Review of The Concertina Maintenance Manual

The second edition of the Manual has now been published. I shall be rewriting this review in due course, but in brief it answers all my criticisms and improves on the original in every way. An essential for every concertina player. See the Tutors and Other Books section for purchase details.

February 1998

The Concertina Maintenance Manual, by Dave Elliot, published by South Riding Folk Network in 1997, cost UKP 8.00


Well produced, clearly laid out and nicely illustrated, there is (SFAIK) nothing else like this book around at present time. It should be widely purchased, especially by those not in reach of one of the established repairers. However, it does contain a few errors and should carry a large health warning: unless you have the requisite skills to carry out some of the tasks described you could end up doing some damage to your concertina.

The Concertina Maintenance Manual is a recently produced spiral-bound book of A4 size with 36 pages and an attractive colour cover. It describes itself as "A guide to the repair and maintenance of all types of concertina", though it only covers concertinas made using "English" construction techniques. Owners of Bastaris and other concertinas based on accordion reeds will find little here, and similarly Chemnitzer concertinas are not covered (though I notice that an accordion repair manual is being advertised elsewhere in the newsgroup, which should help owners of both types of instrument considerably). In an email to me the author described the raison d'etre behind the book as follows:

My purpose, initially, was to record techniques and methods as I did jobs on my own machines. Later I typed them up and gave copies to friends who needed a start point when they had problems. I compiled the lot, including critical comment, into the equivalent of a 'Haynes Owners Manual' at the suggestion of others. Then decided to use it as a vehicle to raise cash to provide tuition for some of the less fortunate, but equally excellent young people, who may be denied access to the tradition, or coaching. I am not an author, just an engineer, with no pretence to expertise. I am hoping that people will write and give me further tips, articles and advice so that a second edition can be produced in two or three years time. That is why we went for a low cost option in terms of publication and price structure.

(For non-UK readers, Haynes produce a range of workshop manuals for cars). Dave is on the net, so if anyone wants to communicate with him direct, email me and I will pass on his address.

In the main, I would say Dave has achieved his ends pretty well. The book starts with a description of "concertina anatomy" and how to gain access to the uncharted lands of the interior. There is some good advice here such as remembering which screw came from which hole, and the order in which to loosen the screws. It then dives straight in to re-bushing a concertina (bushes are the little collars of felt through which the buttons protude on better quality instruments), followed by re-tuning reeds, reed care, replacing pads, valves and thumb straps, bellows care, recovering a leather covered finger slide and routine maintenance, before ending with some purchase advice and a (UK oriented) phone number list.

I think the book could do with a little re-ordering here, and cover routine matters first. The average player is going to want to know what to do when a reed starts making mournful mooing noises more often than how to re-bush an instrument. It may also be worth gathering together some of the more basic dos-and-don'ts into a check list near the beginning.

The book is typeset in a very clear and easy-to-read font, with excellent diagrams that amplify the text. Instructions are given very clearly for the variety of tasks described. My main concern with the book is that it makes complex tasks seem easier than they are. I think this betrays the author's engineering background. [Note for US readers: in the UK an engineer is one who practices the art of engineering, not a train driver]. The author clearly has a good selection of manual skills and is not afraid to use them. For most of us some degree of practice on something that could be thrown away would be essential before we let ourselves loose on our $2000+ instruments.

I don't think this should stop people buying and using this book, but do be certain of your own abilities before you start mucking around with files near the reedwork. Half the value of a good concertina is in the reeds.

A few things I would disagree with: I would not advocate regularly stretching the bellows, neither would I advise vacuuming out dust from the interior once a year - the suction generated by the average Dyson would probably see half the valve flaps end up in the dust bag. Colin Dipper throws up his hands in horror at the idea of using wet-or-dry paper to tune reeds. The book perpetuates the old myth that coloured buttons means a cheaper "tutor" instrument. Still, the Tao of Concertinas says that every player must dance to his own tune, and there are things I would suggest that would doubtless cause Dave Elliott to throw up his hands.

Anyway, there it is. I have some reservations, but I am glad I have the book and (especially in the light of what Dave said about raising cash to suport young musicians) I hope it sells lots of copies.

Purchase Information

Concertina Maintenance Manual
Author: Dave Elliott
Published: The South Riding Folk Network
ISBN 0 952 9857 2 1

Copies can be obtained from the SRFN for UKP 8.00 inc postage (UKP 9.00 overseas). Cheques made payable to SRFN.

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