Archive for December, 2012

Defining the parts of the Banjo – A guide by Eagle Music

What is a Banjo Rim, Tailpiece, Banjo Tone Ring, Pot, Tension Hoop, Coordinating Rod, Banjo Vellum, head, Banjo Flange, Planetary Geared Tuners, Neck Truss Rod ?  All these and more banjo parts are demystified and explained here by Deering and Eagle Music.

In the following notes, we shall use for example, the USA built Deering Banjo models to explain materials chosen for parts and general banjo build quality.

The Banjo Rim or Pot

Maple has long been used to make banjo pots because of its fine grain, strength and bright clear tone on stringed instruments. The entire violin family instruments use maple for their backs and sides. All Deering banjos have solid violin maple rims. Steinway and other quality brand pianos use maple for the pin blocks of their pianos. Bowling alleys are commonly made of maple for its hardness and durability.

Some far eastern made banjos have soft aluminium or plywood rims that do not have the sparkle, brightness or clarity of the USA built banjos. Deering uses a steel rim on the Boston series banjos. Tap on a disassembled aluminium rim and you hear a “clunk”. Tap on a disassembled Deering steel rim and it rings brightly, clearly and long. Soft aluminium has little or no musicality. It is a reasonable building material but has a poor musical tone. Likewise, many of the Far Eastern made banjos have wooden rims made of softer plywood. The softer, porous wood does not have the hardness, fine grain structure or tone character of a musical quality hard wood like violin maple.

The Banjo Head

The most popular banjo head size is 11” high crown. Types of heads: Top frosted, clear, fiberskyn, Kevlar, bottom frosted, black and Renaissance. Top frosted heads are brightest and crispest. Clear heads are bright with more sustain. Black shiny heads are mellow, warm and soft with more sustain. Fiberskyn heads are warm and plunky with less sustain. Bottom frosted heads have good sustain with nice bass response, not as bright as top frosted. Kevlar is snappy and responds a bit like an arch top banjo due to its stiffness and thickness. Heads can be used to achieve certain sounds and looks. Heads come in three crown heights (height of the playing surface above the head’s stretcher band, the rim around the edge of the head.) high, medium and low. High are medium are the most common and the easiest to find. For example, all Deering made banjos work with High and Medium crown heads.

The Tailpiece

Good quality banjos have adjustable tailpieces (except for many of the ‘‘old time ‘‘ banjos like the Deering Vega Old Time Wonder that has a small fixed tailpiece for traditional appearance and sound.) The best adjustable tailpiece has no resonance of its own, so it should not be made of brass, bronze or hard steel that would ring and interferes with the tone of the rim and tone ring. For example, all USA made Deering, Goodtime and Tenbrooks banjos have the Deering adjustable tailpiece made of a non-resonant alloy.

Bracket Shoes and Flanges

Deering Goodtime banjos have zinc alloy bracket shoes and Deering resonator banjos have zinc alloy resonator flanges that also do not interfere with the tone of the rim and tone ring. Zinc alloys are acoustically dead so these critically functional parts do their job helping support the head tension, without infusing any unwanted and interfering sounds to the banjo.

Brackets and Nuts

These parts must be made of steel for strength and durability and have consistent threading to make adjustments accurate and controllable. These parts are “isolated” from the rim by the zinc flange or bracket shoes and also by the banjo head that is held in place by the tension hoop (or stretcher band as it is sometimes called). which is also isolated by the stretched head.

The Tension Hoop / Stretcher Band

Deering tension hoops are brass or steel and Goodtime tension hoops are steel. Both are isolated from sound interference by the banjo head.

The Coordinator Rod(s)

These rods need to be solid, and made of a strong yet non-interfering alloy. All Deering, Goodtime, Vega and Tenbrooks have solid rods of this same alloy. Many traditional banjos have brass rods which interfere with the tone even though this is a traditional metal used for this part.

The Tone Ring

Tone rings come in many designs and alloys. Some banjos do not have a tone ring but stretch the head over the wood or metal rim. Bluegrass style banjos (like the Deering Sierra) have a bell bronze tone ring that weighs 2-3 pounds and is precisely fitted to a three ply violin maple rim. Historically, Maple is the most accepted rim material in banjo building. Old time music banjos are commonly open back, with tone rings made of brass and the tone rings are lighter in weight. Some entry level banjos have steel tone rings that have a bright, responsive sound and feel. Many import banjos advertise a “bluegrass style tone ring” but don’t tell you what kind of metal they are. Most of these are “pot metal” or zinc alloy, which, while appropriate for a flange or shoe, is inferior in tone to the USA built tone rings. Even the import banjos with “brass” tone rings can have cheap die cast tone rings that do not have the correct grain structure or alloy for the best musical vibration and yet these banjos can sometimes cost as much as a good American made banjo.

The term ‘Banjo Pot’ refers to the rim with all the parts that are assembled around it.

The Neck

The shape: Though a good feel of a neck is subjective, the neck must “feel” good to the player. It must make the strings feel easy to push down with as little effort as possible. Generally, thick, bulky, poorly shaped necks can be found on some far Eastern banjos and are more difficult to play. However, thickness alone, does not make a neck feel bad or “great”. The “great” feeling neck has subtle shape characteristics that are difficult to put in words, but instantly discernible by the human hand. Certain curves, slopes and shapes, when artistically combined are comfortable. Neck shapes have been developed to a shape that has optimum playability by the great American banjo companies like Deering.

The material: Mahogany and Maple are the two most popular banjo neck woods currently in use. Walnut, Koa and Rosewood are also used but not quite as popular. Import banjos often use terms like “Mahogany stained hardwood” to include the word “mahogany” to mask what wood is actually being used.

Tuning Machines – Banjo Pegs

The best tuning machines are geared for smooth, easy tuning. Some inexpensive banjos have friction pegs that are difficult to tune and frustrating for the novice player. Tuning machines with buttons that stick out to the side of the peghead are usually referred to as “guitar style” tuners. Geared tuning machines that stick straight back from the peghead are called “planetary style” tuning machines. The term planetary refers to the arrangement of the gears in the tuner that surround other gears much like the formation of the planets in the solar system.

Truss Rod

The truss rod in the neck of a banjo controls the  ‘‘relief ‘‘ or subtle curvature of a banjo neck and helps counter act the pressure of the strings to help prevent warping and twisting. An adjustable truss rod can be used to change the “playability” of a neck by allowing the neck to curve a little more or by flattening the neck out a bit more. Players with a hard attack generally need a little more “relief” in the neck and players with a lighter touch generally like a slightly flatter neck.

