CONCERTINA.net Friday, September 17th, 2021
Home | Forums | Privacy
   

So You Think You Want to Buy a Duet Concertina?

by Ivan Viehoff
January 2005

We are pleased to present this summary for those curious about Duet concertinas. Rather than proclaiming that his choice is also best for everyone else, Ivan Viehoff has made an effort to cover the various factors that may be most important to different readers. For links to makers and dealers mentioned, refer to the main Buyer's Guide page or the Concertina FAQ. — the Editors

 

This brief is for people who are thinking of starting to play Duet concertina. It is about deciding whether Duet concertina really is for you, choosing which kind of Duet, obtaining one, and learning materials.

It is unlikely that you will find any kind of reasonable Duet concertina for much less than 500 (2004/5 prices). I assume that a beginner is unlikely to want to spend much more than about 1000 on a first instrument. Your first concertina, and your attempts to play it and (inevitably) mend it, will be an education in itself, so you may want to sell out or change instrument after a while. A reasonable instrument generally holds its value and can be resold, or else part-exchanged through a dealer.

This is not intended as a complete buying guide, especially not in relation to the best quality concertinas. This brief is written by an inexpert concertina player, based upon his experience of buying his first concertina, fixing it, learning it, and finally paying a professional to restore it properly.

Research and Evaluation

A Duet concertina is not usually bought on a whim, because they are expensive and more difficult to play than most other keyboard instruments. Duet concertinas are exceedingly diverse, more so than other types of concertina. But you can rarely see a selection of Duet concertinas, except at a convention or festival. Some desk-based research is necessary.

Good starting points for your such research are

  • Concertina FAQ (www.concertina.info) A general introduction to concertinas, buying, learning, repairing, limited information on Duets.
  • The Concertina Library (formerly known as the Maccann Duet site; www.concertina.com) Has information on all kinds of Duet concertina. "Maccann" is the original spelling, but it is common to see "McCann" and "MacCann".
  • www.concertina.net A general discussion forum with various information resources.

You may wish to buy a copy of David Elliott's Concertina Maintenance Manual before buying your concertina, so you know what you are letting yourself in for.

Is a Duet Concertina the Right Instrument for You?

To decide whether a Duet concertina is the right instrument for you, we might investigate the musical capacity of a Duet concertina, and how it compares with the alternatives you might choose. Assuming that you are looking to play a portable keyboard instrument on which you can play chords as well as melody, your alternatives might be other concertinas, melodeons, piano accordions, or electric keyboards. More specifically, a Duet concertina:

  • Has buttons curiously arranged - like other concertinas and melodeons, unlike instruments with a piano keyboard
  • Only permits 4 fingers to play the buttons - like other concertinas, unlike most other keyboard instruments
  • Is a relatively light and compact instrument - like other concertinas, unlike melodeons, accordions and other keyboards
  • Plays higher notes with your right hand (RH) and lower notes with your left (LH), with some overlap, thus allowing you the mental picture of tune-in-the-RH plus accompaniment-in-the-LH - like an Anglo concertina, unlike English
  • Plays the same note on push and pull, thus giving you equal access to all the notes at every moment - like an English concertina, unlike Anglo or melodeon
  • Rather rare, and existing in many variants, so you probably won't find specific or extensive learning materials for your instrument - unlike the alternatives

So, if you really want a Duet concertina, you probably:

  • Want to play a compact instrument
  • Are willing to tolerate the difficulty of playing a keyboard instrument with only four fingers and curiously arranged buttons
  • Want the melody plus accompaniment versatility that Duet provides over English concertina
  • Want the harmonic and chromatic versatility that Duet provides over Anglo concertina
  • Are sufficiently musically confident to largely teach yourself to play it.

The sound of a concertina may also be something to do with it, but you had better be happy about the rest. Of course, you can play accompaniments on an English, and play chromatically on an Anglo (with enough buttons). And it is probably easier to play chromatically on an English than a Duet, and probably easier to play basic accompaniment chords on an Anglo than a Duet (in the Anglo's home keys). You won't be able to play tunes as quickly as on an English, and you won't be able to play simple diatonic accompanied melodies in the appropriate key as easily as with an Anglo. The Duet is a compromise option allowing you greater versatility of harmony work, but requiring greater dexterity by the player to achieve that compromise.

