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Marcus Traveller review.


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I received my brand new Marcus Traveller in late June 2023.  I deliberately gave it a month or so before starting to write a review as I wanted the “new to wear off”. 

 

Since then, I have been playing it so much that I have been too busy to complete the review I started in August.  Well, that’s my excuse, anyway.

 

Myself and my experience

I do not consider myself to be an Anglo expert, but a reasonably experienced player who works hard at it.  I have been playing Anglo since about 2007.  I own or have owned (in no particular order) a Rochelle 30b, Lachenal 20b, Lachenal 20b piccolo, Lachenal 30b baritone, MARCUS Deluxe 30b, Jeffries 38(?)button in Bb/F and a Dipper 30b.

 

I play mainly Morris music and popular folk tunes in harmonic style.  I also play some tunes as mainly a single line of melody in an across row style.  I sometimes play short passages in simple parallel octaves.   I never miss an opportunity to try someone else's concertina, and I estimate that I have played at least one tune on each of about 30 Anglos.  I have plenty to compare the Traveller to.

 

I have always liked the idea of getting the most out of the minimum in many areas of life.  In the context of the Anglo, this means that I developed a fascination with what could be achieved on the basic 20 button layout.  The simple 2-row Anglo is at the heart of what the Anglo is all about.  It imposes limitations and challenges, but these very limitations are what gives it its distinctive sound.

 

Undeniably, more buttons will give you more versatility, and some tunes simply will not fit on a 20b.  However, to my mind, the extra versatility of 30b or more buttons must be balanced against the purity and simplicity of the 20b.

 

If I could only have one concertina, it would not be a 20b, but I regard these simpler concertinas as an important part of my enjoyment of the instrument.

 

Background to choosing the Traveller

A few years ago, I traded my beautiful Jeffries (B flat/F) for a baritone Anglo and a piccolo Anglo.  I had wanted a baritone for many years.  Sadly, the reality has not met the expectation and I seldom play it.  However, it’s fair to say that the Jeffries seldom got played outside the house because of the keys.  (Morris music is commonly played in G or D.)

As part of the same trade, I also acquired a 20b Lachenal piccolo, which was a bit of a novelty.  For a couple of years, I hardly played it and I regretted getting it.   Then, one day, I realised that it was the ideal size to carry in a backpack.  When I drive to work, I park and cycle the last couple of miles. I got into the habit of parking and playing for 15 minutes on the piccolo Anglo.   I would then take it to the office with me to avoid the risk of leaving it in the car.

 

However, undeniably, a 20b piccolo Anglo has its limits.  Yes, you can play in 2 major keys, but one of 'em is very squeaky indeed!

 

Which got me thinking about the Marcus Traveller.

The Traveller is almost exactly the same size as the piccolo (it won't quite fit in the piccolo's box) and it has wooden ends, which I always prefer.   I knew Marcus instruments to be decent quality, so the temptation developed to have a brand new, easily portable box, in a more civilised register than the piccolo.

 

I had been exchanging emails with Marcus Music for several months before I finally placed the order in December 2022.  I was given a lead time of around 6 months, and with no deposit to pay.  Dave Cox always answered my emails promptly and clearly and he was a pleasure to deal with.

 

Around the 6 months mark, I sent a brief reminder and the work started on my box soon after that.  Marcus keep the customer updated on the progress of the build and send photographs.  This gives you a sense of ownership, seeing your own personal box in its embryonic stages.  They also tend to post photos of the build on the Facebook page for publicity purposes.

 

Eventually, they told me that the box was ready.  They sent me an invoice, I was able to pay online, and the instrument was despatched to me.  I was kept informed of the process and was able to track the order all the way to delivery.  It arrived well packaged and protected.  It was about 7 months from placing the order to the Traveller arriving.

 

The Traveller

So what do you get for the money?  A beautifully made wooden-ended concertina with metal buttons.  It is just a tad over 5" (127mm) across the flats.  It has 21 buttons.  The single accidental button equates to the first button on the righthand accidental row on a 30 button.

 

The purist in me would have preferred a plain 20 buttons, but the extra one is doing no harm, and I confess I have used it a couple of times.  Certainly, for people who play mainly a single line of melody, that button will be useful.  In a harmonic style, perhaps less so.

 

The Traveller comes in a standard-sized padded Fuselli gig bag.  This is of course too big for the Traveller, but it would obviously be uneconomical to get bags specially made when the Traveller only sells in limited numbers.  Marcus deal with this very nicely by including a lined drawstring bag and also a Marcus-branded bellows protector cloth to drape over your knee.  With the instrument in the drawstring bag, inside the gig bag, and with the bellows protector as extrapadding, everything sits snuggly and the bellows stay closed.

