How to Choose the Best Concertina for Traditional Irish Music
What concertinas are suitable for Traditional Irish Music? The best concertina for playing Irish music is an Anglo 30key C/G concertina. Why is that? Well a 20key concertina doesn't have the range of notes required for traditional Irish music, mainly the C Sharp on the outside row on the right hand side. A 30key concertina does. Anglo is the tuning system required for traditional music because it gives the low and the high octave in the keys of D, C, A, G and E. There are 15 buttons on each side of the 30key concertina, the third button down (ring finger) on the middle row on left-hand side when pressed is C, the first button (index finger) on the middle row also on the left-hand side is G. Hence the concertina is in the key C/G.
There are a number of points to look for when choosing the correct concertina for you. Most importantly it depends on your level of playing. Let me start off with buying a beginner concertina/student concertina.
Best Concertina For Beginners (Under £400/€450)
For a student, or a beginner, I always recommend at the very minimum, purchasing a concertina with Italian Reeds for reliability, durability and sound. The Italian reeds offer more volume and a sweeter tone than the less expensive reeds made in China, for example. This is the most important point. The second important point is “what after sale service do they provide”. If the manufacturer or seller do not provide an after sale service, it is a key indicator that you may run into some problems with that type of concertina that may turn out to be very expensive/impossible to fix. Also it is inevitable that you are eventually going to need your concertina serviced, so it is very important that parts are available after your purchase.
Let me use an example. The Wren Beginner Concertina offers reliability, durability, serviceability & is not expensive. Four key factors for choosing the best concertina for a beginner. I had a Wren in for a service last week that was over five years of age and needed a service. I was able to refresh it within 20 minutes and the owner was thrilled when she heard there was no charge. I have also just serviced another three Wren concertinas for Gaelscoil Míde which are three years old and more. The reeds open up after some years of playing and they sound better now than they did when they where first sold. (The Wren concertina is on sale at McNeelaMusic.com)
So, to reiterate, the questions to ask when purchasing a beginner concertina for traditional Irish music playing are:
1. Is it inexpensive?
2. Is it a 30key Anglo C/G concertina?
3. Does it have Italian reeds in it?
4. Does it have an after sale service?
Best Concertina To Buy For An Advanced Beginner (Around £1000/€1500)
When it comes to a more advanced concertina for beginners the market is quite limited. Not many makers provide concertinas for players who do not want to spend over €2,000 plus on a concertina so if this is what you are looking for, these are the key elements I recommend looking for:
If it's for traditional Irish music, of course, like above, I recommend a 30key Anglo C/G concertina with Italian reeds in it and an after sale service. For an advanced beginner looking for a concertina, try to find one made with a 6 fold leather bellows. Why 6 folds? Some of the cheaper lachenals have only 5 fold bellows. 6 fold allows more air to the reeds. If you can find one with riveted action because riveted action is faster than hook action i.e. easier to play and more responsive. Next, is to find out if it has double reeds and if the reed plates are screwed to the reed pan instead of waxed on to a block as wax tends to kill or mute the sound of the reeds. Finally it comes down to sound, ease of play and how it looks, but as usual these are a matter of personal opinion.
If this is what you are looking for I strongly recommend the Swallow Concertina for €1,350 as it has all of the above features. We do sell the Swallow but supply is limited so please contact me on (+353) 87 2569672 to see if one is available.
Best Concertina to Buy For Intermediate Players (£1800/€2000 Plus)
If you feel you are really serious and are going to continue playing for a lifetime, it would be a good idea and a clever investment to buy a makers concertina for example Marcus, AC Norman, or Morse. These are current concertina makers, meaning parts are easily available should an issue arise in the future. These three makers would also be my personal favourite, sound wise and playability wise.
For an advanced player choosing a concertina really is a personal matter and is down to a matter of preference, budget and availability. You may find a concertina that sounds exactly like the sound you were looking for but is slightly more difficult to play, or you may find one that may not be traditionally good looking but is a dream to play. Of course you will probably discover one you can't afford! As a student progresses they become naturally more aware of the type of concertina that is suitable for them. For example you will hear the difference between concertina reeds and accordion reeds. You would choose accordion reeds for volume and tone or concertina reeds for that distinctive concertina sound. You will choose a concertina for the feel of it i.e. the hold of it or for the buttons i.e. plastic, metal or bone. You will choose a concertina because of its beautiful ascetics i.e. how it looks. Or you may choose one whether it has traditional paper in the folds or whether it has metal ends or wooden ends. The size can be important to some people or the ease of playing i.e. whether the bellows will open fast or slow. And, of course, if it's comes with a quality protective box (very important).
I recently had a Marcus 190 and Marcus Deluxe on my site with metal buttons and the Deluxe had a drone button which is required for harmonizing.
Sometimes we get Morse concertinas with black plastic buttons that are larger than the metal buttons, which some people prefer.
This Mayfair was made by Wheatstone in the 40's is an affordable concertina. After being played for many years the accordion reeds in this concertina have opened up to give a large sound. Where this concertina fails in looks, is more than made up for with the ease of play i.e. response and the tone of the reeds. I have had a number of people play this Mayfair and all where astonished by its sound.
Other makes of concertinas we have for sale are:
Lachenal Mahogany ends, bone buttons and with steel concertina reeds
Lachenal Metal ends with bone buttons and with steel concertina reeds.
So, to reiterate, the questions you ask yourself when purchasing a concertina for playing traditional Irish music are:
1. What is your budget?
2. Do you have a preference for any particular maker?
3. Are parts available?
4. What is the most important factor for you? Is it sound, volume, playability, ascetics, comfort, size, etc?
5. What is the second most important factor?
6. Can you find it?!
Good luck on your concertina hunt. If you are in Dublin please do call into the McNeela Music factory showroom here in Baldoyle and test our concertinas out. We carefully select each concertina we sell so you could easily find "the one" here.