Which Fingering?

It is straightforward to list out the main types of fingering of Duet concertina (table below). All fingering layouts are on the Concertina Library site. However these fingerings come in a large number of variations according to the number of buttons. But choosing one's instrument is not simply a case of choosing which Duet fingering one might prefer to play, rather there is a question of availability, instrument quality and price. On the basis purely of button arrangement, most people think Hayden fingering sounds like the safest option. But buying a Hayden is another matter, as the only budget Hayden is the Stagi, and that has serious drawbacks, as we shall see. The first Hayden was made in 1976, but the great majority of Duet concertinas were made before 1940.

Duet Concertina Fingering Systems

Fingering

Description

Availability

Maccann

Buttons in 6 alternately offset columns. Accidentals mostly in the outer columns. Plain notes often in the order 2-4-3-5 by column, but with sporadic irregularities.

Most common and probably at least 75% of the Duets seen on sale, 46-buttons especially

Chidley

A Maccann with the irregularities removed.

Very rare

Crane (alias Triumph)

Buttons in 5 columns, aligned as curved rows. Accidentals in the outer columns. Plain notes in the order 4-2-3 by column.

Fairly common, but much less often on sale than Maccanns

Jeffries Duet

Buttons in curved offset rows of 6 to 8 buttons, with an irregular arrangement bearing faint similarity to an Anglo concertina

Rare and expensive, but comes up for sale regularly as few people can play them

Hayden

Buttons in straight offset rows of 5 to 7 buttons, each one a full tone different from its neighbours on the row.

Rare and mostly expensive, but cheap Stagis can be bought off-the-shelf

Others

All sorts of things that didn't catch on

Very rare

Maccann fingering is more irregular than Crane or Hayden, and hence slower to learn on. Maccann players say you get used to it and that it has advantages in terms of playability. With only five columns of buttons, you need longer fingers to reach the further buttons on a Crane. 5ths and octaves are awkward to play on a Maccann, 4ths and 7ths on a Crane - take your choice. If you have never played either, you aren't going to find your preference unless you have several months on both. So there probably isn't any large reason to jump either way on grounds of fingering system alone. Maybe there are more good Maccann players because there are more good Maccann concertinas. But top quality Jeffries Duets are often converted to Anglos, because few people are willing to learn such a bizarre fingering system.

But if you want to switch, there will be a lot of work learning on another type. So if you have an overriding reason to choose one or the other, and there are possible reasons discussed below, then it is best to choose it and stick to it.

New Instruments

The only off-the-shelf new Duet concertina is the Stagi 46-key Hayden Duet. There are no cheap Chinese ones, nor off-the-shelf "mid-range" models. Stagi Haydens are sold by Hobgoblin in UK and Buttonbox in the USA for 500-600. Robert Gaskins has published an article (on his Concertina Library site) on why he thinks the Stagi is greatly inferior to a restored vintage Maccann you could buy for a similar price. The Stagi is larger and heavier but less robust than vintage instruments, with a distinctly different sound, a rougher action, and buttons further apart. It has a limited life-span, and when it goes wrong, as it regularly does, it is more difficult to fix.

In 2004 Tedrow (USA) made the first modern "mid-range" accordion-reeded Hayden Duet. He doesn't publish the price, but I guess it must be at least 2,000, and perhaps a lead time of a year or two. [Editor's note: we wrote Bob to check this and in May 2005 he replied, "Prices on Haydens are currently US $2850 for a standard model, there are several options available. The price is subject to change. Lead time is 6 months." That's around 1,600; we revised Ivan's next table with this information.] Morse (USA) continues to publicise his attempt to go into production of "mid-range" Haydens, but it remains to be seen whether he starts. The price will be around 2,000 and the lead time will be a year or three. This is almost double the price of new Anglo and English "mid-range" concertinas. Morse intends to manufacture his own traditional concertina reeds, hence the high level of interest. Others manufacturers have made prototypes but have not got into production. Handcrafted Hayden Duets have been made by Dipper and Wheatstone, costing 5,000+, and there are people who have been waiting over a decade for one.