The Nut

The top nut is usually made of a hard material like, bone, ebony, mother of pearl, Formica or other synthetic material and guides the strings through slots  over the finger board so they are separated evenly and in correct relationship to the width of the fingerboard. The nut is  ‘cut ‘ to a depth for the strings to give the best  ‘‘action ‘‘ in the first position.

The Position Markers / Inlays

The dots or other inlays are used as reference points on the finger board to tell the player at what frets certain notes are found. Dots and fancy inlays are the same in function but only different in cosmetic appeal. Side  ‘position’ dot markers are found on the side of the neck on some banjos.

The Frets

Frets are usually made of nickel silver and are either pressed into the fingerboard or pressed and glued in. They are shaped sort of like a round topped  ‘T ‘ with tiny barbs on the tang to grip the fingerboard slots they are pressed into. Frets can be jumbo or narrow as found on vintage banjos. Some higher end custom banjos have stainless steel frets.

The Banjo ArmRest – Different types and how they fit

The prime aim of the banjo armrest is to give the player comfort on the wrist/arm of the picking hand. There are many different designs and styles of armrests. Most banjo arm rests are designed to fit on banjos in relation to the number of tension hooks (sometimes called brackets) on the banjo.

The traditional Gibson type flat armrest can have one or two brackets for fixing it to your banjo. These brackets are spaced to span over the tension hooks on your banjo. The brackets on the armrest have a flat metal bar that positions behind two tension hooks and clamps to the tension hooks via a hexagon screw that when adjusted pulls the bracket tight against the hooks.
the Deering banjo armrest is similar to the Original.

Some armrests are versatile and will fit on banjos that have 18 or 24 tension hooks, whilst others are designed purely to fit a specific number of tension hooks.

The old vega style ‘Wire’ armrest that can be bought from eagle Music is very versatile in that it will fit OPEN BACK banjos that have any numb oog tension hooks from 12 to 34
Please click on this link  to view our arm rest selection [coming soon]
Banjo sound and volume …Fitting an armrest can also affect the tone of a banjo in that it can restrict your arm from resting on the banjo head and deadening the movement of the head. Any body contact (arm, hand fingers) with your banjo head will lower the volume  of your banjo.
Most armrests can be adjusted for height to give the player the optimum position for your style of playing. All players have a different way that they ‘attack’ their strings.

Please call us to ask which arm rest is suitable for your banjo.

Banjo heads

THE BANJO BRIDGE and Its Function

The banjo bridge does exactly as its name suggests …it forms a bridge for the strings to pass over the banjo head and transmits sound from your strings into the banjo head. Bridges are available in different heights and they are measured in imperial measurement …The most popular three heights being 1/2”, 5/8” and 11/16”The most popular bridges are made from AAA grade  maple with an ebony top. Some bridges have inserts made from bone or plastic to help give a brighter tone.

Tone, Volume and Action

Changing your bridge will alter and affect the tone and volume of your banjo, it may also alter the ‘action’ of your banjo! (The ‘action’ is the distance that your strings are from the frets of your instrument. Your strings will be easier to press down when you have a ‘low’ action. However, the ‘action’ should not be set so low that you get ‘fret buzz’)
In general the simple rule is: Low Bridge = Low Volume High bridge = More Volume.
5/8” is the optimum and most popular bridge height.
Note: Some novice players think that the height of the bridge is for setting the ‘action’ of their banjo …this is not the case! The action is set by adjusting the ‘neck angle’ on a banjo.
However, in some cases where the banjo neck angle cannot be adjusted that only way to change the action of the banjo is to alter the height of the bridge.

Banjo Intonation

The intonation of your banjo is affected by the position of your bridge. The rule is that the bridge is positioned on the banjo head twice the distance of the measurement from the inside of the nut to the 12th fret. On a 5-string banjo the bridge is generally positioned square, but on tenor and plectrum banjos it helps intonation to set the bridge at a slight angle giving the heavier gauge fourth string a greater distance than the thinner plain first string. The bridge should sit flat and square making full contact with the banjo head.

Shape of Banjo Bridges

You can buy ‘Of the shelf’ Compensated 5 string bridges, some of which compensate the length of all the five strings and others that only compensate the length of the third string. Modifications to the shape of a bridge can alter the sound of your banjo eg. if you ‘thin’ your bridge by sanding it, this will give your bridge lesser contact with your banjo head and the result will be a brighter ‘snappier’ tone, many plectrum banjo and uke banjo players do this. Unwanted harmonics and overtones can ‘sometimes’ be suppressed by sanding the bridge thinner towards the treble end.

Resonators

The resonator If you fit a resonator to your banjo, it will have more volume and will project the sound forward. Without a resonator, your banjo will be quieter and sound more mellow. A “frailing” banjo would not have a resonator.

Tailpieces

The tailpiece The tailpiece plays a very important role in the tone and volume of your banjo. Its prime function is to anchor your strings. Its secondary function is to angle your strings to exert maximum pressure on the bridge in order that the bridge transmits sound into the banjo head. Adjustable “clam shell”, “Scruggs” type, “Kershner and “Nashville” types are available. Please enquire for prices.

Harmonica Parts – Simplified explanations of the anatomy of the harmonica

A harmonica is an assembly of a number of parts. In this section Eagle Music explains the major parts of a harmonica all simplified and explained in clear detail.

A harmonica is an assembly of a number of parts. Harmonica  parts have to be fitted together correctly and precisely assembled to make the instrument ‘airtight’ and playable. The major parts of a harmonica are simplified here and explained in detail as follows; The Comb, Cover Plates, Mouthpiece, Reeds, Reed Plates, Rivetting, Slider Mechanism, Valves / Windsavers etc. The descriptions below are written in alphabetical order.

Comb

A harmonica is built around what is called a COMB. The comb is the central part of a harmonica. The comb can be made of wood, metal or a type of plastic. The comb is the bit that has the holes in it that you blow thorough!
Wooden combs (often Pearwood) can be affected by moisture. Some modern harmonicas have encapsulated wooden combs that are not affected by moisture. Metal combs are the most airtight. Wooden combs give a mellower tone to a harmonica.

Cover plates

These are the outer parts of a harmonica. If you remove the cover plates you will be able to see the reed plates and reeds. The cover plates protect the reeds but are designed to allow sound and air to pass by them. Cover plates can be made of polished stainless steel or metal that is chrome or nickel plated or blackened. There are many designs in cover plates, and some are reputed to have better airflow profiles and ‘ergonomics’ regarding the ‘feel’ of the harmonica.

Mouthpiece

This is the front of the harmonica, its the bit with the holes in it! A mouthpiece is found mainly on chromatic harmonicas, the slider mechanism is housed behind the mouthpiece: they are generally screwed onto the harmonica. Mouthpieces can be chrome or even gold plated.

