Concertina tuning

Concertina tuning

My colleague and I have been entrusted with a long-neglected Lachenal 30-button Anglo for servicing. Neither of us having had prior experience of free reed repairs, we arranged a visit to a professional concertina repairer a couple of weeks ago, who kindly gave us both a crash course in repair and tuning techniques.

Mechanically, this concetina is actually in very good condition, given its age (built c. 1880-90?). However, it is in dire need of tuning. Now, in an infamous discussion last month, regarding the (mis)use of equal temperament in Traditional music, it was mentioned that concertinas are often tuned in just intonation. The repairer we visited, when demonstrating tuning, appeared to be happy with a ‘zero’ reading on his chromatic tuner - i.e. bang on equal temperament.

So, I would appreciate it if some concertina players (or knowledgeable non-players) - English, Anglo or otherwise - would give their thoughts on this. Is there a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way? Is it just personal preference? Does it depend on what kind of music is playd on it? Does equal temperament really sound that bad? Are there not problems with certain intervals in just intonation (or it is just a case of putting the bad intervals ‘round the back’, between the 3rd row notes)?

Re: Concertina tuning

Look up Paul Groff’s posts on the subject on

Yes, some intervals played together on an equal tempered concertina sound awful.

Posted .

Re: Concertina tuning

This subject has interested me since getting ‘into’ Irish music over the last couple of years - and especially during the last year, trying to hear what the older ‘east Clare’ style fiddlers are doing that gives that ‘lonesome’ bluesy sound. So the subject of tuning has interest way beyond the concertina alone. The main ‘thing’ seems to be that indeterminate major / minor thing - whether on Paddy Fahay tunes, written down with the C (and /or F) alternating between natural and sharp -or players ‘sliding’ up’ to the sharp from the natural, or possibly simply playing a quartertone between the sharp and the natural.
According to Breandán Breathnach "It’s said that directly halfway between B and D on that instrument lies the C natural of traditional music, i.e., pipers and fiddlers would play C a quarter note higher than on the piano" on the fiddle this simply means not placing the second finger either low or high (either close to the first or third finger) to achieve the C and F naturals or sharps on the 2nd /3rd strings - but placing the fingers equally spaced.
Of course, on the box /concertina you don’t have the luxury of deciding on the precise intonation you would like at the moment of playing the note. I had wondered how a box with quarter tone tuned notes (C ‘sharpish’ and F ‘sharpish’) might sound. I imagine it would only work on appropriate ‘bluesy /modally/lonesome ’ tunes. But would be interesting to try - for anyone who has a second instrument and the interest / time /money.
This is all quite separate from the basic question on ‘well tempered tuning’. I had read the same regarding early concertina tuning being in just tuning. It would seem logical, if the prime purpose is to play in D and G - and the relative minors and modes -then why not tune for the best possible musical / harmonic sound - which I assume would be ‘just tuning’. I believe the purpose of tempered tuning is a ‘compromise’ tuning to allow playing in all keys - not usually relevant to ITM.
I have previously tried reading internet articles such matters, as the maths of musical harmony /tuning systems interested me - -but most of it was way beyond my understanding - so happy to hear the views of those with more knowledge than me - I fully accept I may be writing complete nonsense !
More of interest from Breandán Breathnach in Ceol Rince na hÉireann (dance music of Ireland) Vol. 1-1963 :
In the music as played use is made only of two accidentals, usually F natural and C sharp. The manner of using them is not by any means similar: F natural is always played under accent; C sharp is never accented. This is not to say of course that C is sharp when not accented. C natural is often to be heard without the accent, but there are special combinations in which this note is always sharp, e.g.:
• in the ornamental triplet B-C#-D;
• between two Ds accented, or
• in this cadence of reels: A-F#-D-E-C#.
The above about C# doesn’t always apply to the C in the tunes of the second series; their C is always sharp.
The two notes C and F are also exceptional in another way: they are somewhat sharper than the corresponding notes on the piano. It’s said that directly halfway between B and D on that instrument lies the C natural of traditional music, i.e., pipers and fiddlers would play C a quarter note higher than on the piano. This may be the reason why C# is so often played for C-natural by the box-player. In a slide up from E to F# the traditional fiddler makes F-natural, so that this is not a fixed note. For this reason I didn’t use the ordinary sign to indicate it but used instead an asterisk. Generally, it’s better to play F# on the piano or box.
Translation by Breandán Breathnach, as posted to IRTRAD-L on 15.08.98 by Terry McGee
[The preface and notes on ornamentation by Breandán Breathnach in Ceol Rince na hÉireann (Vol. 1)-1963 are printed in Gaelic. Breandán Breathnach, its editor, explained to me in Dublin in 1974 that this was because the only funding he could find for the work required this. He provided me with his own translation which he wanted well circulated. Terry McGee 15-08-98 )

