Choosing a Chromatic Row Layout On Anglo: A Smorgasbord

An exhausting, but not exhaustive, survey by Ken Coles, Logansport, Indiana, March 2000

When I recently initiated an order for a C/G anglo concertina from a maker (Colin Dipper), he asked me what key layout I wanted on the chromatic row. I hadn't already made up my mind about this. So I looked up all the variations I could find (listed below by major type) and my first answer was, "I have no idea!" I then posed this question to the squeezebox newsgroup and on, and gathered additional opinions and ideas, but no final answers. I did not expect a consensus. I know better, when it comes to any concertina fingering debate! Rather, I collected the plusses and minuses reported by users of various systems, along with diagrams if the system was unusual. Since other tyros may be wondering about this, I summarize my findings here.

First, you should know a few things about me so you can contrast it with your own playing. I would call myself an advanced beginner on anglo concertina. I play Irish music but have done some other kinds of music also. I currently have use of two different Lachenals and have concluded it would be nice to have C# available in both directions somewhere on any new instrument. (A 30-key Lachenal has one midrange C# on press, in my limited experience.)

So far as I am aware, all of the diagrams I found in my research refer to instruments pitched in C/G. The notation convention used in the following is: A/G means press/draw, or press A/draw G. I did my best to transcribe all the following layouts correctly but errors may be present; let me know. I also hope I attributed all the comments and sources correctly and that they are willing to be openly quoted; again, please alert me where this is not the case. In general, I have only typed out the top (chromatic) row as most (but not all) variation in layouts is found there.

I should also note that I presume enharmonic, equal-temperament tuning (i.e., post-J. S. Bach) throughout the following, except in the description of one old 38-key Jeffries noted below. In English that means D# and Eb are two names for the same note (as are C# and Db, G# and Ab, and so on). So if the only difference between two examples was that one called a key Eb and another called the same key D#, I took them to be the same. Some of the comments I got suggest that some people are unaware of this convention.


Wheatstone Layout A: The layout I found most often (Web, books, actual instruments) is:
E/F A/Bb C#/D# A/G G#/Bb   ---   C#/D# A/G G#/Bb C#/D# A/F

Sources giving this layout include:
1. Examination of Lachenal 192291(inside serial number)/192285(serial number on end), probably unaltered.
2. Bertram Levy's Lachenal/Bastari layout (given in his book "The Anglo Concertina Demystified").
3. Juergen Suttner's Web site Wheatstone Linota 31-key (

Wheatstone Layout B: A slight variation is on the Pied Crow (Terry Knight) Web site as the 30 button "standard contemporary layout" (
E/F A/Bb C#/Eb A/G G#/Bb   ---   C#/Eb A/G G#/Bb C#/Eb F/A

I think we see some consistency here. The only variation is the top button on the right side. I have seen discussion elsewhere of the usefulness of the F on press. In fact, my first Lachenal had one in place of the press high B at the end of the right-hand G row. Whoever did this had to carve the dovetail slot out to hold the larger reed carrier, so this change was more or less permanent. I am not experienced enough to know (or recall) the reasoning for this fingering change. If anyone cares to explain it, let me know.


Jeffries Layout A: The following turned up in the largest number of examples:
E/F A/Bb C#/D# A/G G#/Bb   ---   D#/C# C#/D# G#/G C#/Bb A/D

Sources giving this layout include:
1. Bertram Levy's Jeffreys (sic) layout (given in his book "The Anglo Concertina Demystified").
2. Juergen Suttner's Web site Jeffries 31-key (
3. Scott Parks, the owner of one of the first Button Box anglo concertinas (The Ceili, neé Trillium) confirmed for me that it has this key layout . Rich Morse (owner of The Button Box) wrote (on the squeezebox newsgroup) the following about the layout:

"What we have selected to be our "standard" way of reeding our [anglos] follows the *typical* Jeffries layout. *Not* Jeffries original layout (long since superseded), not Mick Bramich's, not Wheatstone's or Lachenal's, but the most common layout for Irish playing that most of the professional players use (who usually have Jeffries). That inverted c# is the way most Irish players prefer to have it."

Morse followed this up by pointing out that they can customize the layout (as can all the makers, the original source of my confusion). Just what or how old the "original" Jeffries layout is, I haven't learned, but the rest of this section on Jeffries layouts includes some clues.

Posted by: Paul Schwartz, 4 January 2000

"My Jeffries (Bb/F) is like the layout in the Levy book. transposed down, it is equivalent in a C/G to (push/pull):

E/F A/Bb C#/D# A/G G#/Bb   ---   D#/C# C#/D# G#/G C#/Bb A/D

"Since it was in original "Salvation Army" pitch and unequal temper tuning when I got it, I'm assuming that the above layout was "standard" as when it left the workshop. I left the instrument in this tuning, and if you're curious, Colin Dipper said it is A = 444, though I just checked it with my digital tuner and many of the notes are quite a bit off -- unequal temper tuning or more? I don't know. Paul Groff was right though: certain chords sound simply amazing in this tuning. At the same time, certain combinations of keys sound awful! Well, I still think it's cool to have an instrument in this original pitch, tuning, and key layout.