Reeds

Reeds are what produce the note/sound of a harmonica. reeds are made from brass, bronze or stainless steel. brass is the most common material for making reeds. Stainless  steel reeds can be found on higher prices instruments. Brass is a soft material and produces a sweet tone. Bronze reeds produce a brighter tone than brass reeds.Stainless steel reeds are stronger than brass and bronze reeds and have a longer life span, harmonicas fitted with these reeds also tend to be more expensive due to their longer life. Reeds are ‘tuned’ at the time of manufacture and in some cases can be re-tuned.

Reed Plates

Reed plates are generally made from brass plate that is machined / ground very flat and square. they have little slots milled out of them to house the individual reeds. Each individual reed has its own slot. Reeds are riveted onto the reed plate. The reed plates are screwed or nailed onto the comb. The best and most airtight harmonicas have ‘screwed-on-reed-plates’.

Riveted

Reeds are riveted onto the reed plate. The reed plates are screwed or nailed onto the comb. The best and most airtight harmonicas have ‘screwed-on-reed-plates’.

Slider mechanism button

This is the part that is activated by pressing a button on the end of chromatic harmonicas.
The sharp and flat notes are accessed by pressing in the button operated slider. When the slider is fully pressed in, it re directs air into a second set of reeds that are tuned to the sharps and flats of the scale and pitch that the harmonica is tuned to. So, when the lever is pressed in, each note in each hole of the harmonica is raised by one semitone.

Valves (see windsavers below)

Windsavers (also referred to as valves)

Chromatic harmonicas  have small flaps of plastic called valves covering the reed slots (on the opposite side to the reeds obviously!). These maintain the air-tightness of the instrument. They also mean that reeds can be blow and draw bent. Suzuki do a valved version of their Promaster. This tends to be a more responsive and louder instrument than the un-valved version and has the added bonus that blow reeds in holes 1-6 and draw reeds in holes 7-10 can be bent down in pitch thus increasing the range of notes available.

Wooden Body

A wooden comb (often pearwood) this is the central part of the harmonica upon which the harmonica is built around and the reed plates are fixed to it. The body or comb as it is called, can be made of plastic, metal or wood.

Harmonica jargon simplified and explained – all you need to know about the harmonica

Cross Harp, Solo-Tuned, Bending, Octaves. Eagle Music demystify the jargon in simple terms and explain all the most important things that you need to know about your harmonica.

You will hear a lot of jargon relating to harmonicas. We shall simplify all this ‘Harping on’ in the following notes, please excuse the pun! Eagle Music explains here with simple explanations of all the most important things that you need to know about your harmonica. The list is written down in alphabetic order.

ABS

A moulded plastic type material that is often used for making the comb of a harmonica.

Airtight

When a harmonica is built, a vast amount of precision engineering is needed in the assembly to stop air from leaking out from between the reed plates and the comb. Reed plates that are ‘screwed on’  work better and are more airtight than reed plates that are nailed or pinned on.

In an ideal situation, air blown in or drawn out of the harmonica by the player should activate the reeds being played and leak out nowhere else. If air is leaking from some part of the structure of the harmonica it can be said that the harmonica is not ‘airtight’ and is ‘leaking’ air.

A harmonica that is airtight will be more responsive to the player and will not require excess amounts of air to play it. A bad embouchure (The use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips when playing) however, can be a problem that a player has to work on in order to develop a reliable playing technique.

Amplify – (Miking up)

There are some dedicated ‘electric’ harmonicas on the market but it is more common to play into a microphone and connect to a amplifier. Eagle Music Shop offers various solutions in amplification. The Micro Vox system is widely used for harmonica and also check out dedicated harmonica microphones like the Hohner Blues-Blaster.

Bending (Notes)

You will hear notes being ‘bent’ when you listen in particular say to a blues player. This note bending is achieved by altering slightly the pressure of the breath passing over a harmonica reed, the note of that particular reed can in this way be lowered in pitch. This works on a ten hole diatonic for draw reeds one through to six and blow reeds seven through to ten. Blow reeds one through to six and draw reeds seven through to ten cannot be bent down in pitch on a normal diatonic. Reeds on chromatic and tremolo harmonicas can also be bent down. On chromatic harmonicas  all the reeds can be bent but only by one semi-tone at the most and although it is possible to bend reeds down on a tremolo harmonicas, it is tricky to do and not widely used by players.

Comb

A harmonica is built around what is called a comb. The comb is the central part of a harmonica. The comb can be made of wood, metal or a type of plastic. The comb is the part that has the holes in it that you blow thorough!
Wooden combs can be affected by moisture. Some modern harmonicas have encapsulated wooden combs that are not affected by moisture. Metal combs are the most airtight. Some players say that wooden combs give a mellower tone to their harmonica.

Cover Plates

These are the outer parts of a harmonica. If you remove the cover plates you will be able to see the reed plates and reeds. The cover plates protect the reeds but are designed to allow sound and air to pass by them. Cover plates can be made of polished stainless steel or metal that is chrome or nickel plated or blackened. There are many designs in cover plates, and some are reputed to have better airflow profiles and ‘ergonomics’ regarding the ‘feel’ of the harmonica.

Chromatic Harmonica

A chromatic harmonica has all 12 notes of the chromatic scale available enabling the user to play in any key. On a C chromatic harmonica the button operated slide mechanism allows the player to alternate between the scales of C and C# – in effect it is like alternating between the white and black notes of the piano.

Cross Harp

This is the most commonly used ‘position’ for playing harmonica in rock, blues and Country and Western music.
When you play a C harmonica over a piece of music in the key of C this is termed First Position harmonica. If you play a C harmonica over a piece of music that is being played in the key of G this is termed Second Position harmonica or ‘Cross harp’. This position is the most user-friendly for playing melodies, riffs, effects and chordal accompaniment in rock, blues and blues-related music. To work out which harmonica you need to play in Cross Harp find out the key of the piece of music that you wish to play, then work out the fourth note of the scale of that key-that will dictate the key of the harmonica you need to play Second Position  cross harp.
eg.
G A B C D E F# G 4th is C
C D E F G A B C 4th is F etc.

Here is a chart that you can read to work out which harmonica to choose for playing in cross harp Second Position.
(coming soon)

Diatonic Harmonica

The key of a diatonic harmonica will be printed on its side/end, also on some diatonic harmonicas the 2nd position is also printed on its side/end. Diatonic harmonicas are available in all major, minor keys. eg. a C diatonic harmonica will only have the notes of the key of C, a G diatonic harmonica will only have the notes of the key of G etc.

