Jump to content

What To Do With Aged Jeffries

Recommended Posts

Hello -


After a few years I am finally taking the intiative to move my old Jeffries to a new owner. The tale is classic: in stroke of fortune an elderly aunt of mine says 'Oh, I have this concertina that's been in the attic, would you like to play it?' And so I took it.

It's a Jeffries (don't know key count right now, I can go count them), pitched in Bb - in an older pitch system (not A440). It is in need of restoration, but the bellows are intact and the tuning is gorgeous (I am a professional violinist and love the unequal temperment).

Can anyone point me to a restorer, or be interested in buying it from me? I'm not in a hurry to get rid of it, but I'm not using it and thought it ought to find a new home. Any help would be greatly appreciated!




Link to comment
Share on other sites



I'm sure many contributors to this site would like to buy your Jeffries, so don't sell it too cheaply. Most would probably want to repitch it to A 440 or even to C/G A 440 as has been done to so many Jeffries Bb/Fs by the major English concertina dealers.


I would like to issue a plea that this instrument (and those few Jeffries and early Crabbs which still turn up, from time to time, in original pitch and tuning) NOT be repitched. I would be happy to pay a handsome price to safeguard this piece of concertina history.


For anyone who wants a Bb/F or C/G in modern pitch, great ones are being made by several modern makers, and excellent antique instruments that have already been retuned often turn up for sale (as the Bb/F early Crabb that was listed at this site for a very reasonable $4400).


Thank you for considering my opinion,


Paul Groff

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Gee, Ben!

Fate has dealt you a hand that several thousand concertina afficianados would die for! Have you considered having someone like Colin Dipper restore it and someone like Paul Groff check and preserve the original tuning and temperment?

And then YOU could learn to play it! It seems like you have the right disposition if you are enjoying the tempered tuning. And these opportunities, at the right price, only rarely occur.


Do consider the option of taking up the instrument. Things can happen for specific reasons.


And please consider Paul Groff's advice about preserving the original tuning. I think he's got a very valid point about the beauty and distictive sound of these tunings and temperments. After the current phase and craze of group session playing has passed, the surviving unretuned instruments may be the most valuable and treasured of all! (I think Paul said that; but he didn't tell me to repeat it!)


Of course if the instrument annoys you, or you would like to find it a good home please put my name at the top of your list for potential buyers! Best of luck, Greg


(Actually, I'm the one that thinks the emphasis on session playing and the perceived need of having every concertina in C/G A=440 will tone down (no pun intended JL). I think Paul Groff is the one who sees the potential in instruments that haven't been noteably changed. (Pun intended))

Edited by Greg Jowaisas
Link to comment
Share on other sites



Congrats on your wonderful instrument. I'm glad you asked for advice and what a truly gifted group was able to answer you. (I'm certainly not including myself. I can only cheer on you and the others who responded.)


It would be my hope that you took up the instrument and loved it. And enjoyed its history and the story of how it came to be in your family. Do you know that story? If so, would you post it, if you are comfortable doing so?


Gee, other people find instruments in elderly relatives' attics. I'm not mentioning what we find. Not instruments.


Of course, Ben, if you choose not to play, that would be okay too. You seem to have some people who would cherish your instrument if that was your decision.




Edited to add an apostrophe.

Edited by Helen
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Greg J. wrote


And please consider Paul Groff's advice about preserving the original tuning. I think he's got a very valid point about the beauty and distictive sound of these tunings and temperments. After the current phase and craze of group session playing has passed, the surviving unretuned instruments may be the most valuable and treasured of all! (I think Paul said that; but he didn't tell me to repeat it!)


Years ago, in a private email to someone who had found an odd pitch Jeffries, I made this same argument. [i got a mixed reception] I said I thought Paul Groff would agree (though we have never met) and am gratified to learn I was correct. Yes, some day there will be enough makers of great C/G boxes to meet the session demand (look at the guitar market in the 1950s vs. now - a new golden age. Easier now to buy a new Santa Cruz guitar than a 1928 Martin D-28), and you'll be blessed if you helped keep a few original concertinas around.


And frankly, it would be easier to learn to play it than deal with the piranha feeding frenzy that erupts when you offer to sell an instrument like this! :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Certainly Paul if you wanted to play solo you would not get droned out by a melodion.

