The English Concertina
has 18, 30, 48 (usually) or 56 keys or buttons, is fully chromatic
("plays in any key"), and is what squeezebox people
call a DOUBLE action instrument; that is, each key sounds the
same note in both bellows directions (like a piano accordion
but unlike a harmonica), in other words, a double action (both
push and pull on the same button) produces a given note.
The English concertina is most commonly seen in the 48 key
treble model, which has the first 3 1/2 octave range of the violin.
We also carry the tenor and tenor-treble models when available,
but vintage instruments are also found, infrequently, in piccolo, bass, and other configurations.
On each side of the instrument is a pinkie rest and a thumb
strap. The thumb strap is a must, but some players
rarely use the pinky rest. Occasionally a heavier vintage or
custom model may have wrist straps added on, but in general,
the English doesn't have them. The buttons on an English are
rather close together, so if you have very large hands you may
be more comfortable with an Anglo.
All of the modern Italian models have an air button, which
is not always present on a vintage instrument. Apparently one
was expected to arrange the bellows work so that, by the time
the tune was finished, the bellows were in the closed position.
The English tends to have a polite, elegant sound. It is more
of a parlor instrument than the Anglo. While it is possible to
play them with lots of energy and bounce for dancing, it's more
work to play rhythmically than it is on an Anglo, so most English
players tend to play in a smoother style. It is a wonderful instrument
for classical music, slow tunes, and "pretty" or elegant
styles of dance music such as English country dance and Swedish
dance music, or for Eastern European tunes with unusual scales
and lots of accidentals (flats & sharps).
The fingering might be more difficult at first than the Anglo,
but it's worth figuring out because of the instrument's
versatility. However, unless you practice good fingering habits, it's very easy to
get lost among all those buttons on the keyboard. It is the perfect
instrument for sight reading, as you can tell just by looking
at the music which hand plays a given note. All of the notes
on the lines are played on the left hand, and the notes on the
spaces are played on the right.
Anglos we carry have
20 (diatonic), 30 (semi-chromatic), or 40 (semi-chromatic) buttons.
Vintage instruments are sometimes seen with other configurations.
Anglos are push-pull SINGLE action boxes; that is, each key sounds
a different note in each bellows direction (like a harmonica).
On each side of the Anglo is a wrist strap. The buttons, especially
on the 20 key models, are generously spaced and easy to reach.
The Anglo always has an air button, sometimes called
One problem with the Anglo is the limitation in keys. The
20 button instruments only have the notes from 2 major scales,
usually C on the top row and G on the bottom row. (Other common
tunings are G/D and D/A). The 30 and 40 button instruments have
an extra row (above the 2 main key rows) which includes sharps
and flats, making it possible to play in more keys than the 20
button models. Even with the extra notes, it is still not fully
chromatic in the same way that an English concertina or a piano
is, which can easily play in any key.
Because of its push-pull nature, the Anglo is very good for
playing dance music, and is popular for Morris, Irish, and other
traditional dance styles. Irish concertina players favor the
30 button models. A well-played Anglo has a gutsy, rhythmic sound.
It is the instrument most people associate with sailors and sea
The fingering is comparatively easy, and unlike the English,
it's difficult to get lost on the keyboard. Anglo music is written out not only
in standard notation, but also in concertina tab, which shows
which button to press and in what direction to produce the desired
note. However, some notes can be played on more than one button,
and the Anglo is more of a "play-by-ear" instrument,
anyway. Keep in mind that all of the books for Anglo assume you
have a C/G instrument; if you get a G/D you can still play from
the tab but you won't be producing the same notes.
20 buttons or 30 buttons?
Question: I want to play Irish music but I'm not ready
to get a 30 button yet. Am I wasting my time on the 20 button?
It's not a total waste of time, since any tunes you have learned
on a 20b will still translate to 30 button when you upgrade,
as you will eventually want to do. If you are playing a C/G concertina,
this means all of your C tunes and G tunes, Am and Em and some
Dm tunes can still make the transition to a 30 b C/G, although
once you get there, you'll want to learn some of the more versatile
fingerings and settings that will now become available to you.
If you're playing a G/D 20b, and upgrade to a C/G 30b, you'll
have to relearn your fingering in order to play in the same keys
as before -- or else, you can just play them the same way as
before and have them come out in different keys. This won't be
a problem unless you're playing with other musicians.
Or should I forget about the 20 button and get started with a 30
button (which I may not be able to afford
for a while)?