High Harmonicas

Some of the diatonic harmonicas that we offer can be purchased also as HIGH models These are tuned an octave higher than the standard pitched models. eg. ‘High G’

Low Harmonicas

Standard diatonic harmonicas go from the lowest in pitch-G through to the highest in pitch-F#. It is possible to obtain versions of the normally high-pitched harmonicas that are tuned an octave lower in pitch. Low C, D, Eb, E and F harps are readily available, others can be made as custom instruments. High G diatonics can also be found. Hering make a low-tuned or ‘baritone’ C chromatic and the Suzuki Humming Tremolo in D is an octave lower in pitch than ‘normal’ D tremolos.

Microphone

There are some dedicated ‘electric’ harmonicas on the market but it is more common to play into a microphone and connect to a amplifier. Eagle Music Shop offers various solutions in amplification. The Micro Vox system is widely used for harmonica and also check out dedicated harmonica microphones like the Hohner Blues-Blaster.

Octaves

An octave is the interval from one note to its respective note either higher or lower.(an octave above or an octave below) For example …The seven notes in the music alphabet for are A B C D E F G When all these notes are repeated eg  A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G
all the C notes that I have highlighted in bold are an ‘Octave Apart’. It doesn’t matter what note you start on …the same principle applies. eg. here are D octaves A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G

Twelve hole forty eight note harmonicas have three octaves (Which id sufficient for most players) Sixteen hole chromatics have four octaves and you can buy special harmonicas that have more octaves.

Paddy Richter tuning

A type of tuning developed by Brendan Power …This tuning of say a diatonic harmonica gives two octave scales and makes the harmonica  better suited for playing tunes and melody.  It was developed with Irish music in mind and for playing Irish reels, jigs and hornpipes. this tuning is also suitable for other melodic music.

Plates

These are what the harmonicas reeds are fixed to (See Reed Plates below)

Reeds

Reeds are what produce the note/sound of a harmonica. reeds are made from brass, bronze or stainless steel. brass is the most common material for making reeds. Stainless  steel reeds can be found on higher prices instruments. Brass is a soft material and produces a sweet tone. Bronze reeds produce a brighter tone than brass reeds.Stainless steel reeds are stronger than brass and bronze reeds and have a longer life span, harmonicas fitted with these reeds also tend to be more expensive due to their longer life. Reeds are ‘tuned’ at the time of manufacture and in some cases can be re-tuned.

Reed Plates

Reed plates are generally made from brass plate that is machined / ground very flat and square. they have little slots milled out of them to house the individual reeds. Each individual reed has its own slot. Reeds are riveted onto the reed plate. The reed plates are screwed or nailed onto the comb. The best and most airtight harmonicas have ‘screwed-on-reed-plates’.

Re-tuning

You can’t mend reeds …but you can re-tune them. Tool kits can be bought for this purpose.
You tune reeds by gently removing material from the top surface of the reed. If you scrape/scratch near the tip of a reed, this will raise the pitch. Likewise if you do the same near the base of the reed (the riveted end) this will lower the pitch. A great amount of developed skill is required in knowing how much material to remove! Tool kits contain small, curved needle files etc. You can also use very fine emery paper wrapped around a matchstick or fine flat Swiss file.

Richter

The tuning system that is used on diatonic harmonicas. Named after its inventor Joseph Richter, a Bohemian instrument maker.

Riveted

Reeds are riveted onto the reed plate. The reed plates are screwed or nailed onto the comb. The best and most airtight harmonicas have ‘screwed-on-reed-plates’.

Slider Mechanism Button

This is the part that is activated by pressing a button on the end of chromatic harmonicas.
The sharp and flat notes are accessed by pressing in the button operated slider. When the slider is fully pressed in, it re directs air into a second set of reeds that are tuned to the sharps and flats of the scale and pitch that the harmonica is tuned to. So, when the lever is pressed in, each note in each hole of the harmonica is raised by one semitone.

Solo-Tuned

The note layout of a normal diatonic harmonica omits the fourth and sixth notes of the scale in the first octave and the seventh note of the scale in the third octave. Solo-tuning replaces these missing notes so that there are three complete octaves available. Solo-tuned diatonics tend only to be available in C. The Suzuki and Tombo tremolos are solo-tuned which makes the ideal for playing melodies.

Tremolo harmonica

Tremolo harmonicas have two reeds for each note. One of these reeds is tuned slightly sharper than the other giving a waving, tremolo effect when they are played simultaneously. Octave-tuned harmonicas are similar in construction but the two reeds for each note are tuned an octave apart.

Valved

Chromatics have small flaps of plastic called valves covering the reed slots (on the opposite side to the reeds obviously!). These maintain the air-tightness of the instrument. They also mean that that reeds can be blow and draw bent. Suzuki do a valved version of their Promaster. This tends to be a more responsive and louder instrument than the un-valved version and has the added bonus that blow reeds in holes 1-6 and draw reeds in holes 7-10 can be bent down in pitch thus increasing the range of notes available.

Wooden body

A wooden comb this is the central part of the harmonica upon which the reed plates sit-the bit with the holes in it! It can be made of wood, plastic or metal.

Harmonica Buyers Guide – Simplified explanations to help your buying decision

Eagle Music explains here the types of music that can be played on the harmonica and the most suitable type of harmonica including chromatic and diatonic harmonicas, solo tuned and tremolo harmonicas. How  to choose them for your kind of harmonica music.

Harmonicas can be supplied in multitudes of makes, types, sizes and musical keys. Some of the popular types include Diatonic, Chromatic, Tremolo and Octave tuned. To make it easy and simple for your first choice of harmonica, Eagle Music explains here the types of music that can be played on them and the most suitable type of harmonica to choose.

If you are an absolute beginner we recommend that you buy a ten hole single reed diatonic harmonica in the key of C (these are also our lowest priced harmonicas. But don’t go for the cheapest in the range! the better the quality of the instrument that you buy, the more reliable and easier it will be to  play). Diatonic harmonicas are also called  ‘Harp’ or ‘Blues Harp’, they are used by many professionals playing Rock, Blues, Jazz, Folk and Country Music.

Diatonic harmonicas are ‘Richter’ tuned which means they do not have all the notes of the scales throughout their range of octaves, they only have one full major scale.

Nearly all  tutor books for beginners are written for a C harmonica and on any accompanying CDs or DVDs the player on the CD/DVD will be playing a harmonica in the key of C.

Spare reed plates are readily available for many of the many of the diatonic harmonicas that are sold by Eagle Music Shop. If you are ‘handy’ it is more cost effective to fit a replacement set of reed plates than it is to replace the whole harmonica.

