Anglo Concertina Buyer's Guide

Where should you buy your concertina and what should you look for?

Table of contents:

I bought my first Lachenal concertina from The Button Box in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, in May 1996. If you're in the U.S., I would recommend them very highly, especially to a first-time buyer. These guys really know their free-reed instruments and are masters at tuning and rebuilding concertinas (neither one an easy task). When you get a concertina from them, you're guaranteed it will arrive tuned perfectly, and rebuilt to fine working/playing condition. I was nervous when I bought my concertina because I was buying it "mail-order" over the phone without seeing or hearing it. It arrived very well packed and in perfect condition. It was in perfect tune, and they had replaced. rebuilt and refurbished many of the parts. The bellows were in nearly perfect condition and air-tight. These are the things you have to watch for, and unless you get your concertina from a shop like The Button Box, you'd better know your concertinas, or be willing to send it to them for rebuilding and/or tuning. Ask if it has been rebuilt and tuned. Ask if there's any cosmetic damage. Are the bellows air-tight (they'll "wheeze" if they're not and it will be more difficult to play)? Have the reeds, pads, buttons and valve flaps been serviced? According to Suttner's brochure, there are over 1000 individual parts in a concertina -- that's a lot of pieces for such a small instrument and so repairing and servicing a sub-par concertina could be a costly undertaking. If The Button Box web site doesn't list one you're looking for, be sure to call them. They may be able to put you on a waiting list or something.

From Ken Coles: "I had a chance to visit the Button Box store in Amherst and had a lot of fun. I saw the repair facility, where they were working on my concertina, and was impressed by the neat and professional set up. I also learned their stock changes much more rapidly than the used instrument lists might suggest, so if what they have available makes a difference to you, you should call before travelling to Amherst."

Come along on a Visit to the Button Box with your editors.

I have also met Paul Groff and spoken to him several times and would not hesitate to recommend him as an excellent source of finely restored concertinas. Be sure to give him a call too before deciding on a purchase. He's a superb anglo player, and very serious about the instrument, not only from a sales standpoint, but perhaps just as importantly, from a the perspective of a professional musician.

When it comes to bellows, you'll probably get 6 folds with a decent Lachenal, or 6 or 7 with a new or high-end English-made model. Basically, more is better because you have more air to work with and so you won't need to use the air-button when you have a lot of notes, say, on the pull only and you run out of air. Some lower-end Lachenals apparently have only 5 folds. Mine has 6. Many fine vintage anglos, including Jeffries have 6-folds, so don't get hung up on the current trend towards 7-fold bellows. If you play music with lots of chords, the extra bellows volume would be nice, but for Irish music with mostly single-note melody lines, 6 is fine.

Reeds: Steel reeds are better in a concertina than brass. The sound is supposedly brighter, and they'll stay in tune and last longer. Most decent anglos will have steel reeds. Some lower-end Lachenals will have brass reeds though. I don't know what the Stagi reeds are made of, but again, they're not generally considered "real" concertina reeds in the first place (they're accordion-style actually).

Used and cheaper concertinas often don't come with cases. A good hard-shell concertina case will run you about $100. Since I was already over my budget, I got a soft case from them (around $36) and a funky IBM mainframe computer component hard-shell case for about $15. The IBM hard-shell case is great. The soft case really doesn't provide enough protection so I don't use it.

Vintage concertina buttons (keys) are usually made of metal or bone. If you know what kind of bone, let me know -- I'm very curious about this! My Lachenal had bone buttons. They're very strong and seem to hold up well to vigorous playing (I've never broken one). As far as I know, most high-end instruments now come with metal buttons, although many superb vintage Jeffries do have bone buttons. Some Stagis have plastic buttons. One thing to ask: do the buttons come right through the end plates or is there a felt gasket.The gasket is good. It protects the button, the end plate, and improves the action and longevity of the mechanism. It also results in a quieter mechanism. As far as I know, no Lachenals have gaskets, and I could see signs of wear both on the buttons and wooden end plates where the buttons protrude from the end (little bits of wood and/or bone dust). No big deal I suppose, but it's something to watch for anyway, as wear on the buttons and end plates certainly can't help the action (makes the buttons wobble a bit).