Re: Concertina tuning


I commend you for seeking out the expert advice of a professional repairer. Nevertheless, with respect, I would like to suggest that you not try to develop your concertina-tuning skills on a vintage instrument that has been *entrusted* to you. Please get some experience with junker instruments before you risk messing up apotentially valuable instrument that belongs to someone else.

Does equal temperament sound "that bad"? Seeing as it’s what most of us play — I don’t think so.<grin>

To me, the key question is: Will this instrument strictly be played solo, or does the owner aspire to play it with other musicians? Only in the former case, I think, would it be a good idea to depart from equal temperament.

Re: Concertina tuning

Strongly recommend that you take your Concertina to a professional! It is nearly impossible to both learn how to tune and tune free reeds at the same time.

Re: Concertina tuning

As someone new to the concertina world, I am interested in what Kilfarboy said. Can Kilfarboy or anyone tell me more about what intervals don’t sound so good? Are there for example certain tunes that could be given as an example? I am trying certain tunes out and some sound well but others no matter what I do with them, don’t sound so good. I am course then interested in is it the way I am playing them or am I picking up certain inherent difficulties in trying to play certain tunes or tune types?

Re: Concertina tuning

CSharpd, tempered pitch is highly overrated, and not nearly as common
(or as nice) as people seem to think it is. In the end, it’s really
just a huge compromise to allow for sounding neither more nor less
out-of-tune while playing in dozens of keys that virtually never show
up in Irish music anyway (F# major, anybody?).

The only instruments the really have equal temperment (in ITM) are
pianos and "dry-tuned" accordions mostly play—I’ll concede a good
number of concertinas too, but I’ve also seen plenty of variety
there (*). Fiddles, flutes, whistles and pipes are left to their
musicians as to whether or not to play in really tempered pitch, and
mostly we don’t (mostly out of apathy, rather than intent).

When a fiddler tunes his/her fiddle in fifths (comparing adjacent open
strings, the way most of us do), that’s not tempered pitch either.

Wet-tuned accordions are, by definition, fudged in the tuning
department, and that’s part of why they sound so good. I guess one
could say they’re tuned with tempered pitch, but that’s like being a
marksman with a shotgun…

But at any rate, I will also strongly recommend taking the concertina
to a pro. I’ve seen a couple really nice old concertinas who’s reeds
were nothing short of mangled by some random but well-meaning ameteur
who thought he knew how to tune them.


(*) My own old Jeffries’ concertina has both an E-flat and a D#
button—and they’re quite different pitches, as they should be!

Re: Concertina tuning

I strongly urge you to hire Paul Groff to do the work, or if he’s not available, ask him to recommend a qualified person.

Posted by .

Re: Concertina tuning

Georgi wrote:

"CSharpd, tempered pitch is highly overrated, and not nearly as common (or as nice) as people seem to think it is. In the end, it’s really just a huge compromise to allow for sounding neither more nor less out-of-tune while playing in dozens of keys that virtually never show up in Irish music anyway …. "

No question, equal tempered pitch is a compromise. But it is the tuning used for *most* concertinas these days and is, I believe, the appropriate choice for being prepared to play with a variety of instruments in a variety of keys. Over the course of an evening our session might play tunes in modes of C,D, E, G, and A.