If you are a proficient musician you may want to consider buying a Chromatic Harmonica that has a wide range of noted including sharps and flats that are accessible by pressing in a slider that opens another set of reeds in the harmonica.

Solo-Tuned harmonicas are excellent for playing tunes and solos because they have all the notes of the scale (relative to the key that the particular harmonica is tuned in) throughout their range of octaves.

Types of Music and a Simple Guide to choosing the correct harmonica

Irish and Scottish dance and folk music

A diatonic in the key of ‘G’ is a good start …Popular models for Irish music are the Seydel range, Suzuki Pro-master, the Hohner Golden Melody,  Lee Oskar and Hering models.

For Scottish music, harmonicas in the key of A are much used.

The best tremolo models are either the Tombo Band Deluxe or a Suzuki Humming Tremolo. The best chromatics brands are Seydel, Hering, Hohner and Suzuki.

General guide in choosing for Irish and Scottish music.

Diatonic Harmonicas

To play reels, jigs etc. it helps if you have an airtight, responsive, well-tuned harp. The best available ‘off-the-shelf’ models have either a plastic or metal comb (the bit in the middle!). Models we recommend are: Seydel, Cross Harp, Meisterclass, Golden Melody, Suzuki Pro Master, Lee Oskar by Tombo and Hering Blues & Black Blues.

Tremolo Harmonicas

Tremolo harmonicas are also a good choice for Irish music because  they have a pleasant, accordion-like sound, well suited to folk music. They are generally tuned like diatonics e.g. on a 3-octave harp – the 1st octave is DO RE MI SO SO TI DO. 2nd octave is full. 3rd octave is DO RE MI FA SO LA DO. This can be restrictive, for instance, many tunes played on a ‘D’ whistle would fall outside the scope of a ‘D’ tremolo. Also it is very difficult to bend notes on a tremolo harmonica. One answer is to buy a great big one (4 to 6 octaves!), another is to purchase a model which is solo-tuned, ie all its octaves are full. The Tombo ‘Band Deluxe’ is an excellent choice.

Chromatic harmonicas

Physically the easiest type of harmonica to play folk music with as it is not essential to perform difficult bends and a full chromatic scale is available. They are however, a very different instrument to the 10 hole diatonic. At |Eagle Music shop we recommend the Seydel, Hohner and Hering range. If you are ever around the Manchester area, look up Mat Walklate: an excellent traditional player of these instruments.

Blues Music

A diatonic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Lee Oskar by Tombo.

R&B, Rock and pop music

A diatonic. or in some cases a chromatic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Lee Oskar by Tombo.

Classical Music

A Chromatic. Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner and Suzuki.

Jazz Music

A Chromatic and in some cases a diatonic ..Choose a quality harmonica made by Seydel, Hering, Hohner, Suzuki and Le Oskar by Tombo.

Please read our section ‘Types of Harmonica’ with detailed notes for all the popular specific types of harmonica.

Concertinas Explained – The Anglo, The English and The Duet

We describe here the differences of the three main types of Concertina. The Anglo Concertina. The English Concertina and the Duet Concertina and the music that each type is best suited for playing on Wheatstone, Lachenal and Jeffries type Concertinas.

All the way back in the year 1829 a gentleman by the name of Charles Wheatstone invented the concertina! The other great makers were Crab, Lachenal, Jeffries and McCann. In almost two hundred years the instrument and the way it is played has little changed. if you are lucky you may still find yourself a Wheatstone or other make vintage concertina …the restored old ones are still considered the best, but there are many modern instruments on the market that more than do the job.

The concertina is the smallest and most compact instrument of the squeezebox family, it was the type of squeezebox that was favoured by the sea going men in the early 19th century because it was easy to stow away in their small sea chest. You will often see modern folk musicians singing sea shanties and being accompanied by a concertina.

It is a lightweight and relatively easy-to-handle instrument and is both versatile for playing tunes, song or dance music accompaniment. The two most popular types are the Anglo and the English and thirdly the Duet which is the least common and least available to find or buy in modern times.

On concertinas you play the higher notes with the right hand and the lower notes with the left hand.

The Anglo Concertina produces a DIFFERENT NOTE on the ‘push’ and on the ‘pull’.
The English Concertina produces the SAME NOTE  on the ‘push’ and on the ‘pull’.

Anglo Concertina

The Anglo Concertina is the one most favoured by Irish Music players. There are 20 key and 30 key models available. The G/C tuned instrument is the choice for playing Irish Music. The 20 key model is limited for the number of octaves that can be played on it, but it is fine for beginners. A 20 key Anglo Concertina along with the book ‘Absolute Beginners Concertina’ by Mick Bramich will soon have you on your way to playing Irish Music.

The 30 key G/C Anglo Concertina is the ‘must have’ concertina for playing Irish Music.
A 30 Key G/C Anglo Concertina box along with the Book ‘The Irish Concertina’ by Mick Bramich you have the best squeezeBox and tuition method for becoming a proficient concertina player.

English Concertina

The English Concertina, as it is called,  is the one most favoured by English Folk Music players. However, there are some great players of the English concertina that play ‘Irish Music’ So, it is not set in stone that it is purely an English Concertina! There are 30 key and 48 Key models available. The instrument is chromatic and gives the player the note on the push and on the pull no matter which way the bellows are moving, the same as a piano accordion. for beginners, the Book ‘Handbook for English Concertina’ by Roger Watson is a good start, but check out all the other material available from Eagle Music.

Duet Concertina

The Duet Concertina is the least common and least available to find or buy in modern times. There are three duet ‘systems’ that were  invented in the 19th century by Jeffries, McCann and Crane. Crane’s Duet Concertina ‘system’ was also known as The Triumph Concertina. The Duet is actually a versatile concertina which plays the same note on the push and on the pull in the same way as the English Concertina The high notes are played on the right side and the bass notes are played on the left side, the same as most concertinas. The problem with playing Duet Concertinas, if it is a problem! is that all the three main makers laid the keys out in a different order.

From time to time we have some vintage concertinas in stock. Its always a good idea to check, you may find yourself a fully restored Wheatstone, Crab, Lachenal, Jeffries or a McCann Duet!

Squeezebox jargon demystified – Eagle Music explain the most used terminology

Eagle Music lists below the most used terminology in the squeezebox world and gives simple explanations of all the buzz words and jargon like Musette, Cajun, Dry Tuning, Wet Tuning, Anglo Concertina, Diatonic, Chromatic etc. The list is alphabetical and non exhaustive!

Accordeon

What purists might call a European melodeon or a continental chromatic squeezebox.

