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More Problems With My Maccann Duet


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Over the last few nights, when doing excercises and scales on my Lachanel MacCann Duet, I noticed the sounds of extra notes on the right side on the push stroke. Last night, I found them too loud to ignore. Somehow, air was leaking past some of the right-end pads on the push stroke.

 

To get to the point, I opened up the instrument (yes, I kept track of each screw's place), and found a series of thin cracks connecting the holes of the notes that were singing out of turn. (I'll call this part the "button board" since I am note sure of its proper name.)

 

Attached is a photo of the side were the crack is most visible. It is on the left side of the picture, connecting those holes along the vertical side. You can see that there is a series connecting a few of the holes on the right side, but those cracks were sealed up with some kind of glue.

 

Anyway, is this a simple repair, or will the entire "button board" need to be rebuilt? I have no intention of repairing this myself.

 

- Alex C. Jones

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Edited by AlexCJones
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This just happened to my Lachenal English, but I knew it was coming as I was warned about cracks in the action boards when I bought it, and one has finally split in the super dry heat of a Massachusetts winter. I just got a lot of air leaking, no extra notes. At some point I will take it down the road to the Button Box, get in their repair queue, and get it fixed (I don't play English very much). I think they splice it back together or something.

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Action board crack fixing is a fairly common repair project at our shop. Depending upon the severity of the cracking, warping of the action board, moisture content of the wood (and where we feel it's equilibrium should or wants to be), we unwarp, do splices, fillers, glue, sand, etc. and make it happy. Your project looks to be very minor.

 

I urge folks who share their extremely dry abodes with concertinas to keep their instruments in their cases with a small humidifier (I recommend a tobacco pouch humidifier) when not in use.

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Alex, Ken

 

Alex's concertina was made in London, with solid (not laminated) reedpan and soundboard. The materials and construction are what make these concertinas sound so great. If you own one of these, your job is to fool it into thinking it is still in England. This means (in northern North America, in winter, in our central-heated buildings) the humidity must be regulated to no less than 40% RH. 50% is probably better, and I have heard some sugggest 60%. Failure to do this will very frequently result in warping, checking, or cracking of the woodwork. WHile these accidents can be repaired (and if well-repaired the instrument may be more stable than before), the tone of the instrument may be affected. Like the guitar specialists, I personally value an instrument with uncracked and unwarped original woodwork (especially the soundboards [pad boards]) more highly than one that has had cracks repaired.

 

You occasionally see a very stable one that can endure much drier conditions but don't assume you have one of these.

 

THe steel reeds would like 0% humidity of course. The concertinas that have spent the last 100 years in England or other moist climates often have a lot of reed rust and nice, uncracked woodwork. THose that spent the last 100 years in very dry climates sometimes have cracked up woodwork but pristine reeds. If you do artificially humidify the concertina case or the room (better), keep in mind that you need to pump fresh air through the instrument frequently rather than leaving the reedchambers full of moisture-saturated air. There are a number of subtle issues with the interaction of temperature changes, humidity, inside/outside, playing/storing, and their influence on the reeds and woodwork (and mildew, etc.). These are best discussed with the maker or dealer from whom you purchased the instrument, your teacher, or other local players who have figured out how best to preserve concertinas in your climate.

 

There is a great story about how the oldtimers in Australia coped with the dry air and concertinas. Chris or Malcolm, have you heard that one?

 

Bottom line, Alex and Ken, don't worry, it can be fixed, -- but for the rest of you, prevention is easier and better than treatment. This is a very cold and dry winter in North America and I'm sure yours will not be the last concertinas to crack.

 

Paul

 

PS Rich, once again your post came up while I was posting. In general I'm with you but I do like the electric room humidifiers better than the case humidifiers where possible -- a concertina can lose a lot of moisture very quickly being played in a dry winter room. Other approaches include a kettle on the woodstove, etc.

Edited by Paul Groff
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Hi everyone. Thanks for your help.

 

The cause must certainly be what you said, since the problem got really bad after I left it out of its case for a day, and even in its case, I was not humidifying it. I live in the Chicago area, and during winters I must constantly moisturize my hands to keep them from cracking.

 

As soon as I get a hold of a box to send it in, I am sending the MacCann Duet straight to the Button Box! Maybe they can check all of the pads and valves (like the one on the left hand low G) and maybe even improve the action too.

 

For preventing this from happening again, I am going to use ALL of your solutions: 1 little tobacco pouch humifier for the case, and 1 big electric humidifier for the room, and I'll make sure to play it at least 3 times a week (the concertina -- not the humidifier).

 

- Alex C. Jones

Edited by AlexCJones
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There is a great story about how the oldtimers in Australia coped with the dry air and concertinas. Chris or Malcolm, have you heard that one?

 

Which one???Storage in a cupboard with a LARGE bowl of water is a favourite.

 

The vast majority of Australians live within 30kms or so of the coast, so to most of us down-under there is no problem with the woodwork warping due to lack of humidity.

However one player I know in coastal Cairns, Nth Queensland, transfered with his job to outback Mt Isa where just about every glue joint on his anglo failed. Luckily the correct glues had been used and, rather than cracks appearing, the glue had let go so that re-assembly was not too difficult once he returned to the coast.