Getting back to the subject I tried to answer this when I first saw it and I could not put into words my thoughts.Ben you just cannot realise how lucky you are and to sell it on I can understand ,but years to come I am sure you will regret parting with this wonderful instrument and from a family member .Please give this some serious thought.I agree with the suggestion of getting it renovated and then think again.



Edited by Alan Day
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I too, owned an odd keyed Jeffries 38 which I sold to Paul Groff as he was the only buyer with sense enough to retain its originality. I have never regretted the decision.


FYI the First Martin D-28 was not made in 1928


It was one of four Dreadnoughts made in 1931 and designated D-2 not D-28

The D-1 was mahogany


In 1932 the designations were changed to D-18 for the mahogany and D-28 for the Rosewood



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not really a reply to the original posting, more a response to some of the subsequent discussion. Here goes:


While I can understand peoples interest in maintaining original pitch and tuning to preserve an instrument in an original condition, I have to say that this is not one sided argument.


Keeping and instrument in original pitch/tuning does have distinct disadvantages as well, in that you will not be able to play with any (effectively) fixed tuning instruments (eg piano, woodwind, other squeezeboxes), and you will not be able to play with with fretted instruments (Since they are equal temperament).


If you want to play on your own then fine, but if you want to play with anyone else, even one other person (ie not only session playing), then you will need to consider this.


Most people believe that these instruments should be played, but I am probably in the miniority here in believing that if it needs to be retuned to allow it to be played more often then so be it. After all if an instrument is kept in a display case as a historically interesting specimen, then it doesn't really matter what trhe tuning is does it, as no one will hear it?


Yes you can buy brand new instruments of excellent quality in A=440 pitch, do you want to wait 5 years for it?



Perhaps I should have started a new topic for this?


I shall now sit back and await the deluge e-mials from the outraged folks out there.



Link to comment
Share on other sites



I for one am not at all outraged by your comments. You do present one valuable side of the argument. We need to have some -- make that MANY -- concert pitch (oops, A = 440) concertinas so we can meet at a common denominator for group playing - sometimes. But the point I am making (and I believe has been seconded by Greg, Ken, Jeff et al.) is one of balance.


So few Jeffries (and other anglos originally tuned in nonstandard temperaments) have been retained in their original state that many or most of you have never heard one. They are really like an endangered species deserving of preservation -- at least until they can be studied. The reflexive conversion of almost all of these to modern tuning as they have been restored has left us with a substantial number of repitched Jeffries (etc.) that do come up for resale if you want one. And each year, brilliant new instruments are made by an increasing number of fine makers, who are getting better all the time. Almost all of these instruments are and will be in modern pitch and temperament. Even if a Jeffries is restored to its original temperament (and how many know how to do so?) so its original sound can be enjoyed and studied, this does not preclude its later being modernized. But when the original reedwork is "written over" without its unique information being recorded, something special has been lost. If you do not value what has been lost, fair enough -- but I might, and posterity might.


I am sorry if this is another of my frequent misquotations, but I think Kafka wrote "impatience is the only sin, because every other sin derives from it."


Ever the devil's advocate, Jim Lucas made the point elsewhere that the current fetish for originality among those who study/curate/conserve antiques and historical artifacts may be a temporary fad of our current phase of history! I think he may be right! But if preservation is an error, this is a much easier error to recover from if we become wiser in the future than the alternative errors of destruction, extinction, obliteration of the evidence of the past.


By the way, Jeffries, Jones, early Crabb and Lachenal anglos in their original tuning sound wonderful when played with one another or with voices. A skilled and sympathetic duet partner who plays Irish fiddle often plays with me, and flutes and Irish pipes also go well. Try playing your equal tempered concertina with the pipes someday and listen closely to the result! Many of the best old system wooden flutes ever made (in London, of course) play at their best between A 446 and 452, just where the contemporaneous London concertinas were originally pitched. Bottom line -- my original tuning instruments get played a lot, and not just at home. If you have friends who play Baroque or Classical music, or any of many kinds of traditional music, you will find that the most advanced musicians are the most interested in playing in non-equal temperament where appropriate.