 

Nice attention to detail: the gig bag comes with a leather tag bearing the Marcus logo and stamped with the owner’s name.  They have done everything to make the owner feel that they are getting an instrument that has been made with care and attention to detail.

 

The Traveller comes as standard with plain black bellows papers on 7-fold bellows.  My experience with my old Marcus Deluxe was that it took some months for the new, creaky, bellows to play in.  However, the Traveller was "good to go" from day one.  The bellows are silky smooth and a pleasure to use.  It really is “night and day” compared to my previous Marcus.  The first time I opened the Traveller bellows, it felt like I had been playing it for years.

 

The metal buttons are nicely spaced and it is easy for me to play three adjacent buttons or a close triangle without my fingers getting in the way of each other.  The small size does not translate into "fiddly to play".  In fact, I’ve just done some very quick work with a tape measure and the rows and buttons are almost the same spacing as on my standard-sized Lachenal 20b.  The individual buttons are narrower, but the spacing is very similar.

 

My memory of my old Marcus Deluxe is that it was quite "clicky": a lot of mechanical noise from the action.  (Note, I believe they have upgraded the design since I bought that one, so this is not a criticism of their current Deluxe model.)

 

By contrast, the Traveller action is almost silent, the only extraneous noise, being the pads closing over the holes.  It oozes quality and is a joy to play.  Part of me loves the cheap and cheerful charming clickity clack character of my century-old Lachenal 20b, but the Traveller is undoubtedly a far smoother, quieter, and more luxurious instrument to play.

 

The tone of the reeds is clear and pure, almost bell like.  If loudness is your thing, then have no doubt that the "tiny" Traveller is more than a match for a "full size" Anglo.   Maybe it is a little less capable of subtle dynamics, but part of that may be me getting used to the instrument.

 

Thinking about the Traveller led me to draw a distinction between "quality" and "specification".  In terms of specification, it might be thought fairly basic.  As far as I can tell, it is polished plywood rather than veneered.  The reeds are not in little individual shoes slotted into chamfered grooves like on a traditional box, they are on plates.  However, the quality of craftsmanship is excellent, with exceptional attention to detail, and it feels like a far more expensive instrument than it actually is.

 

Weights and Measures:

  • The Traveller has 21 metal buttons, 7 fold bellows, reeds on plates, weighs 974 grammes and is about 129 mm across the flats.

 

For comparison:

  • My Lachenal 20b piccolo has 20 bone buttons, 6 fold bellows, traditional reeds, weighs 696 grammes and is about 127 mm across the flats.
  • My Lachenal 20b standard Anglo has 20 bone buttons, 5 fold bellows, traditional reeds, weighs 989 grammes, and is about 158 mm across the flats.
  • My Dipper 30b has 30 “plastic”? buttons, 7 fold bellows, traditional reeds, weighs 1,325 grammes and is about 162 mm across the flats.

 

The measurements are only approximate because I was being cautious not to scratch the ends with a metal tape.  The weights are the instruments only, measured on digital scales.

 

All weights measurements in metric.  Feel free to do your own conversions into bushels, pecks, and cubits.

 

Summary:

The Marcus Traveller is a beautifully made box that plays very nicely indeed.  It comes as a well thought-out package from an established manufacturer who have shown themselves to be reliable and friendly to deal with.

 

It is heavy for its size, the weight accounted for by the metal buttons, 7 fold bellows, and the way that the reeds are mounted.  It is nevertheless a tad lighter than my Lachenal box which only has 20 buttons and 5 fold bellows.

 

Playing:

The novelty has not worn off.  I still play it almost every day.  It is about 50/50 whether I pick up the Traveller or the Dipper for a practice session.

 

Playing in C is not ideal for after Morris sessions, so this has pushed me to transpose the fingerings for some tunes to G.  This has not only made me a better player, but I find that playing in G an octave above other concertinas in the room makes it far easier to hear what I am playing.  When I play my Dipper in G in a crowded room, sometimes I literally cannot hear what I am playing.  That said, I have never been a keen session player.

 

The instrument is optimised for taking to places.  It is easy to conceal in a parked car, and small and light enough to carry in a small backpack when walking or cycling.  It also fits into one of my standard dry bags and goes safely into the stern locker of my sailing dinghy.  It really is a “traveller” by nature as well as by name.

 

Not everyone will want a 21 button Anglo in CG, but if you are already considering getting a nice 20 button Anglo, I heartily recommend the Marcus Traveller.

 

 

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Thanks for the review.  I’ve long been intrigued by this model but have never encountered one.  I’ve seen the video on the Marcus website but would love to see more videos if you’d be inclined to post.