Most of us can only afford one concertina. If funds were unlimited, it would be fun to have additional instruments tuned to sound best in different keys.

Georgi also wrote:

"My own old Jeffries’ concertina has both an E-flat and a D# button—and they’re quite different pitches, as they should be!"

And what good do those buttons do you? The E-flat has got to be one of the most underused keys on my (C/G Anglo) concertina.

The biggest compromise in equal tempered tuning is in the sounds of the thirds. How often (if ever) in Irtrad do you have the need to play a third with D# on top (i.e., B-D#) or with Eb as the root (Eb -G)?

Re: Concertina tuning

Paul Groff, that was good advice…

Posted by .

Re: Concertina tuning

Just file bits off each reed willy-nilly until it sounds right. You can always repair the reeds with a bit of solder later if you overdo it.

Only kidding :-)

Re: Concertina tuning

54321, thanks for the plug but I don’t do repairs or tuning anymore except for instruments I own and for people who once bought from me.

How you tune your instrument should be up to you and a conscious choice based on understanding of the different options. It’s too bad that some players assume that equal temperament is be a standard to which everyone’s sound must be yoked. However I do appreciate equal temperament for its real advantages in some circumstances. I recently was honored to make a recording with a fiddler friend and used an equal temperament concertina for various reasons — but had consciously to avoid using the bits of major third and sixth harmony that I normally use; octaves were OK of course.

It’s very interesting to me that pipers of all types (including the irish variety), as well as cajun accordionists and of course some fiddlers, fluters, and singers, are very loyal to the beautiful sound of harmonies created by playing in unequal-tempered or just-tuned scales. Many players of these instruments consider those traditional scales to be at the heart of their tradtional sound. Yet *many* anglo concertina players have been happy to abondon the traditional unequal temperament of the early german concertinas and most anglo-germans made before World War Two. Many but not all!

I bet you can make great traditional music with an instrument tuned almost any way, if you are a great player with class rhythm and phrasing. I have heard it on an equal-tempered piano (rarely, but..), equal-tempered D melodeons with no C natural, even from the shoes of great old-style step dancers hitting approximate pitches on the floor so that you can recognize the tune! So use whatever tuning you like, it’s part of your freedom as a musician.

And part of our freedom as listeners to enjoy (or not) the results! I like the sound of harmonies on Georgi’s concertina :-)

All the best,

Paul Groff

Re: Concertina tuning

Thanks, everyone, for your replies. I appreciate people’s concerns about attempting to tune a vintage instrument without prior experience. In fact, I have a cheap-and-nasty concertina that was heading for the skip (bellows like a vacuum cleaner bag, but reeds relatively sound), to practise on. But I don’t actually see that there is a huge risk. Concertina reeds (unlike accorsdion reeds) are held in place by friction alone and are easy enough to take out and put back in. All the tuning is done outside the instrument, so there is no risk of damage to the body. Yes, there is some risk of bu993ring up a few of them, but (not surprisingly for 100-year-old brass reeds) several will need to be replaced anyway, due to metal fatigue and corrosion. Perhaps a full original set of working reeds would add to its value considerably, but since that is not going to happen (a couple have already been replaced), would a few more replacements make that much difference? If it really seems to be going pear shaped, then it can always be taken back to the repairer who gave us the tutorial (David Leese).

As for my original question, I haven’t quite got a satisfactory answer yet - but I was not counting on this forum alone for that. I will certainly be getting back to David Leese to ask his expert opinion.

csharpd - You start by saying that equal temperament, while a compromise, is the most practical solution. But in your last paragraph, you ask, "How often (if ever) in Irtrad do you have the need to play a third with D# on top (i.e., B-D#) or with Eb as the root (Eb -G)?". So, if there are certain intervals that are not used, then, couldn’t just intonation be used, with the ‘bad intervals’ placed in the least used positions? Or perhaps there would be a problem in that, if, say, G were tuned to concert pitch, successive 5ths would get a few cents sharper or flatter (depending on the direction round the ‘circle’) - you’d be fine playing with another instrument in G, passably in tune in C or D, but when you got to F or Bb, you’d be noticeably flat and in A or E, you’d be noticeably sharp.