So yes, thank heavens there are repitched old concertinas and new concertinas in modern pitch. They are very useful and very important. But now may be an excellent time to pull back on the reins and take stock of the historical information available in the few original ones. This is my current project. I can't afford to buy and keep all of them, and I think this would be unethical and selfish anyway. Instead, I try to operate like our Nature Conservancy (in the US - are they in England?); I try to get control of the original ones to prevent the destruction of their originality, then I try to find new homes for them with players who will appreciate their unique value. Some of them, I'm sure, will subsequently be retuned, but I will have learned all I'm able from them first.


My first priority (and I suspect yours) is to encourage and promote the playing of these instruments. Actually I think dedicated concertina players are the most precious and valuable resource of all, and far rarer still than fine concertinas.


With greatest respect and best wishes,


Paul Groff

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FYI  the First Martin D-28 was not made in 1928


Oh I know, I was just making up an analogy. (Never ever make a fictional allegory on line, someone always points it out.) Folks who were around then tell me that in the 1950s and early 1960s everyone was nuts to find a classic old Martin or other classic flat top. Prices skyrocketed. (Sound familiar?). This eventually brought a lot of new makers out of the woodwork. I am floored by the excellent sound of fine new guitars my friends have (Martin, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Collings), friends who could never consider buying the old now-heirloom Pre-WWII instruments. While the guitar market is admittedly a hundred times bigger than the concertina market and guitars may be simpler to build, I still think we can look forward to this situation too, if we live long enough.


I guess my perspective on repitching is colored by the reality that even after six years of study, no one is interested in playing with me. The sole exceptions are the folk society and the Irish session I go to, and in those large gatherings I need to play loud enough to hear myself and subtleties of tone are lost, at least to me. I use my Morse for that. I have a funny-pitch/funny-key Lachenal concertina I play at home or for my rare public solo work. This arrangement works for me. Your mileage may (or does) vary.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Poor Bem!

He must be shaking his head thinking, "It's only a concertina!" And who are these crazy, passionate people with nothing better to do than rhapsodise over a dusty squeeze box that my aunt found in the attic and gave to me?


And that's just the point!


These little boxes are lightning rods for passion. I love it!


Clive, I've had an anglo all of three months (although I've been a musician for 30 years). Sitting in at sessions (with a concertina) is still a defered dream. I'm not well off by any means, but I had a some extra money and a Jeffries came along and I jumped. It is in C/G but old (high) pitch. I sought Paul Groff's advice and he pleaded for me not to retune it. I was feeling sorry for myself, thinking "I'm gonna need a hot A=440 session instrument when I finally get this push/pull thing sorted out." I did manage to restrain myself, got to meet Paul and listened to him play several tempered, quality instruments. What a revelation! Like being in a cathedral! (Or going to Wrigley Field!)


I've found another less prestgious A=440 C/G that will serve me well as I dutifully practice for session work. The Jeffries? We are going to church!!


After years of retuning and fine tuning my banjo to make the modal songs "sound

right" I've finally realized its really a matter of "temperment".


I hope the sessions are hot and heavy and good times are had by all! But I hope more and more people take time to hear the "tempered muse". She has a siren's voice and it's beautiful! Respects to all. Keep the passion! Greg


PS. Thank you, Paul!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess it's all a matter of taste, or what you get used to, but I can see no logic to the opinion that somehow A-446 or A-452 is inherently superior in sound to A-440. True, an instrument retuned from one of the old piches to A-440 does remove metal from the reed, and this can be very detrimental if done by someone who doesn't know what they are doing. It can also be done by weighting the tips of the reeds with solder,using a razor blade and heat sink to preserve the temper. You'd be amazed how little is needed to lower the pitch a half tone. I'm not recommending anything, or offering my services. I have no desire to take on the job.

As far as retuning is concerned, an instrument that old is probably out of tune and will have to be touched up anyway. I realise that this is a comparatively small matter.

As far as the sound of an instrument is concerned, I personally find the old pitch disconcerting, accustomed as I am to the sound of A-440 pitched instruments. There is nothing "magic" about any pitch, nor did the Victorians have the technology to make reeds designed to get the optimal tone colour at a particular vibration frequency. It was part science, part guesswork, and part trial and error. Some makers more successful than others. I guess the point I am trying to make is that, apart from ruining a reed by overfiling, I can see no reason why a concertina should sound superior in one pitch over another.

