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Distance between hand rest and first row

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Hi folks,


I hope this is the right sub-forum to post this question. I currently have a starter Angle C/G concertina (McNeela Wren) and want to move up to a next level instrument. While it's been a great place to start, I've got a few growing pains with the Wren (e.g. it takes a lot to get the reeds speaking). My biggest one is the distance between the hand rest and the first row buttons. It's so close that I really have to contort my fingers to bend them far enough back to reach the buttons while still being in a position to press them. Cuts, rolls, and grace notes on the first row are very difficult (even allowing for my lack of skill - I've only been playing a year). I live in a "concertina desert" in the US so I can't just pop over to a shop and try several options. The closest shop to me that has several options is Homewood Music in Birmingham Alabama owned by Bob Tedrow and that's a 3.5 hour drive. Bob has been helpful with discussing his stock (as you would expect from someone as passionate about instruments and as skilled a maker as he is) - but he said something that has me worried: namely, the spacing between the hand rest and first row buttons is standard. If this really is standard, then I'm going to have to figure out some other solution... maybe I can chop off a bit of each finger?


But, before I resort to surgery, I thought I'd gather a little empirical evidence if I can. For the Wren that I have, the distance between the edge of the hand rest and the center of the B3/A3 LHS button is 35 mm and the distance between the edge of the hand rest and the center of the G4/A4 LHS button is 40 mm.


Is this consistent with the distancing on your Anglo concertina or other concertinas you've had? 


Thanks for any help you can provide! I'm hopeful there are instruments out there that will fit my hands better since I really do otherwise enjoy the concertina.



David Bradford

Edited by David Bradford
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The distances to the centres of the corresponding buttons on my concertinas are 43 mm to 49 mm and 49 mm to 54 mm. These are all 40-button Anglos but I would not expect that to make any difference to those distances.


I don't know about other modern lower-end concertinas but those distances on your Wren do seem very small.

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to make it a bit more transferable, I've measured the distance from the edge of the hand-rest to the centre of the middle buttons of the rows, i.e buttons 3a, 3 and 8 on each side. Here are the results:


30-button Stagi: inner row 40 mm, middle row 54 mm, accidentals row 67 mm

30-button Dallas-Crabb: inner row 45 mm, middle row 58 mm, accidentals row 72 mm


In both cases, there are only negligible differences between the LH and RH sides of the same instrument.

Hope this helps,



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6 hours ago, HansQ said:



Adding a thumb strap is a good idea also. It not only improves stability but at the same time it makes it possible having the handstrap a bit looser without loosing control, and with the thumb acting as a pivot, rotating the hand within the handle to improve access to the whole keyboard.


Many Anglos, if not most, including the Wren have thumb buttons for air or note pairs.  a thumb strap would seem to hinder this feature.

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Here are some of the measurements from concertinas which I have copied the button placement from in the past. There is variation of how grouped together the buttons are as well as how far from the hand rest.


Measurements taken from edge of hand rest (the edge which faces the buttons) to the centre of the G push A pull button on the left hand side G row (assuming its a c/g anglo)


Lachenal mahogany ended 30 button 52.63
modern Wheatstone anglo 30 button: 51.6
Jeffries 38 button: 49.28
Jeffries 31 button: 47.58


Based on that I would say that your measurement of 40mm to the centre of the G/A button on the left hand side is an unusually short distance - it is quite a bit below the historic instruments I have studied at any rate. Perhaps the manufacturer had some internal design based reason for doing this but it is unusual. 


I hope this is helpful



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Thanks everybody for this information and the suggestions for how to limp along with my current concertina until I can get an upgrade. There does seem to be a reasonable variation in spacing (and I agree with HansQ that it would be a nice innovation on modern concertinas to have some way to adjust the handbar). My main lesson here is that I should try before I buy!

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1 hour ago, HansQ said:

Studying proficient performers will reveal that they hardly ever use the air valve


I don't think this is universally true. Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne appears to use the air button frequently in his playing, and I would consider him to be highly proficient. I use the air button quite a lot myself (whether I'm proficient is for others to judge). I expect the importance of the air valve to individual players depends somewhat on style and repertoire. Harmonic-style playing probably forces more frequent air button use, since it reduces the availability of bellows reversals. Choices in articulation and dynamics could influence this as well.