Perhaps the case is different for English and Anglo concertinas. An English is nominally a fully chromatic instrument (Dow - you like playing tunes in Ab-minor and C#-squared and stuff, don’t you?) whereas an Anglo is set up more as a diatonic instrument with accidentals, i.e not designed to facilitate playing in lots of keys.

"Just file bits off each reed willy-nilly until it sounds right. You can always repair the reeds with a bit of solder later if you overdo it."

Yeah, that’s about right. Except, less of the willy-nilly. And less of the solder. Actually, when we first looked inside this instrument, there was a broken reed that had been soldered back together. Needless to say, it didn’t make a sound. David Leese said that, in all his 30 years repairing and restoring concertinas, it was the first time he’d ever seen that.

Re: Concertina tuning

Paul - I’ve just read your comment. Thanks for chiming in there. Perhaps, as someone with experience in this field, you could give a little constructive criticism regarding what I’ve written above.

Re: Concertina tuning


I think you are on a good track. A brass-reeded Lachenal with history of prior repairs (thus not a concertina of the highest pro quality nor a time-capsule of originality) is probably a good candidate to learn tuning with, and from what I have seen of Mr. Leese’s work I think you are fortunate to have him guiding your efforts. I recommend taking a lot of time thinking before altering any old instrument in any way, and seeking advice from books, the net, and the best local experts you can find….all of which you are doing. When you are all ready to do something permanent, stop and sleep on it and have another think before doing anything you might regret later. Try to use reversible adhesives and techniques, and measure as much as you can about the state of the instrument "as you found it" before going ahead. But if you want to make an omelet…

You will probably have to harden brass stock to make new tongues ("vibrators" as the factories called them; no jokes please). This can be done by work-hardening (rolling or even hitting with a mallet) until the brass is stiff and springy, then file to a very precise fit and tune it, using the dimensions (including thickness profile) of similarly tuned, working reeds as a guide. If you take some care you will be able to make much better fitting brass tongues than the Lachenal reedmakers threw in the instruments of this type originally …mind you, their work was fast cheap and despite that often pretty good. Easy does it when tuning especially if you are lowering the pitch by filing at the base. Brass tongues are much more likely than steel to crack eventually, often at a place where they have been filed.

Good luck and I hope you make some discoveries that will inform us all — much remains to be learned about old concertinas.


Re: Concertina tuning

I hadn’t envisaged making new tongues. David Leese recommended replacing the whole reeds, including the reed-frames, with good reeds salvaged from old instruments (of which he has plenty). This recommendation was no doubt with consideration for the potential value of the instrument.

"I recommend taking a lot of time thinking before altering any old instrument in any way…"

I would not say my intention is to *alter* the instrument exactly. But in its present state, it is hard to tell how it was originally tuned. What was the standard tuning system used by Lachenal during that period? The answer to that question would certainly influence my decision.

Re: Concertina tuning

Spoon, I’m assuming you’ve read this

I really think that regardless of what Lachenal did, or what anyone else does, it’s of more value to have the instrument tuned as *you* like it, than restoring it to its supposedly "original" tuning.

Most concertinas are tuned Equal temp with electronic tuners. I’m so used to that that for me, anything else would sound weird and "out of tune", even if it did improve the quality of some chords.

But that’s not to say that you’d find the same. An interval that sounds beautifully harmonic to you might sound hideous to me.

My advice is to tune Equal because that’s the standard, and see how you like it. If you really find it hideous then give Just a try.

Re: Concertina tuning

You could also try posting this in the forum @

Re: Concertina tuning

Another thing to bear in mind is that the physical act of tuning a concertina is quite difficult to do, especially if you’ve not done it before. One tiny brush from a file can do nothing the first time, and then take 3 or 4 cents off the next, even if you think you filed in exactly the same spot. Then when you put the reed back where it belongs, it sounds a completely different note anyway. The whole process is incredibly frustrating and time-consuming. You’ll probably find that as you’re tuning, you’ll start worrying less and less about issues of temperament, as your own temperament deteriorates :-)

Re: Concertina tuning


I understand: if you have access to complete brass-tongued reed assemblies that are artificially inexpensive (due to low demand) as scrap, it may cost less to use them than to make new tongues … if you value the cost of your time at more than zero/hour.