Buying Second-Hand

So you are almost certainly looking for a vintage instrument. This is where you can get a fair quality instrument in the 500 to 1000 range, but only with knowledge and patience. There are three hurdles to overcome: finding the concertina you want on sale; ensuring it is in reasonable condition; and paying a fair price.

By far the biggest concertina dealer is Barleycorn Concertinas (Chris Algar). He does good restoration work, and mostly sells quality concertinas in excellent condition. He essentially defines the going rate for standard concertina types, in known good condition. Most of his stock costs 800+; he tends to shift the rest quickly, eg through ebay. He usually has a selection of Duets available for sale, and you can arrange to visit him in at his house in Stoke-on-Trent if you wish to see them. He also takes some stock to festivals and conventions.

There are some retail networks who deal in vintage Duet concertinas, such as Hobgoblin Music and The Music Room. Their entire branch networks generally have only a handful of Duets at any given time, probably some 46-key Maccanns, perhaps others. Being retailers, their prices can be higher than Barleycorn's, but not always as they sell more budget concertinas in more varied condition.

You can save money by buying a less pristine instrument, eg, from ebay, or other musical instrument or antiques dealers. You can get a bargain, or you could pay too much for an instrument whose shortcomings are not evident to you. If you find an instrument that appears basically playable but has not been renovated recently, then mentally add about 250-300 for basic renovation (pads, springs, valves, tune-up, minor problems) it will probably require, if not immediately, then after a year or two when you are playing well enough to be limited by its imperfections.

A vintage concertina merits careful examination. If the button heights are irregular, it needs repadding, and probably full renovation. If some notes are slow to sound when you apply bellows pressure, it needs work. If you find you can't play very many notes in sequence before changing bellows direction, or can't hold a four-note chord for more than a couple of seconds, then suspect air leaks. Leaks can be tricky to track down: misaligned pads, weak springs, and reed pan gasket problems are common causes and are straightforward to put right; bellows leaks are also common but harder for an amateur to repair. Check its tuning - both relative (play some intervals), and absolute (eg, with a tuning meter). Ask to have a look inside, to make sure it isn't falling apart or woodwormed or mildewed, or the reeds rusted. If it appears to have serious problems, leave it to someone else.

What Can You Get For Under 1000?

In practice only certain instruments types are commonly available for around or under 1000. The following table lists the specifications of more commonly available cheaper instruments, plus a couple of others. Prices shown are for instruments in good to excellent condition (2004).

Duet Concertina Specifications For Common Cheaper Instruments

Instrument / Price

Left Hand

Right Hand

Range and Overlap

39-key Maccann

(Lachenal)

Up to 500

19 keys, octave-and-5th, F (below mid-C) to C, missing high G# and Bb, plus low C

20 keys, complete octave-and-5th, G above mid-C to D.

Two octaves and 6th (plus low C). Overlap of 4th (accidentals not duplicated)

46-key Maccann*

(Lachenal)

500 to 750

21 keys, octave-and 6th, E (below mid-C) to C, missing high Bb, plus low C

25 keys, complete two octaves, G (above mid-C) to G

Three octaves and 3rd (plus low C). Overlap of 4th (Bb not duplicated)

55-key Maccann

(Lachenal)

900 to 1300

25 keys, two complete octaves, C (below mid-C) to C

30 keys, complete two-octaves-and-4th, G (above mid-C) to C

Four octaves, overlap of 4th (accidentals duplicated)

57-key Maccann

(Wheatstone**)

1000 to 1500

25 keys, two complete octaves, C (below mid-C) to C

32 keys complete two-octaves-and-5th, mid-C to G

Three octaves and a 5th. Overlap of octave (accidentals duplicated)

