depending on what you want to do, music wise a duet can be the most versatile. BUT, if you intend to sing along with it. You really need to be aware of what key(s) are needed to support vocals.


with the small duets, especially something like an Elise. Due to layout and number of buttons. You may find that it is not adequate to support vocals.  The more sharps and flats you need (example singer is most comfortable in Eb or Ab) the more limited you will find them to be.

but everything is a trade off. And you just need to take the plunge. It sounds like you have done a ton of research. But there is a point where analysis paralysis hits. It may be that is where you are now. You just need to realize that what ever you buy now, is not likely to be what you’ll be playing down the road. 

grab something. Practice, learn and with some experience you will be able to make a more informed decision when you trade up.


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As a Hayden player myself and a former Elise player, I can vouch for the system, but would advice for careful study if Elise has the notes you need. I have used it for a mix of trad, rock and accordion covers, but it is very limited. It is however good enough as a learning box. You can also easily use it with a makeshift thumb strap due to how hand straps are designed and how the screws are made, so it can be easily adjusted for wrist problems. 

And regarding availabilty of 46+ boxes, things might change in not so distant future, so if you like the logic of Haydens, go with it. You can always trade both Elise and Stagi and English is a poor choice for rock covers.


One last word of advice - if you get Elise, get some 1mm EVA foam sheet from crafts store as well and make foam inserts for Elise’s „fretwork”. It is a very loud instrument with piercing tone, that made my healthy ears hurt. The EVA modification is fully reversible, straightforward and efficient with both softening the tone and reducing volume.

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I'll put in a word for the English system here. The EC is ideally suited to the repertoire you're describing as you can play melody and chords, there's comparatively loads of choice of instrument, and there are certainly decent starter boxes within your budget. 

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7 hours ago, Steve Mansfield said:

I'll put in a word for the English system here. The EC is ideally suited to the repertoire you're describing as you can play melody and chords, there's comparatively loads of choice of instrument, and there are certainly decent starter boxes within your budget. 

I would say.. with an EC. You can play chords, and you can get some really complex chords. Or, you can easily, plug in an EC for anywhere a violin, viola could go.


but, depending on the nature of what accompaniment means here. It is really difficult to do both at the same time well. And that is where the duets shine. 

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