But if you value your time at more than zero/hour it is almost always cheaper to have a pro do the entire job rather than trying to learn tuning yourself and then to do the work.

Do you aim to learn a new skill and to learn something about how different temperaments sound or are you just trying to get the instrument working at minimum cost (if the latter, reread previous sentence)?

It’s not a rhetorical question and I would respect and understand either choice.

But keep in mind the advantages of learning to re-tongue old reed assemblies. It will take some time and trial & error, but you will gain great insight into the parameters that affect reed response, pitch, and tone. Best of all, the cost of brass stock and the tools you will need is very small, and by learning to make excellent tongues you will then be able to keep the instrument (and others) going with access to only easily available and cheap modern supplies.

Also do not estimate the number of scrap reeds you will need if you go the other way — as you learn to tune and then as you play a brass-reeded anglo you may break a few more reeds than are already gone….

Finally if you can make new tongues you can feel very free to experiment with different tunings, without worrying about consuming the tongues excessively.

However, go the way you prefer and I’m sure you will learn a lot.


Re: Concertina tuning


Evidently you are among those who assert that equal temperament is "the standard." If current popularity is the criterion for a standard then McDonalds sets a standard for food here in the states. I would hope that musical standards would reflect quality rather than mere poplarity.

But even if popularity (over time) were the appropriate measure, German and anglo-german concertinas have been around for over 150 years and equal temperament has been dominant in anglo concertina tuning for less than half of that time. Some of the greatest anglo makers ever did not tune their instruments in equal temperament.

Although as I stated I do appreciate the advantages of equal temperament in some situations, the question raised in the original post of this topic is a really good one and reflects a thoughtful and open-minded attitude. I would like to encourage rather than discourage people to look into (and listen into) the different ways to tune concertinas. If you listen carefully and ask a few questions you might find that some very influential concertinists (not all of them, but some) strongly prefer alternatives to equal temperament.

Many people are insensitive to the ways in which equal temperament sounds offensive to others. My perspective on traditional music is that it is partly a matter of pleasing yourself and partly a matter of trying to please others who you may judge to be more knowledgeable about the tradition than you!

For most of us the challenge is to get the best sound out of the instrument we have, however it’s tuned….fair enough. But someone in a position of choosing the tuning for an instrument to be newly restored, who asks about unequal temperament, has potential to offer the tradition something more than the current "lowest denominator" of concertina sound.


Re: Concertina tuning


Sorry, I meant to write "Also do not UNDERestimate the number of scrap reeds you will need…"


Re: Concertina tuning

Ha, Paul. I was the one who e-mailed you about something else the other day. Thanks for taking the time to reply so promptly btw!

Before you go pigeon-holing me as someone who simply goes for the "lowest denominator", I must explain that I didn’t mean to come across as supporting Equal temp so strongly. Actually, to tell you the truth, I spent several hours with Chris Ghent who taught me how to tune my concertina a few months ago. We tuned it to Equal and eventually got everything to within + or -2 cents off concert pitch, but I still wasn’t happy with it. The whole thing didn’t "zing" enough, if you know what I mean? I fiddled with it some more to try and get some of the 5ths sounding better, but didn’t do it systematically enough, and only ended up messing things up a bit. Not so you’d notice particularly because nothing’s more than a coupla cents out. But I notice it, and it’s still like that to this day. Doesn’t matter for a session so I haven’t bothered doing anything about it. Nevertheless, it remains an "unresolved issue" for me. I know I could retune the whole thing to Equal again at Chris’s workshop, but the same thing would happen all over again I think, so I’m just going to leave it…

The other thing is: I’m an English concertina player, and I’m particularly fond of hornpipes in weird keys. With a fully chromatic instrument, "Just" just ain’t gonna work, so I admit that that makes me naturally biased :-)

I do have one bone to pick, though, Paul. I’m disappointed that you think Equal temp is merely the "current lowest denominator". Of course you’re saying that to make your point more strongly, right? You know that Equal temp has a long history and couldn’t be said to be "inferior" to Just temp, just different.