In any case, I wouldn't neglect learning to use the air button on Anglo. Whether you use it frequently or not, being able to use it when you judge it appropriate is something I would expect from a proficient player. Then again, the music is the real goal, so if you make good music, you're proficient in my book, regardless of what you can do with the air button.

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As a player in the harmonic style I would say that good control of the air button is absolutely crucial, and it is arguably the most important button on the instrument. I make almost constant use of it, little and often and usually while playing notes rather than trying to grab or dump air between phrases.  However I cannot see any advantage to having one on both sides, one is entirely sufficient and to try to use two together would probably make it difficult to maintain fine control.


I don't find the traditional air button awkward, but I know that some do. A lever may be better ergonomically, but my experience on melodeon suggests that it would need to be quite long to allow fine control. Geoff Crabb has designed one which will work both as a button and a lever, but that's quite complicated and no doubt more costly.


The position and height of the hand rests is very personal and it is not uncommon for players to move them around to suit their hands.  Likewise strap tension - you have to find a balance between having them sufficiently tight to maintain control of the instrument and sufficiently loose to reach all the buttons (novices commonly have them too tight). Personally, I like to be free to move my hands around within the straps, and I overcome the stability problem by supporting it on my knee. With looser straps tension can be increased when needed by adjusting the hand position, and for me this includes using the thumb, so I think a thumb strap might also restrict this, quite apart from interfering with the air button. Anchoring the thumb might also make it more difficult to reach all the buttons.

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I think many would agree that the designs for holding concertinas of all systems are less than perfect. However no one seems to have come up with anything g better which is universal, as opposed to customised solutions for individuals. With modern techniques such as 3D printing it might be possible to make more sophisticated handles customised to the individual player, and it might be possible to retrofit them to existing instruments.  However most people are left to play existing instruments with the traditional handles.


It is possible that someone may have tried adding thumb loops to an anglo, although I can't recall ever seeing this.  The buttons on an anglo are quite spread out, especially on those with more than 30 buttons, and it is often necessary to be able to move the hands inside the straps, not only to reach the more distant (or very close) buttons but also to shape chords. I have never felt that this would be made easier if the thumb were anchored down. 


I have just experimented with improvised thumb loops (using velcro cable ties), but I did not feel they added anything.  They had to be quite tight for me to feel they gave me a proper grip which would have any effect on bellows movements, and this wasn't comfortable and I didn't feel it gave me any greater control over the bellows.  If thumb loops were to be adopted I think they might have to be adjustable.  They didn't restrict my hands as much as I thought they might, but I did find it harder to reach some positions. 


As I feared, it did restrict access to the air button, and on the left side to the drone button which is also operated by the thumb. Whilst I recognise that these improvisations are not the same as proper fitted thumb loops, it doesn't make me think this is an idea I want to pursue. Applying tension to the straps is just another skill which is part of playing the instrument.






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I have a CC Minstrel, and the distance from the side of the handrail to the center inside row button (The 8 button, using Coover tablature) is about 47mm. The surrounding buttons, in their curved array, are somewhat closer. I have large hands. These are the same distances on the CC Rochelle 2. On the R2 I tried raising the handrails by gluing some half round to them (and painting it), and this helped.


I no longer own the Stagi/CI Anglo, so I can't measure it, but I can say with certainty that the distance from the handrail to the buttons on it was greater. The curvature of the buttons was also less. These differences made it very comfortable for my hands. Too bad its reeds were untrustworthy.


I haven't yet tried raising the handrails of the Minstrel. I also haven't yet attempted to move the handrails, but this is something I'm considering. I need to be cautious. I'm still a beginning player, and I don't yet have much use for the 1a-3a buttons (left hand) and 3a-5a buttons (right hand), but I don't want to put them out of easy reach. At some point, I'll want to use them. So for the time being, I'm just trying to play the Minstrel as is.

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I also find the distance to the first row of buttons tight on the Wren, with my fingers very bunched to play. To help a little, I loosened the screw on the hand strap, adjusted angle of the strap so it leans back slightly, and retightened the screw. This seemed to allow me to play with my hand back a little further with fingers less bunched up. 

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