Accordion

A squeezebox with bellows, that has buttons or  keys or a combination of both.

Air button

A button or lever that is situated near to the players left bass end operating hand. It enables the player to ‘let air in’ or ‘let air out’ of the bellows.

Anglo concertina

A concertina that plays a different note ‘on the push’ and ‘on the pull’. The popular sizes are described as ‘20 key’ and ‘30 key’. The popular tuning for Irish music is G/C.

Back strap

A strap located at the back of the player …When fitted, the ‘back strap’ pulls together and holds  the two shoulder straps in place. This gives extra stability to the accordion player.

Bellows

The central part of an accordion. The bellows holds and stores air. When the player presses the buttons or keys of an accordion, this transfers the air to the reeds and makes the voices sound.

Bellows strap

Normally two of these are fitted to an accordion (one at the top and one at the bottom) they hold the bellows together for safe transit, or when the accordion is not in use.

Bellows tape

Special cloth backed tape that is glued onto the edges of the bellows to hold them together and it also protect the edges of the bellows.

Bellows pin

Small metal domed pins that hold the bellows to the casing of a squeezebox.

Button accordion

It looks the same as a melodeon but it is a chromatic instrument eg.. On a 2 row box the reeds are tuned an interval apart eg. B/C or D/D# or C#/D etc. A three row Button Accordion could be in the key B/C/C# etc.

Buttons

The small round ‘buttons’ that the fingers press on a melodeon or button accordion to sound the reeds.

Cassotto

The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. ‘The Box’ is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Castagnari

A top quality Italian melodeon  maker.

Cajun music

Cajun music is often couple and mentioned at same time as  the Creole-based Cajun-influenced zydeco form of music  which are both of the Acadiana origin. This type of music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada and also is an emblematic music of Louisiana, USA.

Cassotto

‘The Box’ this is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Chin switches

These are a type of ‘Treble Voice Switch’ located above the treble keyboard. The player does not have to move their hand away from the playing position to change voices, this makes them very easy and convenient to use.

Chromatic

A squeezebox that can be played in and out of the rows to access all the notes including sharps and flats of a chromatic scale.

Continental chromatic

In simple terms, you could think of this instrument as being a Piano Accordion that has buttons rather that keys! because you get the same note on the push and pull the same as on a Piano Accordion.

Converter bass (Also see Free Bass)

An accordion fitted with a converter bass system is the most versatile squeezebox regarding  the left hand. The left hand bass end of the squeezebox has ‘switches’ to change between standard Stradella and ‘Free Bass’.

Couplers (also called Registers, Switches and Stops)

These are the ‘selector switches’ that are found on squeezeboxes. they are used to select the number of ‘voices’ that can be playing at any one time. Accordions that have a more than two voices are often tuned to different octaves of each voice. An accordion that is described as ‘Octave Tuned’ will have a voice tuned an octave higher than the middle voice and a voice tuned an octave lower than the middle voice.

They have small dots or indentations on them to indicate the number of voices that the coupler will ‘switch on’.
eg. The coupler switch with one dot on it will play only one voice, and if it is the higher octave single reed that is chosen, it will sound something like a concertina.

Depending on how many voices the particular squeezebox has, will determine how many couplers there are. The voices can come tuned to different octaves. On say a three voice accordion, you will be able to select the higher tuned reeds, the lower tuned reeds and the middle tuned reeds in a number of different combinations. On a four voice accordion that is musette tuned, you will can select and play on the three musette tuned reeds. etc.

Crane

A make of duet concertina from the 19th century.

Diatonic tuning

Diatonic. eg. A/D, D/G, G/C etc. (a 5th apart) – Chromatic. eg. B/C, C#/D, D/D# etc.

Double casotto

The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. ‘The Box’ is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Double Ray

A button accordion model made by Hohner.

Dry tuning

When two voices or more are tuned to the same to concert pitch (No tremolo).

Duet concertina

The Duet Concertina is the least common and least available to find or buy in modern times. There are three duet ‘systems’ that were  invented in the 19th century by Jeffries, McCann and Crane. Crane’s Duet Concertina ‘system’ was also known as The Triumph Concertina.

English

A type of music eg. Morris Dance Music or a concertina that plays the same note on the push and the pull.

Four stop

A one row melodeon that has ‘four stops’ for selecting different reed playing combinations.

Four voice

A box that has four banks of reeds.

Free bass

An accordion  bass system that is favoured by Baroque, folk and some classical players.
Unlike the stradella bass system, ‘Free  Bass’ means that all the left hand buttons play a different note! …this makes the instrument very versatile and gives the player a massive range of musical notes. Classical, piano and organ music can be played with little need for re arrangement.

Fret worked

The way the pattern is cut on the front/grille of a squeezebox, it can metal or wood that is fretworked.

Grille

Located at the front of the squeezebox, the grille is normally fancy, fretworked and displays the makers logo.  it’s job however, is to cover and protect the workings (valves etc.) of the accordion. The grille lets out the treble sound, but it can also be designed and made in a way that it can mute the treble sound.

Hohner

A German accordion maker, probably the World’s best known.

Jeffries

A make of concertina from the 19th century.

Key

The signature of a piece of music eg. the key of C major.

Keys

The black and white keys found on a piano accordion.

Lachenal

A make of concertina from the 19th century

Master bar selector switch

Some sqeezeboxes are fitted with a bar that runs the length of the treble keyboard, it is located at the outer edge of the keyboard. When pressed in it switches in all the voices. It can be operated easily by the heel of the players hand, it springs back automatically to it’s outer position immediately after it is pressed in. very useful in that The Master Bar enables the player to switch on the master set of voices without taking any  fingers away from the playing position.

McCann

A make of duet concertina from the 19th century.

MIDI

Music Instrument Digital Interface.
Introduced in the mid 1980s for accordionists. The MIDI system means that in simple terms, the accordion is fitted with an interface controller, when a note is played it is sent to a sound generator or ‘slave’ as it is called, which instantly plays the same note through an amplifier. A MIDI kit can be fitted to any old accordion by specialist installers.

Musette tuned

Musette describes three reeds in the same octave that sound at the same time. A WET musette tuning would be when one set of reed voices is tuned in concert pitch, one set is tuned sharp, and the third set is tuned flat. this very strong tremolo effect was made popular by the renown Scottish accordionist Jimmy shand. A dry musette tuning that would be desired for Irish music would be when the three reeds voices are tuned as close as possible to concert pitch.

Octave tuned

Accordions that have a more than two voices are often tuned to different octaves for each voice. An accordion that is described as ‘Octave Tuned’ will have one of it’s voices  tuned an octave higher than the middle voice and a voice tuned an octave lower than the middle voice.