You may be wondering what C/G refers to everywhere you see concertinas mentioned. It means that the notes on the middle row are in the key of C, the notes on the bottom row play in the key of G, and the top row plays the accidentals. Don't let anyone tell you that you need any other tuning, especially if you're planning on playing Irish music. All the books refer to the C/G concertina, and contrary to what some people assume, it's still fully chromatic, so you don't need another tuning to play in whatever strange key some fiddle player may like. You may need agile fingers and lots of practice, but not a new concertina.

Although I don't have any experience with them, House of Musical Traditions in Maryland also has a good reputation, but they don't usually have much in the high-end and vintage lines. If you're looking for an inexpensive model, be sure to check them out as they sometimes have sales on used or overstock Stagis. The Button Box also stocks a wide assortment of affordable new and used Stagi models.

Homewood Musical Instrument Co. also carries new and used concertinas, with what appears to be fair pricing and sound knowledge of the instrument. They are the source for Marcus Anglo concertinas in the US and Canada. They assemble a custom Italian concertina from imported parts, and are now custom-building fine-looking anglo concertinas (in the same class as the Marcus, Norman and Herrington models for example). They're also a potential source for replacement parts for vintage intruments. I've recently had some e-mail exchanges with Bob Tedrow, owner of Homewood Musical Instruments, and he had this to say about himself and his anglo-playing experience:

"I have been playing for fifteen or so years, I should be much better by now. I think the problem is that I do not have any real talent, only tenacity.

I was raised in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and have lived in North Carolina and Alabama for the past 20 years."

If you're in the market for a Stagi, I'd definitely check out the "HMI Anglos" (30-button C/G) which are upgraded by Bob himself. They're nearly the same price as an off-the-shelf Stagi and likely to be better-playing/sounding and longer-lasting. Here's what he has to say about them:

  1. replace the "weatherstripping" on the bellows frames with leather
  2. "point" and lube the machine screws so that dissassembly is easier
  3. replace all the pads with those I make here in the shop
  4. retune and reset each reed
  5. inspect and replace reed valves as needed
  6. remove or replace the shiny grill cloth that comes standard
  7. redo the hand straps for comfort and adjustability
  8. replace the stock buttons with a better system

    "I get a much tighter and responsive Italian concertina this way. The design of the Stagy is OK, but the execution by the factory is hit or miss. My concertinas are very consistent."

Paul Groff comes highly recommended as a source for fine instruments (and tuning) by Ross Schlabach (see above) who bought his Jeffries anglo from him and had this to say (April 20, 1998):

"Paul is an excellent, concertina tuner, a very good teacher (he taught concertina last year at the Boston College Gaelic Roots week), and he is a fabulous source for anglos. [...]

He is very careful about his tuning work and has done instruments for the likes of Noel Hill, and others (like me). He is very helpful to those looking for instruments and gives excellent advice. I bought my Jeffries from him and was highly pleased with both the instrument and the price. With him, you get what you pay for -- nothing less! He is very honest. I have sent him three large checks and instruments arrived as promised -- when promised."

Paul also teaches anglo concertina. I recently (April 24, 1998) had the pleasure of having a long phone conversation with Paul and he certainly seems to know what he's doing, and a number of people have e-mailed me with nothing but good things to say about Paul, his business practices and his skill as both a concertina restorer/tuner and seller of fine restored vintage anglos. He played a few passages on two of his Jeffries during our conversation -- he's clearly a very accomplished musician with an amazing grasp of the anglo, which he has been playing since 1985. He is also very knowledgeable about the history and technical details of vintage instruments. Overall, I'd have to say that Paul would be a great place to start your search for a quality vintage instrument! I finally met Paul in person in July 1998 and found him to be a very nice guy and a great anglo player in the Irish style. The concertinas he showed me were in absolutely perfect order and the sound was to die for. As someone who makes what I believe is a good part of his living playing Irish music on the anglo concertina, I think Paul is in a great position to both appreciate the needs of both new and experienced players, and to service provide the level of personalized and knowledgeable service that really sets him apart from other more generic music shops. Paul also specializes in music and recordings by Ed Reavy and other traditional Irish musicians and he sells CDs and cassettes by mail order at very reasonable prices. He also plays button accordion and guitar (both very well if I'm any judge) and carries selected instruments in his shop, so give him a call if you're looking for something particular of if you're just looking to get going and don't know where to start.