I know that now there will be numerous contributions from members telling me how wrong I am, and all that sort of thing. All I can say is, "Of course you must be right. How wrong I was! What could I have been thinking?" Or just maybe there is room for other opinions???

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess the point I am trying to make is that, apart from ruining a reed by overfiling, I can see no reason why a concertina should sound superior in one pitch over another.

I think the point is that this instrument is not in equal temperament, regardless of where the A is. Even if it were 440, the relationships between the notes (pure or more nearly pure intervals in the common keys) make the sound more desireable than that of modern instruments tuned to equal temperament where all intervals are slightly impure and every key sounds the same as every other key.

Link to comment
Share on other sites



My point is that what ever tuning you want is fine, until you want to play along with someone else, but when that point comes a non A=440, non equal temperment will start to limit who you play with (and I don't only mean in sessions).


If you've only just started playing anglo then that point might be some time off, but when it comes you may find that you also start wishing you could play your Jeffries with other people rather than the 'Less prestigous' one.


Also, if you are new to the concertina then hearing a really good player in the same room might sound like being in a cathedral what ever the temperament of the instrument. I'm not new to the concertina, (though I don't consider myself anything like a good player) and hearing someone like John Kirkpatrick play still fills me with wonder, and as far as I know his instrument is Equal temperament.



Reference your comment on the Banjo, Surely playing around with tuning and bridge position etc can't make a fretted instrument into a natural temperament instrument, as that is dependent on the fret positioning as well ?.


I should point out that I have never knowingly heard a natural temperament concertina being played, so maybe I have a 'road to Damascus' experience to look forward to.




Link to comment
Share on other sites



You seem upset. I hope you know in what high regard your work in repairing and building instruments is held all over North America.


I will always value your opinion, but neither should your preferred standard of A 440 equal temperament become a universal one to which we must all conform! In this day and age, I thought *I* was being the pluralist in advocating that SOME concertinas that retain a different pitch and temperament be allowed to continue to sound THEIR differing "voices."


The mass consumer culture that assaults us, from fast food to detergent to stereo gear (I know, the term is quaint now) tries to make every consumer want the same thing, that can be ever more cheaply made and sold. For me, the world of traditional music and concertinas in particular is an essential assertion of the value of history, of individuals (many humble and whose contributions were never credited to them), of uniqueness. Some modern standards, like traffic laws, make our lives easier and safer. But I see the modern standard of A 440 as a Procrustean bed that has resulted in the permanent alteration of many uniquely individual, handcrafted, beautiful antique musical instruments. Again (how often must I repeat this?) if you don't value the originality of original reedwork, you are free to go your own way. Future history will decide (and then re-decide!).


Possibly I am partly to blame, because I have known about this problem for many years and have only started writing about it. It took me years to gain some confidence that I was on the right track. And I would like to be able to publish my results someday -- more difficult if they have already become common knowledge. I don't have a position in a museum or university that supports me while I do this research.


But now I am writing. I appreciate those who are sympathetic to this viewpoint, and also those like Clive and Frank who will improve my understanding by challenging me. Bear in mind, as Frank wrote many years ago, that in working on concertinas one should try not to do anything that can't be reversed. It is my contention that if you erase the evidence of original temperament without understanding it, you have done something unfortunate if not irreversible.





(eidted for spelling)

Edited by Paul Groff
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"You seem upset. I hope you know in what high regard your work in repairing and building instruments is held all over North America."


Reply: Sorry, Paul. I'm not upset, certainly not with your opinion . My closing was in anticipation of the expected responses. I guess I'm still sensitive about the last thread I participated in, where my suggestions were disected and the implications given that I was wrong in so many of them (11 in one post). I guess that in giving opposing opinions, you are always at risk of that, by implication. However, I think it is possible to disagree without stating, or implying that the other party doesn't know what they're talking about. For example, I find old pitch unpleasant to my ear. Not because it really is unpleasant, but because my ear has become accustomed to A-440. Nevertheless, I still believe, IMHO, that there is nothing inherently superior about any pitch. To my way of thinking, it's all a matter of personal taste, in a similar way that some purists believe that early music sounds better on stringed instruments made in that period. Different, certainly. Better? ;)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...