"Coming from the Lachenal layout, it did take me some time to relearn old tunes (and some I still haven't properly), but learning new tunes with the different C# location(s) was surprisingly easy."

        -- Paul

Jeffries Layout B: The relevant buttons on Joe Kesselman's 38-key Jeffries (
E/F *A/C# C#/D#* A/G G#/Bb   ---   D#/C# C#/D# G#/G C#/Bb A/D

* these two buttons (between the *) are A/D# C#/Eb on original Jeffries, says Paul Groff on Joe's page. In this case, D# and Eb are not enharmonic. Joe notes that some instruments offer A/Bb C#/D# at that position, which is in fact the case in other examples I found.

Jeffries Layout C: Layout given in Mick Bramich's book ("The Irish Concertina"); possibly a Jeffries, as the instruments illustrated with captions are both Jeffries:
E/F A/Bb C#/Eb A/G G#/Bb   ---   C#/Eb Eb/C# G#/G C#/Bb A/D

This is an interesting twist; perhaps easiest for moving between Lachenal and Jeffries, as the press C# is in the same place?

Again, other than the 38-button instrument, these are more consistent than I originally expected. What do other owners of Jeffries or Jeffries copies have?


Custom Layout 1: David Glenn's Web site only specifies two keys on the row (
/   /   /   A/G   /   ---   C#/C#   /   /   /   /

Custom Layout 2: Commonly used layout for Irish playing suggested to me by Colin Dipper:
E/F A/A# C#/D# A/G G#/A#   ---   C#/C# F#/D# G#/G C#/D# A/D

Custom (or Mystery) Layout 3: John Williams: Colin Dipper says he has some ideas about the chromatic row; does anyone know his preferences?


I'd like to be able to play various vintage instruments and they still commonly have the corresponding layouts given above. For that reason "Custom Layout 2" above, which may be best for professional Irish musicians, has less appeal to a weekend amateur like me. I believe I want C# in both directions but on separate keys. What is the next most common midrange accidental I use and would like to have in both directions? It is F#. I propose to modify the "Jeffries Layout A" on the anglo I'm ordering by adding a press F# (upper octave rather than lower octave) as follows [Custom Layout 4]:
E/F A/Bb C#/D# A/G G#/Bb   ---   F#/C# C#/D# G#/G C#/Bb A/D

What do you think? The debate will go on...probably forever!

One other observation: I'm sure the players of English and Duet concertinas will share many amusing comments on the idea of having a button play the same note (C#/C#) in both directions. However justified, it does seem rather un-anglo-ish to this neophyte!


Dermot Cassidy, 29 December 1999:

Here are a few thoughts about the accidentals row. Take them with a large pinch of salt, because I'm not an experienced player! They are also geared towards Irish music, and there will be many considerations resulting from other styles of playing which I am not aware of. Also, for the record, I have a Gremlin and a Marcus, both 30 button and in C/G. The layout of both is as for your 'Pied Crow web site, standard contemporary layout' [Wheatstone Layout B].

In order to decide on an appropriate accidentals layout, I think one must know what one wants it for. If one's first priority is speed, for instance, then, on the right button 1, one may want a C# on the draw because drawing sequences of notes out seems to be faster than pressing them in. I think that when many people talk about an 'Irish' style or layout they really mean a 'fast' style or layout. Historically speaking, however, there has been no one Irish style of fingering, only, at best, various regional styles. And these have often been very different. Perhaps the current emphasis on speed stems from an unconscious (and mistaken) inferiority complex over the absence of harmony or chords in much Irish playing, since it is this absence which is one of the real differences from other styles e.g. that of the English Morris players. The question arises, in my mind at least, that if speed is top priority would not an English concertina do better?

Another factor dictating the choice of layout might be the desire for commonality with as many fellow concertina players as possible. This would enable one to 'have a go' on their instruments without fear of embarrassing oneself by hitting the wrong notes. Also, if one doesn't think that one's current concertina will last forever, one might not want to get into fingering habits that one will have to unlearn on a different instrument. This has certainly been one of my prime motivations. Coming from a computer, rather than a musical, background, the desire for 'portability' of technique has loomed large. Hence I have avoided, for instance, using the A/G on the right side second button on my concertinas. This doesn't seem to be shared by any Jeffries, and, who knows, one day I might be rich or lucky enough to own one! (Not that I'm likely to be good enough to merit one!) However, the thought has crossed my mind more than once that, if I don't use the buttons, what is the point of having them?