 

I suspect that if I ever actually got my hands on one to try I’d be inclined to order my own

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13 hours ago, Bruce McCaskey said:

Thanks for the review.  I’ve long been intrigued by this model but have never encountered one.  I’ve seen the video on the Marcus website but would love to see more videos if you’d be inclined to post.

Well, just for you, I learned how to record a video on my laptop.  Then it was too big to upload to the forum.  So I've uploaded it to my old YouTube channel, which I had stopped using and deleted some time ago.  Here's the link.  Just a couple of times through the A music of a Morris tune.

 

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7 hours ago, Mikefule said:

Well, just for you, I learned how to record a video on my laptop.  Then it was too big to upload to the forum.  So I've uploaded it to my old YouTube channel, which I had stopped using and deleted some time ago.  Here's the link.  Just a couple of times through the A music of a Morris tune.

 

Very nice, but I hope you don't play it at that speed for morris dancing!!

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Whilst I don't particularly play Anglo, well just enough to test out repairs etc., I found you review very interesting, and it is really good to see some take the trouble to write a review, to 'stick their head above the parapet' and give others the benefit of their experience. Very well done! 

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14 hours ago, Clive Thorne said:

Very nice, but I hope you don't play it at that speed for morris dancing!!

I very seldom play for the dance.  Too busy being Foreman and Fool.  I just play for pleasure.  Strangely, I seldom play in sessions because everyone else is so much faster.

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I got something stuck in the highest pitched reed on the right hand (highest B on the G row) and had to take the end off.  It comes apart differently from my Dipper, so I had to do a bit of exploring before I worked it out - then it was ridiculously simple.

 

Good news, I was able to clear the reed easily.  It also gave me an opportunity to see the quality of workmanship internally, and I was very impressed.  This box is a nice piece of craftsmanship.

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On 11/3/2023 at 1:50 PM, Mikefule said:

I have always liked the idea of getting the most out of the minimum in many areas of life.  In the context of the Anglo, this means that I developed a fascination with what could be achieved on the basic 20 button layout.  The simple 2-row Anglo is at the heart of what the Anglo is all about.  It imposes limitations and challenges, but these very limitations are what gives it its distinctive sound.

 

Undeniably, more buttons will give you more versatility, and some tunes simply will not fit on a 20b.  However, to my mind, the extra versatility of 30b or more buttons must be balanced against the purity and simplicity of the 20b.

Thank you for reviewing this instrument!

 

Unsurprisingly, I share your outlook, here!  And I also prefer wooden ends :)

 

I also like playing in G higher than the melodeons on a C/G 20 when playing morris music.

 

The Marcus instruments I have played have always felt so immediately playable and I obviously felt so comfortable with them that I instantly felt like improvising.  Tunes would just fall out of them.  The Traveller was surprisingly loud and very much liked playing Morris-like tunes!

Edited by Kathryn Wheeler
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Wow thank you for that in depth review ! So welcome. And you seem to be sooo happy, great for you !! and very tempting of course 🙂

I am finally getting used to a 30b, or getting to understand the advantages (for Irish)...

But yes so many tunes can be played on a 20b, and the extra button is great.

I wonder why he does not had an extra on the left side too with a Bb...maybe the reeds are larger and no extra room for the size...

 

Best

Nicolas

 

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3 hours ago, papawemba said:

Wow thank you for that in depth review ! So welcome. And you seem to be sooo happy, great for you !! and very tempting of course 🙂

I am finally getting used to a 30b, or getting to understand the advantages (for Irish)...

But yes so many tunes can be played on a 20b, and the extra button is great.

I wonder why he does not had an extra on the left side too with a Bb...maybe the reeds are larger and no extra room for the size...

 

Best

Nicolas

 

I am pretty sure it will be reed size.  I asked if they could do it in GD and reed size was the reason given for why they couldn't.

 

A traditionally built concertina has each reed in a narrow frame or "shoe" which takes up very little space.  The Traveller has pairs of reeds mounted on oblong metal plates.  No doubt this is quicker and cheaper to make (hence the very reasonable price) but the extra metal means they take up more space per reed on average.

 

It's a lovely instrument, but made for a very specific and small market, so it makes sense to offer one reliable option.

 

Marcus also make 30b instruments.  I know of one person (a professional musician) who persuaded them to add a 31st button.  When I bought my first Marcus, many years ago, I made the same request and got a very polite but firm, "You are not [name]."

 

 

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16 hours ago, Mikefule said:

...I asked if they could do it in GD and reed size was the reason given for why they couldn't...

I asked the same question when I bought my Traveller, and got the same answer...

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6 hours ago, Roger Hare said:

I asked the same question when I bought my Traveller, and got the same answer...

 Marcus did build a prototype G/D 20 key model for Stephen Rowley earlier this year. He called it the 'Kimber' model, however it was unclear whether it was Traveller size or larger. 

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