35-key Crane

Up to 500

15 keys, octave-and-3rd, C (below mid-C) to E, missing high C# and D#

20 keys, complete octave-and-5th, mid-C to G

Two octaves and 5th. Overlap of 3rd (accidentals not duplicated)

42-key Crane

Up to 700

17 keys, complete octave-and-3rd, C (below mid-C) to E

25 keys, complete two octaves, mid-C to C

Three octaves. Overlap of 3rd (accidentals duplicated)

48-key Crane

800 to 1200

20 keys, complete octave-and-5th, C (below mid-C) to G

28 keys, two-octaves-and-4th, mid-C to F, missing high C# and D#

Three octaves and 4th (missing two highest accidentals). Overlap of 5th (accidentals duplicated)

55-key Crane

1000 to 1500

25 keys, two complete octaves, C (below mid-C) to C

30 keys, complete two-octaves-and-4th, mid-C to F

Three octaves and 4th. Overlap of octave (accidentals duplicated)

46-key Hayden

(Stagi new)

500 to 600

21 keys, octave-and-7th C (below mid-C) to B, missing low C#, D# and high Bb

25 keys, two-octaves-and-tone, mid-C to D, missing low C# and D#

Three octaves and tone, (missing two lowest accidentals). Overlap of 7th (only two accidentals duplicated)

52-key Hayden (Tedrow new)

1600+

25 keys, two complete octaves Bb (9th below mid-C) to Bb

27 keys, complete two-octaves-and-tone, Bb below mid-C to C

Three octaves and tone. Overlap of octave (accidentals duplicated)

Notes:

* Maccann's tutor shows only a fingering diagram for a 47-key Maccann with 22 keys in the left hand (complete octave-and-aug-5th F to C#, plus a low C). But the 46-key appears to have become standard.

** Wheatstone's earliest 57-key Maccanns start on G above mid-C in RH.

We see that, in practice, the budget choice is limited to Cranes and Maccanns of various smaller sizes, and the Stagi Hayden. Most smaller Maccanns were made by Lachenal, who held the exclusive licence to the patent from 1884 until it expired. Wheatstone is a more upmarket manufacturer, who started manufacturing Maccanns from about 1900, and eventually took over Lachenal in 1933. Lachenal made concertinas in a range of qualities, their best as good as Wheatstone. Lachenal's smaller Maccanns are generally of modest quality, but rather better than their bulk production of basic English and Anglo concertinas. Most Wheatstone Maccanns were medium to large instruments of high quality, but the smaller sizes were also made. Lachenal was also the main manufacturer of Cranes, though several manufacturers made them to a variety of qualities. That is not to say you won't occasionally find something else. In 1983 Bastari (later taken over by Stagi) built a short production run of budget Haydens, including some 67-key models.

How Many Buttons?

David Cornell, Maccann Duet player extraordinaire and teacher, believes you need 60+ buttons on your Duet to have "play what you want" versatility. That's what he thinks is the point of a Duet concertina. Large MacCanns are much more easily found than large Cranes, which is a point to bear in mind if your ultimate aim is to play a larger concertina. However larger Maccanns are usually expensive, and may be larger and heavier than you want to play. In some cases they are larger than most people want to play, in which case they may be not so expensive. In practice many experienced Duet players are happy to play instruments with rather fewer than 60 buttons, because they are smaller and lighter and thus more comfortable to play. But dedicated Maccann players might have a larger instrument by their side for the occasions when they need more buttons.

So we immediately appreciate that there is a trade-off between number of buttons and versatility of the instrument, and number of buttons and size/weight of the instrument. Again there is a compromise to be made, and this is a compromise that will affect how much money we must pay. The paradox is that the smaller Duet concertinas are generally more cheaply made, as if for beginners, but the beginner would learn more easily on a more versatile instrument, as coping with limitations is a skill. A more accomplished musician will be better able to play inventively within the limitations.

But if money restricts us to the smaller concertinas, then exactly how small and exactly which type will affect what you can do. A Duet concertina player generally wants to play tunes and accompaniments together. We now look at how well the individual smaller concertinas might fit with this ambition.

