Free reed instrument making
The making of free reed wind instruments, including accordions, melodeons, concertinas and harmonicas.
|Historic area of significance||London|
|Area currently practised||UK – generally the South of England|
|Origin in the UK||19th century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||6-8|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
||1 – Geoffrey Crabb is retired and sometimes makes concertinas for fun|
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
A free reed aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame. Air pressure is typically generated by breath or with a bellows. Various free reed instruments have been invented since antiquity.
The accordion was introduced from Germany into Britain in about the year 1828. The instrument was noted in The Times in 1831 as one new to British audiences and was not favourably reviewed, but nevertheless it soon became popular. Other accordions appeared, some featuring only the right-handed keyboard for playing melodies. It took English inventor Charles Wheatstone to bring both chords and keyboard together in one squeezebox. His 1844 patent for what he called a concertina also featured the ability to easily tune the reeds from the outside with a simple tool.
Further innovations followed and continue to the present. Various buttonboard and keyboard systems have been developed, as well as voicings (the combination of multiple tones at different octaves), with mechanisms to switch between different voices during performance, and different methods of internal construction to improve tone, stability and durability.
- Metal working
- Wood working
- leather working
- Industrial design
- Musical competence
- Accordion making
- Melodeon making
- Concertina making
- Harmonica making
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Despite there being a good market for making and repairing these instruments at the moment, often the dealer takes a significant percentage of the cost price.
- Traditionally made concertinas using individual reeds that consist of five pieces per reed, with two reeds and two leather valves used for each button (for push and pull notes) are very labour intensive and consequently very expensive with makers having in some cases ten year waiting lists.
- Most materials (brass, aluminium and steel and many woods and leathers) come from the EU or further afield. There is a possibility that if we leave the single market that many materials such as goat leather and certain woods will be more expensive to import but at the moment no one really knows what will happen.
- There is no formal education route to learning the craft, and none of the existing makers currently have an apprentice.
Craftspeople currently known
- Steve Dickinson, Wheatstone – concertinas
- Jake Middleton-Metcalfe – recently started hand making concertinas but only on his more advanced instruments
- Alex Holden – another relatively new maker who has started making concertinas
- C & R Dipper and Son Concertinas
The following makers use a combination of fabricated and bought components.
- AC Norman & Co – Concertina makers, antique free-reed specialists. We make and restore mainly concertinas but also Flutinas, Lap-organs, other antique accordions, harmoniums etc. There are two of us, I am full time, with my partner working part-time. The business was started in 1976.
- Marcus Butler – concertinas
- Anthony James – produces concertinas regularly but not as a sole income
- Jake Middleton-Metcalfe – also makes instruments from Italian reeds
- Paul Harvey
There is a list of concertina makers on the concertina.info website.
Melodeons and accordions have always been assembled by different companies, with specialist firms making and supplying reeds, buttons, bellows etc. The harmonium (reed organ), made in huge numbers in Victorian times, hasn’t been made in the UK for many years.
While there are relatively few concertina makers the number has been seen to be stable over the last 40 years.
- Missin, Pat, Western Free Reed Instruments