Paul Groff
Mailing address:
10 Norumbega Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

Web site:
Home Phone (not after 9:00 PM please): (617) 497-0841
Shop Phone (call for directions and an appointment): (617) 499-9928

Barleycorn Concertinas / Chris Algar
I had a nice long conversation with Chris Algar of Barleycorn Concertinas on May 3rd, 1998. He has been buying and selling concertinas for over 25 years now and is clearly VERY knowledgeable about every aspect of them. He has had over 4000 (!) concertinas pass through his business and had 157 concertinas in stock when I spoke to him! At any one time he might have quite a range of anglos in stock, ranging from an inexpensive 20-button Lachenal all the way to a top-of-the-line Jeffries. I think that would definitely qualify him as the largest dealer in the world. Unfortunately, he also said that the Irish culture and music revival has made the anglo market a bit crazy lately, so finding decent anglos and selling them at a fair price can be difficult. He clearly does his best to find good instruments and wanted to make it very clear to me that he's not just a clearing house and he really cares about selling good instruments at fair prices to the right people -- he said he wouldn't sell someone junk.

David Cornell (, a McCann duet concertina player, has dealt with Chris Algar several times and had the following to say:

"I go to England two to three times a year for concertina events and have dealt with Chris Algar of Barleycorn Concertinas both in person and over the phone / mail order. He is an excellent person with whom to do business. He has never over represented an instrument and can be counted on in all regards. This has, needless to say, not been my experience with everyone. Chris stands out."

Because of the very long delays in ordering a new Dickinson (Wheatstone) or Dipper, and because of the potentially long delays which usually occur when sending a vintage concertina to one of these individuals for repair or restoration, Chris is also very active in finding new sources for restoration and also appears to be having some success with rebuilding concertinas using a combination of new and vintage parts, which results in a quality instrument with a real concertina sound without breaking the bank and without interminable delays. Chris is a busy individual though, so if you're seriously looking for an instrument, I wouldn't bother e-mailing him -- give him a call. Check out the photo on his web site of Chris surrounded by concertinas!

Barleycorn Concertinas
Chris Algar
(Located in the UK)
Tel: + 44 (0) 1782 851449

Lark In The Morning has a nice catalog with lots of cool instruments and info, but they don't specialize in free-reed instruments, and their prices look a little high. They do have some good concertina tidbits though: check out their little interview with Colin Dipper, the photos of his concertinas (in the catalog section) and the sound clip of his "Clare" model. Yum!

I don't have any experience with any of the UK or other anglo concertina sources listed in the FAQ and on the links page. If you do or if you know anyone who does, let me know and I'll add the info here!

Should you buy from an individual?

Well, this is tricky. If you're nearby and can inspect the box (or have it inspected by a pro) then I might consider it if the price was right and the instrument was really appealing. Still, as a beginner, I'd be VERY VERY careful. You really don't want to get burned here, so post a question about any potential seller first to the squeezebox newsgroup to see if anyone else has dealt with this person. This is standard 'Net practice and sound advice. Buying an instrument sight-unseen from someone on the Internet could be very dangerous. I wouldn't hand over cash without the instrument in the other hand. At least when buying a concertina sight-unseen from a shop (like I did), you can pay with a credit card which can offer some measure of protection.

Should you go direct or through a shop when buying new? I'm not sure on this one. If you want maximum protection and peace of mind, then I suppose a shop would be a good choice, but by "shop" I mean something like The Button Box or another reputable dealer who knows a lot about concertinas. This way, if the maker never delivers or goes out of business, you're probably not going to lose your deposit, and shipping and other hassles (duty) won't be a worry. I do know of people who have ordered instruments such as Dippers or Wheatstone from shops such as The Button Box to get a local guarantee and service and to avoid potential delivery disasters, etc.

Now I don't want to make any enemies here, but I'd personally be VERY uncomfortable sending final payment to anyone on this page before I had their word that my concertina was really finished and ready to ship. Not that they're dishonest or anything, but paying for something before it's done simply kills all incentive to actually do it (car mechanic, building contractor, etc.)!