Which concertinas are suitable for Traditional Irish Music?
The best concertina for playing Irish music is an Anglo 30 key C/G concertina. Why is that? Well, a 20 key 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 30 key concertina has the C sharp note. Anglo is the tuning system required for traditional Irish 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 30 key concertina plus an air button on the right hand side. 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 well-made steel reeds for reliability, durability and sound. The Italian and Czech-made 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 most important point is the after sale service. 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 which may turn out to be very expensive or even 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 give you an example – the Wren 2 Beginner Concertina offers reliability, durability, serviceability and 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. 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 were first sold.
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 30 key Anglo C/G concertina?
3. Does it feature good European steel reeds?
4. Is there an after sale service?
5. Do you like how it sounds? If you like the noise it makes, buy it!
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 on a concertina so if this is what you are looking for, these are the key elements I recommend researching:
If it’s for traditional Irish music, of course, like above, I recommend a 30 key Anglo C/G concertina with Italian reeds 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 or a strong spring hook system because it will be faster i.e. easier to play and more responsive.
Next is to find out if it has double reeds as they result in a louder, stronger sound than a single reed.
Finally it comes down to sound, ease of play and how it looks, but as usual, these are a matter of personal opinion.
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 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.
Best Concertina to Buy for Advanced Players (£1800/€2000 Plus)
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 has exactly the sound you are 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 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 aesthetics. Or you may choose one based on whether it has traditional paper in the folds or whether it has metal ends or wooden ends.
The size is important to some people or the ease of playing i.e. whether the bellows will open fast or slow. And, of course, if it comes with a quality protective box (very important).
Other makes of second hand concertinas we have for sale are:
Lachenal, Jeffries, Crabb, Wheatstone, Suttner and we are constantly updating and adding to our range of vintage and antique concertinas.
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 are the most important factors for you? Is it sound, volume, playability, aesthetics, comfort, size, etc?
5. 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.
If you want to learn more about the history of the concertina, how to learn traditional Irish music on the concertina or just want to immerse yourself in the world of traditional Irish music take a look at my traditional Irish music blog.