One row

A melodeon that has one row of buttons on the treble end.

One voice

A squeezebox that has just one single bank of reeds on the treble end.

Piano accordion

An accordion that has black and white ‘piano type keys’.

Pitch

A reed is tuned to a certain musical ‘pitch’ . Small reeds produce higher pitched notes and vibrate much faster than bass reeds. As such, bass reeds need to be longer and thicker than treble reeds …in fact the longer and thicker the reed, the lower will be the the pitch. bass reeds move much slower than treble reeds. When you press the bellows harder and force more air through a reed, it doesn’t make the reed move any faster, it just increases the volume of the note.

Pokerwork

A one row or two row melodeon model made by Hohner. It is names after the pokerwork type pattern on the casing.

Reeds

Reeds are what produce the note/sound of a squeezebox. Steel is the most common material for making reeds. The thin steel reed is riveted onto an aluminium reed plate. The reed plate has a slot in the middle which allows the reed to move freely in the slot. When air from the bellows is passed through the slot the reed vibrates and produces sound at the pitch of the note that the reed is tuned to. Reeds are ‘tuned’ at the time of manufacture and in some cases can be re-tuned. The reeds are mounted onto wooden reed blocks. To moderate and conserve air, reeds are fitted with plastic ‘wind-savers’ or ‘leathers’ as they are also made from soft leather. Some people also call them  ‘valves’.

Reeds types

The playability, sound and general quality of a squeezebox can be attributed to the reeds that it is fitted with. reeds come in four different quality levels. the general quality may vary depending on the source of the particular reed.

Hand made reeds

A squeezebox fitted with hand made reeds is much more responsive to the player, these reeds respond to gentle use of the bellows to extreme pressure placed on them by the player. Each reed plate is hand made from Dural (a  type of string aluminium developed for the aircraft industry). It is hand worked deburred and polished to a fine finish. The high grade steel used for the actual reed tongue is heat tempered which leaves a visible blue sheen on the edges of the reed. When the reeds are fitted to the reed blocks with wax, the base of the reed plate may be smeared with a layer of wax, this is another sign to tell you that the reeds are hand made.

Hand finished reeds

This reed and plate is hand finished in that the maker fits the steel reed tongue by hand. There is a lesser degree of quality and finish relating to the reed plate itself which will be duller and less shiny than a hand made reed plate.

Tipo A Mano. ‘hand made type’

‘Tipo A Mano’ when translated from Italian to English means ‘Imitation hand made Type’ This reed and plate looks similar to a genuine hand made reed and is normally made on an larger plate, in fact the top quality ‘Tipo A Mano’ reeds that are made from the best quality steel with some degree of hand finishing, can be as good as some of the hand made reeds.

Commercial or factory made

Factory made reeds are less expensive to produce and this is reflected in the cost of instruments compared with the ones fitted with hand made reeds.

Factory made reeds plates are smaller, and made from a lower grade aluminium.

they are almost entirely machine made with a little hand finishing. They still play well and sound good, but a box fitted with them in the hands of a professional player will not be as responsive as hand made reeds.

Registers (also called couplers, switches and stops)

These are the ‘selectors’ that are found on squeezeboxes for selecting the number of  ‘voices’ that can be playing at any one time. The often have small dots on them to indicate the number of voices that you are selecting. eg. the coupler with one dot on it will play only one voice and sound a something like a concertina. Depending on how many voices the particular squeezebox has will determine how many couplers there are. the voices can come tuned to different octaves. On say a three voice box, you will be able to select the higher tuned reeds, the lower tuned reeds and the middle tuned reeds in a number of different combinations. On a four voice accordion that is musette tuned you can select and play on the three musette tuned reeds.

Rotella

A rotating thumb screw that adjusts the hand strap on a squeezebox.

Saltarelle

A top quality French designer / Italian accordion company. The first choice for many professional players.

Stops

Stops or Registers are Knobs or Switches or Levers that are operated by the player allowing different combinations of sound from the selected reed banks.

Stradella

The layout pattern of the bass buttons on a swueezebox.

Strap bracket

Metal fitments that the shoulder straps are fitted to, normally one at the top and one underneath an accordion.

Swing tuning

Swing. When one reed is tuned in concert pitch and the other is tuned slightly sharp. Somewhere between Wet and Dry

Three row

A squeezebox that has three rows of buttons on the treble end.

Three voice

A squeezebox that has three sets of reeds on the treble end …ie. three reeds can sound at the same time.

Thumb straps

On lighter weight squeezeboxes a shoulder strap may not be needed. One or even two row melodeons may have a thumb strap fitted on the treble end.

The thumb strap is for the thumb of the right hand, and is mostly used on lighter concertinas and bandoneons, where shoulder straps are not needed.

Tone chamber

‘The Box’ this is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Tuning

In simple terms, the three different tunings of reeds for accordions are what is called Wet, Swing and Dry tuning.

Wet Tuning is where the reeds are tuned apart to give a wavering / tremolo effect. eg. on a two voice box one reed would be tuned to concert pitch and the second reed would be tuned sharp …the sharper the second reed is tuned …the wetter the sound. On a three voice WET tuned accordion one reed would be tuned to concert pitch and the second reed would be tuned sharp the third reed would be tuned flat …the sharp and flat reeds beating against the reeds that are tuned to concert pitch gives a very WET sound. Wet tuning is the most accepted for Scottish music. Jimmy Shand being one of the great players that made this tuning popular in Scottish music.

Swing Tuning is the most common tuning for instruments bought ‘off-the-shelf’ and can be accepted in most genres of music. Swing Tuning falls in the middle of Wet and Dry. The reeds are tuned slightly apart which gives the a slight amount of tremolo, but a little more body to the sound.

Dry Tuning is where two voices or more are tuned to concert pitch. Dry tuned accordions are the most widely accepted in Irish music and can be likened to a concertina ‘sound’.

Two row

The number of rows of buttons on a melodeon or button accordion.

Two and a half row

A squeezebox that has two rows of buttons on the treble end, with the addition of half row of extra buttons situated above the two rows …the extra buttons give the player ‘accidental notes’ these notes can be notes that are repeated from the two rows for easier access to the player, or they can be  notes that don’t exist on the standard tuned  two row box.

Two voice

A squeezebox that has two sets of reeds on the treble end …ie. two reeds can sound at the same time.

Valves

Located inside the squeezebox under the grille, you will find sound ‘holes’ that are covered by moveable wooden blocks, these wooden blocks have ‘pads’ fitted to them, they are known as the ‘valves’.
When the buttons and keys are pressed on a squeezebox, spring loaded levers are operated that lift and lower the valves to let air into the reeds.
Also the Small plastic ‘wind savers’ that cover the reeds to conserve air in a squeezebox
are sometimes called valves.