Like I said, it boils down to personal taste on the part of spoon.

I’ve played with spoon before. He’s one of the most skilled musicians I’ve ever played with. Ever. So I’m confident he’ll make the right decision.

Re: Concertina tuning

If anything, my support of Equal temp has made you pipe up in defence of Just, which is a good thing, because you’ve said that Equal temp has been dominant in less than half of the 150 years of Anglo tina history, and that was the sort of info spoon was looking for, I think.

Re: Concertina tuning

I don’t think the views expressed on this thread are that far apart.

Spoon originally asked, "Does equal temperament really sound THAT BAD?" [emphasis mine]

if it were "that bad," I wouldn’t enjoy the sound of my own equal tempered instrument. Nor do I think that contemporary makers — who, by the way, aren’t selling 99 cent burgers — would normally recommend equal temperament. Nor would Paul own, and choose to record with, an equal tempered instrument in the right circumstances.

Are there better choices than equal temperament? I think it’s clear that the answer can be "yes," but it comes down to the circumstances, among them:

- in the case of a vintage instrument, how was it originally tuned? Preserving the maker’s intent is admirable. Retuning (or worse, taking the pitch up a half-step or more) solely to make an old instrument more marketable is depressing.

- In what keys will it mostly be played?

- With what other instruments will it be played, or will it be used mostly solo and/or for song accompaniment?

- Does the owner have additional concertinas? (Or realistic hopes of being able to afford additional concertinas?)

In this regard, Allan Atlas, a noted concertina scholar and performer (and owner of instruments in several tunings) wrote on "… with respect to choosing a temperament: if you have only one instrument, equal temperament is probably the best — at least the most USEFUL — choice…." [emphasis in original]

On the other hand: I don’t play a lot of thirds; and I’m not particularly sensitive to thirds that are slightly off. It is interesting that some people are exquisitely sensitive to tuning. I have good pitch — I can quickly and reliably tell what key a tune is being played in, and I’m usually the first to notice if someone in our session is out of tune — but the "worst" intervals of equal temperament don’t bother me. Arguably, that’s a good thing.

Now, two questions:

1. Paul, you wrote: "If you listen carefully and ask a few questions you might find that some very influential concertinists (not all of them, but some) strongly prefer alternatives to equal temperament." Can you suggest some recordings of players in this category?

2. Since this is, I’d like to know what tuning people would choose for a C/G session instrument that will be played with a changing and somewhat unpredictable variety of instruments. Please assume, for purposes of this thought experiment, that you’re ordering a new instrument and that you don’t expect to be able to afford a second one in the foreseeable future. Extra credit for explaining your reasoning.

Re: Concertina tuning


Very well stated. I admit the term "lowest common denominator" carried a little sting beyond my literal intent to refer to "what is most popular and used by default, often uncritically, these days."

I think it’s great if someone uses equal temperament "on purpose," while clearly aware of the alternatives, because that is exactly the sound they want to make.

But prior to your post in this topic I had challenged the notion that equal temperament should be a "standard" that everyone is forced to adopt (an idea that is in fact out there among some musicians today). So when you perhaps innocently invoked the term "standard" I felt obliged to dig in.

Yes, I do sometimes exaggerate my own points, where they deviate most from popular assumptions, just to encourage a more pluralistic approach to tuning concertinas. Personally, I prefer over equal temperament the sound of a variety of just tunings, the meantone family of tunings, and the well-temperaments if intervals of thirds or sixths are going to be played on an anglo. Surely you know that the reason you have duplicate keys for Eb/D# and Ab/G# on your english system layout is that the system was designed for a meantone scale with 14 tones to the octave! I recommend that concertina players learn about and listen to all those tunings/temperaments and more, and that restorers of old original concertinas try to figure out the original tunings of their "projects" before putting them on the Procrustean bed of "standard tuning = A 440 equal." Just my point of view which is of course only one opinion among many.