Playing Tunes

It is a common opinion that a basic useable Duet concertina needs at least two octaves in the right hand. Only instruments with at least 42 keys provide this. The reason is that on a Duet we usually want to play the tune in our right hand, and most tunes fit within two octaves. Virtuoso work excepted, song tunes rarely extend beyond an octave and a fifth, but dance melodies (hornpipes, jigs, etc) often occupy most of the two octaves. It follows that two octaves is about the minimum range for useful tune playing. An octave and a fifth might do if we were doing nothing but playing songs, but we would then have to transpose everything to fit exactly into the range of our instrument. That is what human singers do, but then singers don't have any difficulty transposing on the spot or singing in remote keys. Of course, we can pick out some missing notes in the left hand ("cross-finger"), but we don't want to have to do that too often.

But if a tune fills much of two octaves, or even rather less, and we only have just two octaves in our RH, the ranges might not match. We could transpose to make the tune fit the range of the instrument, and sometimes we might be bothered to do that, but that is only possible if we are in a position to dictate the key, and it is also a lot of work.

The 46-key Maccann gives us two octaves G to G, and the 42-key Crane gives us two octaves C to C. So which two octaves is more useful? The answer is "it depends". For dance music, C to C is often more useful, but for songs, G to G could be more useful. This is because:

  • most British/Irish trad dance music is written for instruments starting on a C or D, so most dance tunes are written within a compass of two octaves from middle C.
  • most singers are baritones and mezzos, so most song tunes fit within two octaves from G to G.

The conclusion is that if you want to play your Duet in sessions and at folk dance events, you probably want an instrument that gives you two octaves from middle C in the RH. The 42-key Crane is the smallest Duet providing the two octaves from mid-C in the right hand. Playing dance music on a 46/55-key Maccann, RH starting at G above middle C, means either cross-fingering to the LH, or playing up an octave. In the latter case, you will have to play many light squeaky top notes, and even then you might run out of buttons. On the other hand, if you are more interested in sing-songs around the camp-fire, then G to G is a more useful range, as provided by the 46-key Maccann. But you will usually have to play song tunes an octave above written pitch.

You can try and obtain tune-range versatility by going for an instrument with more than 2 octaves in the right hand. The 48-key Crane and 55-key Maccann give you two octaves and a fourth, though the Crane is missing a couple of accidentals. But the 55-key Maccann starts from G above mid-C, so you must still play an octave above written pitch for a lot of music. You need at least 57 keys on your Maccann to get a middle C in the RH. Although Wheatstone's earliest catalogues show the 57-key (which was called 58-key as it includes an air button) starting on G in the RH, by 1910 they are shown starting on middle C. Many musicians consider mid-C in the RH desirable, and that is part of the reason why 48-key Cranes are sold at a premium.

Playing Accompaniments

It is my basic assumption that most of the time you will want to be able to play harmony notes. That will frequently mean basic triad chords, as busking chords is a lot easier than making detailed arrangements. Most players will wish to play chords in root position, as inverted chords are not always suitable, especially for final cadences. You will generally want the facility of playing a 5th in your root position chord, and frequently a dominant 7th. Having to play dominant 7ths in first or second inversion is not so bad, but you probably want to avoid having the 7th in the bass.

Accompaniment notes can be cross-fingered into the RH, and sometimes that is easier than cross-fingering melody into the LH. But it is only possible if the melody is high enough.

It can be easily seen that 19 consecutive notes in chromatic sequence allows one to play a root position triad in every key, major and minor. We get 20 consecutive notes on a 48-key Crane LH, so you can play all the possible triads. You can further play all root position dominant 7th chords except Bb7 and B7; these are available in first and second inversions.

What about the 42-key Crane with only 17 LH keys? You can play all root position triads except Bb or B. Dominant 7th chords also become tricky in root position, with G7, Ab7, A7, Bb7 and B7 unavailable except in inversion, which you might find annoying in common keys such as C and D. The octave-and-third compass of the LH of a 42-key Crane is also limiting for playing counter-melodies in the LH. This is why it is generally said that the 48-key Crane is the minimum useful size of Crane, though there is still the limiting LH compass of an octave-and-fifth.

