6. Repair Techniques

This section only describes repairs on a conventional concertina. Bastari/Stagi type concertinas that are derived from accordions require different techniques that are described in the Accordion FAQ. Don Nichols Home Page as well as being part of the history of the concertina on the Internet has much useful information.

The Concertina Maintenance Manual, written by Dave Elliott, has now (as of May 2003) reached its second edition. See section 5 for purchase details. Rewritten from beginning to end, he has improved an already good book into the bible for people who want or need to perform both basic and advanced maintenance tasks on their concertinas. Clearly laid out and nicely illustrated, there is, so far as I know, nothing else like this book around at present time. However, bear in mind Dave's wise words before you leap gaily in (this can stand as a preface for this whole section):-

Once a job is started, it will never complete itself. You have no business in starting a job unless you intend to complete it both well and promptly. Concertinas are rare and valuable. We have a responsibility to care for them properly, for ourselves and for the players of the future. Please be realistic, and work within your own bounds and skills.

First, a couple of dos and don'ts.

Don't try and tune a concertina unless you are *absolutely* certain of what you are doing. It is very easy to ruin a reed. It is very much a specialist job.

Don't touch the two screws that hold a reed in place in its metal frame.

Don't leave a concertina dismantled overnight. The screws keep the wood clamped into shape. If left too long the wood can warp and the repair will be expensive.

Work on one end at a time and reassemble it before starting work on the other end. There are an awful lot of screws in a concertina, sometimes hand-turned, so keep careful track of where they come from.

If you have a concertina with leather baffles fitted to sweeten the tone think very carefully before removing them. The spacers inside the end of the concertina sometimes assume their presence and you can cause the wood to distort when you reassemble it. Personally I prefer to fit baffles in our concertinas - I like the sweetness for song accompaniment and it is an easy job with double-sided tape!

Many of the makers in section 8 will supply spare parts such as pads, valves and springs if requested.

If you remove the screws round the endplate of the concertina you can remove the end containing the action (i.e. the buttons, levers and pads which control the air flow). This exposes the reed pan which is held in the end of the bellows. Remove the screws one at a time from opposite sides of the endplate so as to distribute the strain, and replace them the same way when you are reassembling the instrument (do not overtighten as you may cause the ends or reed pans to warp).

Pictures of Concertina Reed Pans
Click here for a picture (40k) and description of the reed pan of a modern Anglo concertina
Click here for a picture (43k) and description of the reed pan of an old Wheatstone baritone
English concertina with brass reeds

Picture of Concertina Bellows
Click here for a picture (32k) and description of the bellows of a modern Anglo concertina

The reed pan has reeds on both sides as a reed is only designed to play in one direction. Reeds on the inside play when the concertina is being pushed or closed, and reeds on the outside play when the concertina is being pulled or opened. Small leather flap valves on the opposite side of the pan from their corresponding reeds control the air flow. If you look on the inside of the end then you will see the holes through which air passes as you play. Press on a button and you will see the corresponding pad lift to allow air through.

If you are having a problem with a reed then to identify it press the button on the end corresponding to the note of the problem reed. This will show the hole for that reed, which you can then tie up with the reed pan. Sometimes the reed has the note it plays stamped on its frame.

The pan is not normally screwed in and can be removed by careful pulling with one finger hooked through the centre hole. Make sure before you remove it that you know which way round it must be to go back in! (Frequently matching numbers are stamped into the reed pan and frame to help with this).

There are two repairs that can be carried out easily on reeds:- silent reeds and buzzing reeds. Silent reeds are frequently due to a small piece of dirt or fluff lodged in the reed, and can be cleared by gently twanging the reed with a Stanley (US X-acto) knife, or by gently sliding a piece of thin, clean, stiffish paper under the reed and over the frame to dislodge the offending object. A buzzing reed can be due to the reed having shifted slightly in its frame. You should be able to see or feel the reed snagging on the frame. Gently ease it straight with your knife or a thin steel shim

A note sounding when not being played in one direction only may be due to a flap valve getting stuck out of position. This can sometimes also prevent a note from playing (again in one direction only). Ease the valve back and all may be well.

Reed frames can come loose within the pan. This sometimes manifests itself as a sort of mournful mooing sound. Remove the reed frame, cut a thin, short piece of masking tape and wrap it round the top and side of the frame before easing the frame back into the reed pan. Don't force it - if you have to force it you have put on too much tape and you may cause the reed to jam in its frame. Try removing some tape from the side of the reed frame.

If the spring breaks on a button or a pad gets dislodged causing a note to sound continuously in both directions you have to get inside the end to expose the action. The way you do this differs for English and anglo concertinas. For an English there are normally two screws that need to be removed, one in the middle of the thumb strap and one in the middle of the little finger support. Remove these and the whole faceplate should come off the end, exposing the action.

On an anglo there is normally a screw on the inside of the end which you can remove. There may be additional screws in the centre of the outside on some instruments which will also need to be removed.

Pictures of Concertina Action
Click here for a picture (39k) and description of the concertina action
Click here for a picture (27k) and description of the concertina action viewed from the "inside"

The action looks quite complex but is quite logical in its layout and you should be able to work out the required repair by comparing the action for the broken button with a working one. You may need a new pad or replacement spring from one of the makers or repairers in section 8, however I have heard of cut-down safety pins being used in an emergency!

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