Beyond that the questions asked are very specific and would take the fun out of the discoveries you all will make.

All the best,


Re: Concertina tuning

Can we put some of this in laymen’s terms? How exactly are the concertinas tuned that aren’t in equal temperament? Which notes are altered? What well-known recording artists are using these tunings?

Re: Concertina tuning

Phantom Button,

Well the problem there is that there aren’t "laymen’s terms" that are accurate enough to describe the differences between alternative tunings and temperaments that have, or could, be used for concertinas.

I bet you do know most terms I used but if there are some who don’t, lots of music theory including the names and relationships of intervals and the history and definitions of different tunings and temperaments is available on the web now. Google any of these terms for starters: "just intonation," "tonality," "microtonal music," "meantone," "well-temperament."

But in my experience even a "layman" without technical knowledge or vocabulary can be hit in the gut by the power, or in the heart by the soul-filling sweetness, of some harmonies arising from the pure intervals that have been banished from much of our modern popular musical culture by the recent ascendency of equal temperament.

Some of us love that sound you can hear in the drones, regs, and chanter of a great piper or the double-stops of a master fiddler and would like to hear something like that sound when we hit the occasional non-octave interval or chord. True, to achieve that sound on a concertina there are compromises as pipers must make. But it’s interesting to me that few (any?) great Irish pipers seem willing to trade those harmonies away in exchange for more key modulation or chromaticism.

A last point is that *even if you never play chords or non-octave intervals on your concertina,* when playing an equal-tempered concertina with pipes or fiddlers who use a more traditional intonation you will still create a clash.

There are some great examples of nice, original tuning anglos on the old Free Reed recordings, worth some careful listening! As for modern players it’s not for me to give away anyone’s secrets but if you hear gorgeous chords from a concertina it may well be that it is not be equal-tempered.


Re: Concertina tuning

So are the notes altered for the compliment of the cords then? What is the process that leads to altering notes away from equal temperament? I’ve been told that on a piano the highest notes are sharpened slightly and the lower ones are altered in the opposite direction. Is this relevant to how notes on the concertina are altered, or is there a different philosophy at work?

Re: Concertina tuning

Well, since I hadn’t received a reply here to my last question, I decided to ask a very knowledgeable and well-known concertina player about this, (you can probably guess who,) and he said he has experimented with different tunings but it ultimately resulted in limiting his choice of keys to play in. He said even though there were a few problems here and there, the equal temperament was the best route to take.

Re: Concertina tuning

Phantom - I think the ‘stretched’ tuning used on the piano is to do with the way strings behave when they get thick. The theory of vibrations in strings is based on the string having zero diameter. For the kind of strings used on guitars, fiddles etc, this theory holds reasonably true - the overtones are all whole number multiples of the fundamental. For the much thicker strings used on a piano, this no longer holds true - their behaviour begins to resemble that of *bars* (a different platter of clams altogether), which means their overtones are somewhat sharp. Consequently, the octaves are ‘stretched’ so that the fundmentals of the higher strings match the overtones of the lower notes, thus avoiding beating.

The theory of reed acoustics, on the other hand, is yet another bottle of sprats, about which I know nothing. But, as I understand it, the issue being discussed here has less to do with the specific acoustic behaviour of reeds and more to do with the virtues and shortcomings of different systems of intonation and temperaments in general (which could be equally well demonstrated using pure sine wave generators as with real instruments).

For the record, I have decided that, seeing as this is not my concertina, and its owner is, as far as I know, a non-player (at least, a non-accomplished player - if he were an accomplished player, he would almost certainly have gone straight to a reputable repairer), my best bet is to stick to equal temperament.

Mr. Dow - Steady on, old boy! I can get all reciprocal, you know!

Thanks, once again, everyone, for your comments, suggestions and concerns. If it all goes horribly wrong, I’ll hold you all responsible.

Re: Concertina tuning

Good luck, spoon. Thanks for considering our input. Do let us know how it turn out.