The desire for a layout which would enable one to use key presses which would work on any instrument seems to be an illusion. This is certainly the case for some keys. However, I had thought that for the main Irish music keys this was possible. Unfortunately, before your posting I had been mistakenly assuming that Mick Bramich's layout and the Jeffries layout were one and the same. Bramich also has a pressed C# on right button 1. At first I found this awkward. Now, however, I like it because (given my own peculiar fingering system) it forces me to play sequences of pressed notes. If most Jeffries type concertinas don't have that arrangement, however, my portable fingering arrangements are chimerical.

Anyway, I have a positive suggestion to make to those who are not bothered by commonality of layout. Why not have an accidentals row tuned a semitone away from the row below as with many Irish button accordions? This would enable one to have a logically arranged chromatic scale entirely on the top two rows, while the separation of the bottom two rows by a fifth would still allow for marvelous choice in fingerings. Tuning the accidental row to B, rather than C# would seem a good choice to me for a C/G instrument, but that's just a detail. Surely I'm not the first person to have thought of this? If I could have a custom concertina made, I might give this a go! (Am I barking up the wrong tree here, I mean this seriously?)

Hope this has been useful!

Gerry Rosser, 4 January 2000:

After I ordered my Dipper, which I won't get for quite a while, of course, I received a little form to confirm exactly how I wanted my instrument done, and the chromatic row layout shown (I assume if I wanted to change it I could) is: E/F A/A# C#/D# A/G G#/A# --- C#/C# F#/D# G#/G C#/A# A/D. Since I have yet to get my Norman concertina, and have absolutely no experience, I have no idea what to do. I watched the Williams video and looked at the little booklet. The layout shown in the booklet is about the same as the "standard" one that started this thread, but he alludes in the video to having a reed altered (as I recall) to give him the double C#. I guess, since I use lots of alternate tunings on guitar, I can take all this in stride.

Robert F. DeVellis, 15 January 2000:

I think for the most part, people get used to what they have and find everything else a bit strange. The advantage of not straying too far from one of the orthodox layouts is that if you acquire another concertina, the effort of relearning will be less. My concertinas have different key layouts for the accidental rows and I find that I'll avoid certain tunes on certain instruments while other tunes can be adapted to different note arrangements without too much difficulty.

The smartest thing to do might be to order an extra reed or two so that you can switch from one system to another if you find you've made a poor choice. The advantage of doing this when ordering the instrument is that the extra reeds can be tuned in the chambers they would be placed into if adopted. Now, clearly, one could go overboard here, but one or two alternatives shouldn't be terribly expensive and might give you the flexibility you desire.

Having said that, I suspect that once you get used to what ever arrangement the instrument has, you'll be mostly satisfied and occasionally frustrated. That's the nature of the beast, I'm afraid.

Chris Moran, 23 December 1999:

...You will find the LESS you change, the more instruments (antiques, etc.) you will be able to play in the future.

Paul Schwartz (corresponding with me early on in this project when I had gotten little input):

You know, I'd love to see what the "big" players say too. I think you haven't heard much simply because it's a bewildering question, and most of us (amateurs) simply play what we have and aren't experienced enough and haven't tried enough instruments and considered the question enough to have anything intelligent to say on the subject. It's also a reason why I ended up leaving my Jeffries' keys alone -- I didn't think I was good enough or had reason enough to change them yet. Maybe 10 years from now...

...or maybe I'll just have to be content to have a really good concertina web site :-)

Steve Maurice, 10 January 2000:

This is my favorite layout [refers to Custom Layout 2 above].

Last May I purchased a Jeffries 30b C/G anglo from Chris Algar that was an 85% make over by Colin Dipper. This was the layout that was on the 'tina. I originally played a 'tina with the C#/D# D#/C# but after playing the custom "Irish" layout I noticed that playing the F# on the chromatic row with 2nd finger instead of my left hand pinky on the #12 button (G row) my playing speed almost doubled. I don't use the chromatic row F# all the time but on certain phrases it is much faster and smoother. [Additional correspondence confirmed that the F# Steve mentions is an octave lower than the one I had in mind in my proposed layout above -- Ken.] My conclusion is that I wouldn't buy another anglo concertina without this custom layout.

Billy McComiskey, 14 January 2000 (originator of a widely used bass button layout on B/C Irish-style button accordion):

I have no idea what to tell you here. [He went on to suggest an expert player I could consult.]

We'll give the last word to a wise man we've heard wisdom from before:

Bob Tedrow, 15 January 2000:

Truly as heaven is my witness, it make no difference as a practical matter....UNLESS your mission is to play the concertina EXACTLY as your personal hero, whomever that may be.

What you may gain by one fingering system you may loose on another.

If you go overboard on customizing, you will have a hard time playing anyone else's concertina at a jam session.

Thanks also to Ross Schlabach, Bruce D. Wright, Chris Moran (who put me on to Billy McComiskey and Bob Tedrow), Keith Packard, and Rodney Thompson for additional comments and ideas. And of course to Paul Schwartz for posting this lengthy dissertation!