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How Tight Is Tight?

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Hi gang,


Once again, I come to you as a novice, with a question that quite possibly has been discussed previously in this neighborhood. If so, please direct me towards that discussion so I may glean knowledge from the adept among you.


Here goes: Are bellows ideally perfectly air tight? When one grasps the strap of a fully squeezed anglo (for example), and hole that strap up, and let go of the lower end, how long should it take for the concertina to stretch to its fullest extent? The next question is, what is acceptable in a non ideal world? Should I obsess over this if my concertina is not perfectly anaerobic when left to its own devices?


Thanks for your time and consideration of this matter.


Have fun,



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They all open eventually when held this way (at least the cheap ones I own!). I have a leaky Lachenal anglo that is just playable (but needs a new bellows). It opens nearly all the way in 15 seconds. The time is similar for my Lachenal English, but the leakiness is less annoying on this system and to a beginner. Another Lachenal anglo is quite air tight and takes over 30 seconds. Let me try my Morse here (the only anglo I brought to Mass. with me)...over 45 seconds! and it is very air efficient. So when an ebay seller says "in great condition, takes 10 seconds to open when held up." I know it needs repair. It isn't just bellows; air can go around the end gaskets, the pads, and so on. Maybe Frank will comment on this.

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Let me chip in by adding that my Crabb 30 button anglo, 1967.

and never had the ends off just took 43 seconds. Although its hard in the latter stages to decide when the thing has finished extending or if my arm was getting tired and lowering. Perhaps a more reliable test would be to hang the box and play a high note until the sound stops.

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As far as the original question is concerned, about how airtight should a concertina be, there is more than one factor to consider. There are "external leaks", where air escapes to the outside, or from the outside to the inside, when the instrument is held up by one strap.

Equally important are the "internal leaks", where all the air does not pass through the reed, but can bypass it, due to lack of airtightness of the individual reed chambers. With a traditional English-made concertina design, this leak often occurs around the gasket between the reed pan and the bellows gasket. With one of the modern makes, the "internal leaks" can occur if there is not a good seal between the reed(s) and the reed pan. So you can have a bellows which falls very slowly when held up by one end, but plays poorly because some of the air leaks around the reed, and does not go through the reed.

Finally, if the first two considerations are met, the instrument may still not be a good player because the reeds themselves are not very sensitive. A completely airtight Lachenal (a rare beast) will still not play as well as a Jeffries with some leaks because of the quality of the reeds. Gearoid OhAllmuirhain was playing one of his Jeffries without any problems a number of years ago. When I looked at his instrument there was a hole in the bellows about 2 mm. in diameter. Yet the instrument still played relatively well because the reeds are so sensitive. However, when I repaired the leak it, of course, played much better. So, just holding up the instrument is not the whole answer. Purchasing a concertina is a tricky situation.

If your question is made with the purchase of an instrument, a few basics are in order:

1-How fast does the bellows go down when playing a note? You should be able to play a reasonable number of notes in one direction without running out of air.

2-Is there a difference between notes, close in pitch, with regards to how fast the bellows goes down? In other words do all Gs of the same pitch (on an anglo), for example, go down equally fast. This kind of thing would indicate an "internal leak."

3-How hard do you have to press or pull the bellows to make a good, clear sound? Obviously, if the reeds are of the best quality, and set up properly, the notes should sound clearly and evenly with a minimum of pressure. Do your arms get a bit tired after 5 minutes of playing? It takes acertain amount of knowledge to know reed quality of "vintage-style" instruments - more than can be gone into here. As far as the modern makes, Hand-made reeds are usually more sensitive than machine made or hand-finished machine made reeds.

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