However some people might find the limited LH of the 42-key Crane acceptable as a learning instrument, perhaps because their accompaniment ambitions are limited, and they prefer the C to C two octave RH range to the higher G to G RH range of the 46-key Maccann.

The 39-key Maccann provides precisely 19 keys in the LH, however they are not consecutive. You won't be able to play root position triads of E, Eb or C#, nor their 7ths, nor Bb7, and root position C7 is only available in an expanded form. Compounded with the limited RH of the 39-key Maccann, this is likely to be rather frustrating as a learning instrument, unless you are the kind of person who is inventive with an instrument of limited capability.

The 46-Maccann has 21 LH keys, but fails to provide 19 consecutive chromatic keys, though these were in Maccann's 47-key design. You can play all root position triads and dominant 7ths except Eb. This shortcoming is a slight nuisance. In practice the most irritating feature of the LH of the 46-key Maccann is something entirely different, namely the absence of a low D. The 21 keys, spread over two octaves, contain three Cs, two G#s and two F#s, yet only one D. The lower F# would be more useful if it had a low D to go with it. The most useful two accidentals are generally thought to be F# and Bb, so why two G#s? I would certainly take the low D in exchange for the high G#, and probably the high C. In fact it is possible to get concertina restorers to swap reeds for you, but only if they have the same shoe size - you can't do this yourself as it will need tuning for the particular chamber it is put in. Unfortunately a low note cannot be swapped for a high note without a major redesign of the concertina. I have seen a Maccann that had been modified to fit in a missing low note by having one on the push and the other on the pull, but I don't think many would like that. So the best you could do to get a low D is in exchange for low C or low F#, which I haven't convinced myself is worth the bother. Within the boundaries of the possible, I would probably have more use for a high Bb than the high G#, and it would mean the missing triad is the more remote C# rather than E, but the improvement is marginal.

Another issue in playing accompaniments is whether there is enough space below the tune to fit in the accompaniment. The Maccanns appear to score over the Cranes here, in generally having an octave and a fifth below the RH. However this is more because the RH doesn't have the lower notes, rather than because the LH has a deeper compass. So you may find this an illusory advantage considering other factors.

A 55-key Maccann or Crane has two complete octaves from C in the LH, which is clearly much more flexible than the smaller instruments.

Learning Material

There is no modern commercially available learning material for Duet concertina of any type. You can sometimes find the Salvation Army Tutor for Crane/Triumph Duet in shops, however to modern eyes it is more of historical interest than a practical method of learning an instrument. Its exercises are mostly hymns.

You can find several historical Maccann tutors and a historical (non-religious) Crane tutor on the Concertina Library site (save them onto your computer before attempting to print them), and similar comments apply. They will at least give you fingering charts and a few exercises and studies you might want to try and play, and information on scales and chords. But they do not represent a useful learning program. The Maccann tutors have fingering charts for smaller instruments, but rather few of the exercises and arrangements are playable on the smaller instruments.

More useful than the above for the absolute beginner is Brian Hayden's All-Systems Duet Workshop, available on the Concertina Library site. This is generally suitable even for smaller concertinas, as it uses only a very limited range of notes. You will soon want something more challenging. You can move onto David Cornell's Beginner's Set of Duet Arrangements on the same site, which are of various difficulties. However he usually assumes a middle C in the RH, and often a 60+ key instrument, so many of the pieces require considerable rewriting for smaller instruments: paradoxically they may be more useful for Crane players.

From these limited resources, it can be seen that you are on your own to a large extent. As with guitarists, a basic knowledge of chords and harmony is likely to be very valuable to getting full value from a Duet concertina, so that you can write or busk accompaniments to your tunes. You can find this information in many places, and work out chord fingerings for yourself. (Robert Gaskins provides chord fingerings for the Maccann on his Concertina Library site. However you should be aware that he fingers the chords in approximately random inversions. Although he clearly disagrees, I believe most musicians would see the need to learn root position chords first, and only use inverted chords at the appropriate moment.)

