notes by George (Geo) Salley
[Note: Throughout 2003 I received various notes and ideas from Geo Salley about how to make an old or worn Italian concertina playable. I have gathered these together here, while keeping the informality of Geo's salutations. Geo was fixing these boxes before many of us had even heard of concertina - or, in some cases, been heard of ourselves - so this may be helpful. I should add that we are talking about Stagi and Bastari repairs here. I know some folks would have apoplexy if we suggested fixing heirloom concertina bellows with liquid tape! -- Ken Coles]
After reading about the aspirations & woes of "newbies", I have come to the conclusion that I would recommend a 30b Bastari/Stagi for a beginner. That, even if I myself did start with a 20b. A used one just went for $162.50 on eBay, so I would recon they could be had for $150 - $200. I noted that a recommendation for such to someone was nixed because the instrument "probably needed repair of the button sleeves" (my coment). However, unless one is a complete klutz, replacing the rubber sleeves holding the button to the lever is easy....
Opening the Box
There appears to be some current interest in concertina repair, re: Dave Elliott's revised manual. Which brings to mind the issue of the matter of taking a box apart. I was looking at Bob Tedrow's various boxes and noted that he has been experimenting with different end fasteners. To wit: round head slotted screws, acorn nuts, and (what appears to be the latest) Allen hex head. I asked Bob about that and he responded that if a person could not get hold of an Allen wrench, he had no business taking the box apart! I could not determine if he ever used the traditional flat head slotted screws.
Anyhow, he does caution the potential dismantler to use a proper fitting screwdriver, but goes no further into the description of such. In a previous life I was a machinist & gunsmith and always used "hollow ground" screwdrivers. I had a complete set of commercial ones, but from time to time I would come across a screw head with a "non-standard" sized slot. Therefore I always had a supply of decent (Craftsman (TM)) screwdrivers of various sizes from which to make one with a custom end. A standard flat slotted screwdriver has tapered sides, and often the end is not absolutely flat and square either, even when new. The optimum way to make one is with a grinding wheel, hence the name hollow ground. However one can make one with a fine toothed file. The trick is to draw the end of the screwdriver along and over the file (which should be securely mounted in a vise) rather than moving the file against the screwdriver. I also found that if I clamped the shaft of the screwdriver in visegrip pliers and moved the screwdriver against the file by means of the visegrips hanging below and against the file I was able to get the best results.
Further, I hardened the tips, since nothing is more damaging to a slotted screw head than a screwdriver with a soft tip. There are commercial chemicals for hardening, but heating the tip cherry red and dousing in oil is adequate.
Replacing the Button Sleeves
Robert Booth's post re: sticky buttons, and my response gives impetous to write up the following: There are a lot of these [Italian] instruments in circulation and tho' I am amazed at the current prices compared to what I paid, they are OK for a begining or "student" instrument.
The 30 button Bastari/Stagis will eventually have a problem with the rubber bushings, or sleeves, holding the buttons to the pad levers. The rubber will eventually get hard and the pad lever will wear a groove in the rubber where it bears on the lever. Thus the buttons will cock in their movement and tend to stick in their holes of the endplste. The first thing to do is to use model airplane fuel tubing rather than surgical tubing for the replacement. I use Aerotrend "Blue Line" silicone (www.aerotrend.com). I have experimented with two sizes of tubing; 3/32" ID (part # 1003,) and 1/8" ID (part # 1005). The 3/32 has an OD of 7/32", while the 1/8 ID's is 1/4". Either size will work, but I have found that the smaller seems to be best. There are some places where there can be a clearance problem with adjacent levers, so the smaller OD has an advantage. [Click on the image for a larger version.]
In order to get the best performance from the buttons one must understand the mechanics of the action. When pressing the button it should travel perpendicular to the end plate; however the valve lever moves in an arc, so the affixment of the button to the pad lever must act not only as a hinge, but the attachment to the button shaft must have some flexibility to move slightly along the axis of the lever as well. Otherwise the button would also move in an arc and bind in the endplate. With this in mind the length of the sleeve should be just long enough to hold the button on the lever. Too long a length will hold the button too tightly to the lever and not allow any motion along the lever. It should not be [short] enough to let the button slide on the lever, but shift a little using the flexibility of the tubing. Too long a length will compress the tubing limiting that flexibility.
The picture is a little fuzzy, but the top button has the sleeve the correct length.
...[B]ellows leaks are generally not that big an issue. By using electrician's liquid tape, repairs can be readily effected, with a light coating on the inside of the bellows. If there is a large crack or tear, the trick is to lightly saturate a piece of handkerchief cloth with the liquid tape, then apply to the inside, after taping a piece of plastic wrap to the outside in order to keep the goo on the inside.
A simple jig is in order to keep the bellows extended during this operation. [Click on the image for a larger version.]
Finding a Box
In regard to the Stagi/Bastari repair: I decided to do some checking. I found that [several retailers have] stopped importing the W-15 due to terrible quality control. Evidently the repairs necessary to make the instruments acceptable are no longer cost-effective. It is a strange pass that the "older" instruments seem to be "worth more" than the "newer" ones! How long will it be before they will be sought after?