 

Slightly off topic, but related, is the widely held belief that many oldtimers who played string instruments in Australia would tune a semitone flat to lessen the possibility of necks warping. When I came to Australia I was amazed how many old button accordions there were here in the key of F# or two rows in C#/F#. Of course a fiddle played with D fingering and a semitone flat would sound in C#, and fingered in G would come out as F#.

I played for some years in a band with a 12 string guitar player who also tuned flat by a semitone for the same reason, so it is still happenning.

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Bottom line, Alex and Ken, don't worry, it can be fixed, -- but for the rest of you, prevention is easier and better than treatment.  This is a very cold and dry winter in North America and I'm sure yours will not be the last concertinas to crack.

I heartily subscribe to this advice and follow it with my concertinas to the extent my circumstances allow (centrally humidifying that huge house in Indiana will be a huge project). This particular concertina was sold to me with the board already split and was discounted by several hundred dollars for that reason. It had a temporary repair with an adhesive which is what has just let go.

 

I saw Becky from the Button Box last night at a contra dance but neglected to ask how long the repair queue is right now. Guess it is time to get in line!

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I saw Becky from the Button Box last night at a contra dance but neglected to ask how long the repair queue is right now.

About 4 months. Make sure you call and get a spot secured in line!

 

You can do a temporary fix to keep you going until then by inserting some cotton batting or a bit of weatherstripping foam into the cracks. You need not put much in, nor fill the lengths of the cracks completely. Just a bit will suffice to stop the problem. Be careful not to damage the adjacent wood. I suggest that you let a bit of the "removable" plug hang out so that we may easily remove it. After all, the only part you really need to make less leaky (to keep adjacent reeds from sounding) is that small part that is adjacent to the chamber walls.

 

Do NOT use a standard woodworker's crack filler compound. Do NOT use temporary things like wax, caulk, or putty as they will leave a residue that will make our permanent fix much more difficult to do.

 

If you'll be at tonight's Montague potluck and dance I can go over more of it with you.

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Do NOT use a standard woodworker's crack filler compound. Do NOT use temporary things like wax, caulk, or putty as they will leave a residue that will make our permanent fix much more difficult to do.

 

If you'll be at tonight's Montague potluck and dance I can go over more of it with you.

I'm afraid the former owner put something in there, and I don't know if it is from the Inadvisable list. But I was thinking about coming to Montague, so see you then.

 

Note to others: If you envy such proximity to experts (one benefit of pricey New England), I have done my time in the isolated sticks, which teachers you repair self-reliance. ;)

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Ken,

 

You need not humidify the whole house. A little portable room humidifier (around $50) will often do the job in your "concertina storage room" and may be moved temporarily to your practice room, kitchen, etc. I know some very good Irish pipers who play (or even travel to sessions) with their own "fog machine." Remember though not to go overboard; you don't want the instrument full of steam - unlike the pipes, our concertinas have rust-prone carbon-steel reeds. 100% RH at room temperature will result in oversaturated air and condensation if the instrument subsequently cools down ( in a cold car on a long drive to or from the gig, etc.). Condensation on the reeds can also occur if warm, humid air is introduced into a cold instrument, so -- if possible -- when your concertina is cold, let it warm up in its case before playing in the thick of a crowded session. With the temperature fluctuations that many North American concertinas feel in the winter, a moderate humidity is safest. Mildew is another problem I have seen, especially with overzealous in-case humidification.

 

Next summer we can talk about problems due to air conditioning, or to desert conditions that are hot and dry. Oops, I guess it must be summer now in Australia....but since Alex and Ken are here, North America has been my frame of reference for this topic.

 

I don't think you said if your soundboard (pad board) was cracked through the pad-holes (like Alex's) but if not, some thin removable tape will often be a good reversible, temporary fix. My wife uses thin "lab tape" (?) in her research lab -- this has very light adhesive that does not contaminate the surface beneath. If the tape is thin enough, the chamois gaskets on the top of the partitions will compress to allow for its thickness. In the eighties I used to see concertinas purchased in Ireland that had cellophane tape as the ONLY repair - caveat emptor.

 

I have seen (and performed) better and better repairs over the years, as the retail value of old concertinas went from $100 to thousands in value, but to repeat a point that bears repeating, prevention is best. Concertinas, like pets, should not be bought without a very clear understanding of the care they deserve.

 

Paul

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  • 1 month later...

I thought I would revisit this topic with a report (and put off grading papers for a few more minutes). As a first step, I have humidified the cases of the two concertinas I have with me in Mass. Wow, the cranky low reeds in the English now work fine. They used to growl, rattle, etc. and no amount of fiddling (!) seemed to help.

 

Of course I knew this all along and am preaching to the choir. Just like I knew I should get a complete physical as I am newly middle-aged, but I was too transient and/or medically indigent to do so. Well, I finally did and they found something that needs treating but may not be a problem if we manage it right (no, I won't go into details). The same lesson learned again. Maintain the concertina, and maintain the player, to increase the life span of both.

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