If you want to play any serious amount of Irish music, you're
going to want a 30 button eventually, since you can't handle
most D major and A major and B minor tunes (and some Eminor ones)
on a 20 button C/G without faking a lot of notes (no C#, no G#).
Playing Irish music without a C#...well, it limits your repertoire.
Making a Choice between Concertinas
The first thing you need to do is figure out whether you want
an English or an Anglo. With modern instruments this might be
a simple matter of comparing the prices. Or you might need an
English if the music you primarily want to play requires a chromatic
instrument. Unless you already know you want the English, or
you object firmly to the press-draw diatonic nature of the Anglo,
you might look at the Anglos first.
20 button Anglo
Anglo models are the most popular ones we sell, chiefly because
of their affordability. All of them have plastic buttons and
wood bodies. Some models are covered in celluloid veneer. The
main difference between the various 20-button models is how many
reeds they have, either one or two reeds per note. The
more reeds, the richer the sound -- English concertinas and
30 or 40 button Anglos, on the other hand, have only one reed
sounding per note.
Some Anglo concertinas are available in different keys:
although C/G is the most common, G/D is also popular. Instruction books are written for
C/G instruments. Despite the diatonic limitations, there are many kinds of music you can play on a 20-button concertina: simple folk melodies, sea chanteys, children's songs, British Isles and American folk dance tunes, popular American folk songs, and so on.
30 button Anglo
If you are seriously
interested in Irish, Scottish, contradance, and related music,
the logical choice is a 30
button Anglo. A metal ended model may have a little brighter sound than the all-mahogany models, but will tarnish with time. Whether to have plastic buttons or metal buttons is a matter of personal preference.
Most people start with a C/G, especially for Irish, although
the G/D is also popular, especially for Morris and other English
dance music. All of the 30 button instruments are available only
with single reeds -- that is, a single voice is available per note.
40 button Anglo
has some advantages over the 30 button, mainly that it offers
more choices in fingering and bellows direction for a given note.
It is Italian made, with leather bellows, and is available either
metal ended with metal buttons, or with mahogany ends and plastic
buttons. Single reeds. Made in the keys of C/G or G/D.
See descriptions of English concertinas in the English Concertina Catalog
Before you order, be sure you know which books are for Anglo
and which for English. Here are our recommendations:
- "The Best Concertina Method Yet" -- Good book for 20-button Anglo
- "Anglo Concertina Demystified," by Bert Levy
Best one for 30-button Anglo
- "Handbook for English Concertina" by Roger Watson
Great chord charts
- See a listing of concertina books carried by HMT.
Frequently Asked Questions
"What's the difference between concertinas
and accordions, and which one should I get?"
Concertinas (all types) play melody on both left and right
hands. They have no chord buttons; each button plays only one
note at a time. You get to make your own chords by combining
buttons, just like on a keyboard. The button travel is in the
same direction as the bellows travel.
Accordions, at least the types we usually carry at HMT, have
a left side which doesn't normally play melody at all, but is
arranged in bass and chord buttons (the exception is the non-convertor
free bass or Bassetti
accordion, which has no chords). The left hand provides rhythmic
and harmonic accompaniment. The right hand consists of either
piano keys or rows of buttons. If they are black & white
piano keys, it is by definition a chromatic instrument, but a
button accordion can be either chromatic or diatonic.
There are many styles of music that favor one type of squeezebox
For example, if you want to play Cajun
music, the traditional instrument is a Cajun one row button box
in the key of C.
If you want to play Klezmer, a piano accordion or chromatic button
accordion is your best bet.
Find out what is the traditional instrument for the type of
music you want to play, factor that into your decision, and then
get whatever you like that's available and in your price range.
Weight is another factor - even the lightest 12 bass piano accordion
can weigh 12 lbs or more, heavier with a case. A 2-row
button accordion only weighs about 6 to 8 lbs. on average.
"Which key should I get?"
chromatic button accordions, and English concertinas
are chromatic, so key is not an issue -- they can play in any
key. For diatonic
the musical genre usually favors one tuning over another . Here
are my suggestions for some traditional music that is played
single row Cajun accordion
in C (less common: D, Bb, or G).
D single row button box, just like a Cajun accordion but in D
tuning. Extra rows don't hurt, but are not at all necessary for
playing in authentic style. Some Quebecois players are moving
to 2 row or 3 row diatonic box for ease in playing Irish and
Zydeco / Mexican / Tex-Mex
Piano accordion or 2 or 3 row button box with rather wet tuning,
the keys might depend on the other instruments in the band. You
want the third (bassoon) reed with Zydeco. G/C/F is common,
E/A/D is popular with some Tex-Mex singers, or
F/Bb/Eb to accommodate a horn section.