Once you know about chords, one can select some simpler tunes from any genre you are interested in, and which fit comfortably on your instrument, and having learned to play them in your RH, try to busk accompaniments, perhaps based on the chord symbols commonly found in song and dance albums. Or if you are more musically advanced, you can write your own arrangements of any kind of music you want to play, transposing as required. A computer music notation package will save you time. Finale Notepad provides a transposition capability in its free download version; most other notation software requires you to pay if you want transposition capability.

Conclusion: Modestly Priced Duets for Beginners

Many people who have decided they want to play Duet concertina quickly exclude the 46-key Stagi Hayden, as an examination of the quality, size and weight of the instrument is likely to prove disappointing. It could be something to buy while you wait for a good Hayden to be built for you, though the button spacing is different, and it will depreciate more than a vintage concertina. For most of us the choice is Crane or Maccann.

The conventional wisdom is that the minimum useful size of Duet concertina is 46 buttons, however our discussion above suggests that for some beginners 42 buttons may be adequate. A 46-key Maccann can be obtained towards the lower end or middle part of a 500-1000 budget, but a 48-key Crane is likely to be at the top end of it. If 48-key Crane costs more than you want to spend, then you might find the 42-key Crane more useful for your purposes than a 46-key Maccann; this should to cost no more than a 46-key Maccann of similar quality. A 39-key Maccann or 35-key Crane is seriously limiting, and they are likely to be frustrating learning instruments; they could be of more interest to experienced musicians who want to play a small instrument and delight in coping with its limitations.

Both 46-key Maccann and 42-key Crane provide two octaves in the RH and some harmonic shortcomings in the LH, which are rather less serious on the Maccann with its four additional LH keys and much greater LH range. The advantage of the 42-key Crane is that its two octaves in the RH start on middle C, something not available on a Maccann of fewer than 57 keys. But there is a risk that a 42-key (or smaller) concertina has been written off by a dealer as "not worth restoring," so it might be harder to find one in reasonable condition, and the cheap price might be illusory once you have paid 200+ to have it fixed up.

46-key Maccanns and 48-key Cranes both provide (at least) two octaves in the right hand and can (or come close to, in the case of the Maccann) being able to play all possible root position triads in the left hand. 46-key Maccanns are noticeably smaller and lighter than 48-key Cranes, because of the larger average reed in the Crane. You might prefer the smaller size of the Maccann, or the larger reeds of the Crane.

46-key Maccanns are a fair bit cheaper than 48-key Cranes in part because the Crane gives you middle C in the right hand, which is valued by many folk musicians. But it is also because 46-key Maccanns are generally somewhat lower quality - Lachenal's superior quality Maccanns started at 55-key (roughly the same size/weight as a 48-key Crane). 48-key Cranes were made in a wider range of qualities, and it is generally the better instruments that have survived. For example, a 46-key Maccann rarely has bushed buttons, whereas this is more often seen on 48-key Cranes. I have had bushings retro-fitted into my 46-key Maccann, as it makes the action smoother and quieter, but its action and response are still not the quality of a 48-key Lachenal Crane I have seen. But you should get value for money in broader concertina terms in either case: a restored 46-key Maccann is often of equivalent or better quality than a similarly priced restored English concertina (and much better than an Anglo), having 6-fold bellows for example.

If going down to middle C on the RH is not of importance to the music you want to play, then you may be pleased to begin on a rather cheaper, easier to find, 46/55-key Maccann. When you are hooked, and want to be able to play down to RH middle C, then you can start looking for your 57+key Maccann. If you want to play 60+key instruments one day, then be aware that large Maccanns are much more easily found than large Cranes.

Ivan Viehoff, January 2005

Home | Forums | Privacy
Follow this link to Amazon.com to help support this site. Thanks!

Copyright © 1996-2018 Paul Schwartz. All rights reserved. Be nice and don't copy any stuff from here without asking, okay? Thanks.