B/C button box, (or C#/D, etc. especially for Kerry music),
or 30 button Anglo, usually tuned CG but also GD, etc. It is
certainly possible to play good Irish music on piano accordion
or English concertina or even ADG button box, and several well-known
players do it successfully, but the preferred accordion is the
2 row button box with the rows tuned a half step apart.
Morris, French, English country dance, English polkas, barn dances
D/G or G/C 2 row melodeon, or Anglo in same keys, or English
concertina, or piano accordion. For the more rhythmically
accented genres, a diatonic instrument works better, and is more
traditional. For the smoother styled Playford type English Country
Dance, a chromatic instrument (English or PA) is preferable, largely
because some of the loveliest tunes are in flat keys, so the 20
button Anglo or 2 row melodeon would be unable to play some of the
standard repertoire. If you play only diatonic, you'd be better off
with 30 button Anglo, or Club melodeon, which could handle Country
Dance pretty well, along with the other genres mentioned.
Scottish / Cape Breton / American fiddle tunes / New England
contradance music / Scandinavian fiddle tunes
Piano accordion, chromatic accordion, English 'tina, A/D/G
three row box, B/C Irish box, or 30 or 40 button Anglo. Some
are more traditional than others, for a particular type of music.
In Scotland, for example, a very wet-tuned piano accordion is
Do I get a cheap one to learn on, and upgrade later?
The problem with buying a cheap instrument to learn on is
that it may be so poorly constructed that it inhibits your learning,
or worse, discourages you from continuing at all, due to the
hardship of playing properly, and other headaches. Here's some
of what you can expect from cheap instruments:
- Stiff bellows
- Inferior quality leather for the corners, or other cheaper materials
- not enough bellows play
- poor air transmission
- action either too mushy or too stiff or uneven
- springs that break
- buttons or keys too high or too low
- buttons that keep sticking or break off
- noisy keys
- reeds slow to respond
- inferior sound, poor tuning, cheap poorly set reeds
- reeds that squeak and wheeze, because of shoddy workmanship
(little bits of sawdust, woodchips, etc. from the interior clogging
- cheap plywood or worse used for the body, wood not properly
- improperly glued joints that come apart
There are any number of potential problems with a cheap accordion.
There is a reason that a brand new button accordion might retail
for only $300 - shortcuts were taken in construction and materials
- lots of them.
A good rule of thumb is, buy the very best instrument you
can afford, right at the outset.
difficult is it to learn?"
sometimes heard as,
"How long will it take me to play
It's not that hard at all, if you spend a little time getting
to know your instrument. Squeezeboxes are easier than
most stringed instruments in the initial learning stages: you
just press buttons and move the bellows and you can knock out
a simple tune, maybe not with a great deal of finesse, but that
takes work on any instrument. As to how long . . . everyone learns
at a different pace, and some people practice more than others.
Really good technique and good music takes time, and a lot of
hard work, regardless of whether you're learning the accordion,
the violin, or the pennywhistle.
"If it doesn't work out, can I
get a refund?"
(resell it, trade it in, consign it)
Our standard refund policy for new accordions: 7 days review allowed.
NO REFUND ON SHIPPING.
New instruments are guaranteed against defects in manufacture
for 30 days, after which the factory guarantee, if any, takes
For in-person sales, 7 days review is allowed. There is no warranty on used accordions, but all instruments have been checked by our repair shop. We do not allow returns on mail order used accordion sales because of shipping risks (see below).
accordions, especially older ones, are often quite susceptible
to changes in temperature and humidity, unless they have been
recently overhauled (a considerable expense). They may sit happily
on the shelf for weeks, and then suddenly develop a behavioral
problem, such as a spitting or growling reed, or a reluctant
button. It is impossible for us to check out the status of each
reed and button on each instrument in stock on a daily or even
Shipping is to be avoided on
used accordions and concertinas. After
shipping, the instruments can develop problems
-- buzzing or silent reeds, sticking keys, rattles, strange harmonics
-- that were not there when they were in a different
environment. Because of this, we encourage you to visit the store for
your used instrument purchases. Any shipping of used instruments is
entirely at owner's risk.
You may bring in your used accordions/concertinas in good condition, whether originally purchased here or not. Our repair shop will examine them (requires leaving the instruments here for at least 2 weeks), and based on their evaluation we will give you cash, trade, and/or consignment offers. Please see our page on Used Instrument Services for details. You must deliver in person, no shipments please.