Voices

Voices refers to the number of reeds per note in an instrument. E.g 1 voice = 1 reed, (sounds like a concertina) 2 reeds = 2 voices, 3 reeds = 3 voices. etc.

Wet tuning

Wet or Tremolo. When one reed is tuned in concert pitch and the other is tuned sharp – sharp enough to set up a fast tremolo beat between the reeds.

Wheatstone

A make of concertina from the 19th century …Charles Wheatstone invented the concertina in 1829.

Zydeco

Cajun music is often couple and mentioned at same time as  the Creole-based Cajun-influenced zydeco form of music  which are both of the Acadiana origin. This type of music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada and also is an emblematic music of Louisiana, USA.

Squeezebox Buyers Guide – melodeon, accordion, concertina

Eagle Music demystifies the main differences between a Melodeon, Button Accordion, English Concertina, Anglo Concertina and Piano Accordion. The types of music that are best suited for playing English folk music and traditional Irish music styles are all explained.

You may have heard someone playing a squeezebox at a festival, session or village summer event somewhere and thought  to yourself  ‘I would like  to do that’. However, to the beginner, the melodeon, button accordion, concertina and piano accordion all sound similar! Eagle Music helps you here and gives you specialist advice that will help you to make the right choice and not waste your money on the wrong squeezebox. We need to make  you aware that there are many retailers in the UK that don’t specialise in accordions, and out of their own ignorance  would sell you the wrong instrument.

The popular types of squeezebox that we shall explain are Concertina, Melodeon, Button Accordion and Piano Accordion. Please see the specific technical sheets for each instrument.

Here we explain the popular types of music suited to the squeezebox.

English Music

The most popular squeezebox that you will see in the hands of Morris Dance Music players is the two row Melodeon in the key of D/G (you will also see concertinas and piano accordions used by these players which we shall explain further on in these technical notes), the D/G melodeon will give you that rhythmic bouncy style which is achieved because you have to change the bellows direction to play notes that are the same as their accompanying chords on the bass end of the instrument.

There are also one row melodeons which are just as hard to learn to play, but are limited to the diatonic key on the single row. (for the one row melodeon,  the key of  D is the most popular) For English music players, the D/G Hohner Pokerwork has been the ‘industry standard’ if you like for beginners that want a tried and tested quality box, that has the ‘authentic strident sound’ at a fair price. On a D/G melodeon you can access playing in the major keys of A D E G and the minor keys of A minor B minor and C. Accomplished players can spider around the buttons, substitute notes here and there and play in more keys! For beginning to play the melodeon we recommend the Hohner Pokerwork Pack with detailed instructions from Dave Mallinson …a most respected English and Irish music melodeon player. The Hohner Pokerwork will give you the best value when you compare quality with price, nothing on the market can beat it. the Pack also included a deluxe Extreme Protection ‘Mally Bag’ which is the accepted way to carry a melodeon.

Its amazing how soon a beginner can get a tune out of a melodeon. Learning from the ‘Mally’ method book and CD you will soon be playing tunes and on your way to playing in the local sessions or joining your local Morris side! The amount of practise that you put in will decide how good you will become as a player.

The English Concertina and Piano Accordion is also used in English folk music, please see the separate sections for English Concertina and Piano Accordion

Irish Music

The squeezebox is a wonderful instrument for playing traditional Irish music, and there is a wealth of of brilliant players that have produced recorded music that you can listen to for each type of squeezebox. By listening to these recordings you will be inspired, and they will also help to develop your style and feel. The most popular squeezebox for Irish music is the B/C button accordion However, there are some great players using the diatonic D/G melodeon. The B/C system has been most  favoured since the 1940s and early 1950s when Irish players such as Paddy O’Brian started to develop the modern B/C playing system. The Hohner Double Ray Black Dot is an excellent B/C starter Button Accordion that is excellent value when you compare quality and price …the Saltarelle ‘Irish Bouebe’ is also one of the fair priced, best sounding Irish music squeezeboxes. Along with the book ‘The Box’ or one of our instruction tuition DVDs you will soon be on the ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ as a player!

The Anglo Concertina the Piano Accordion and the Melodeon are also popular squeezeboxes for playing Irish Traditional Music. The English Concertina can also be used for playing Irish music. Please see the specific technical  sections for each specific type of squeezebox.

European Music

The most popular keys for melodeon in the rest of Europe is G/C and C/F …G/C being the predominant key. The keys of G/C and C/F are also typical and excellent keys for songs and many singers sing  in the keys of G C and F. The Hohner Pokerwork and many of the excellent squeezboxes in the Saltarelle range are available in the keys of G/C and C/F. Not books or tuition material is available here in the UK for playing European music. The book Bal Folk is also a great  book which contains 214 tunes, mostly from Central France and will be of interest to anyone who enjoys playing French music, or playing for French dancing. The tunes are suitable for melodeon, fiddle and accordion, and many will also fit within the range of bagpipes and hurdy gurdy. Dansons La Morvandelle! A Collection of Traditional French Dance Tunes From the Morvan is also available from Eagle Music. ‘Le livre du Débutant’ is a useful G/C tutor and can be obtained.

Cajun Music

Cajun music is often couple and mentioned at same time as  the Creole-based Cajun-influenced zydeco form of music  which are both of the Acadiana origin. This type of music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada and also is an emblematic music of Louisiana,USA.

The French Louisiana sounds of Cajun Music  have influenced American popular music for many decades, and can be found especially in country music. They have also influenced the pop culture and strains of the music can be heard in much pop music.

Cajun music can be played on a diatonic squeezebox, but a dedicated One Row, Four Stop is best suited for the Cajun sound and style of playing. The first choice would be a One row, four stop melodeon tuned in C. It is possible to play in the key of G on this instrument and you will find that the Cajun music player will often play in the Second Position which is the same as a blues harmonica player playing G over the main tune in the key of C.

The usual myths and folklore surround this type of instrument as it does with many instruments …The types of wood used to make a Cajun Accordion The layout of the reeds, design etc. are all said to contribute to its unique sound …For example a ‘Genuine Louisiana Cajun Accordion’  for example has two of its four reeds laid flat on the soundboard and two of them placed upright on a block. However, there are also many
lower priced One Row instruments available that will do the job. For tuition material, we recommend you buy the Dirk Powell DVD  ‘Learn to play Cajun Accordion’ – Starting Out’ this will give you an an excellent start to learning and playing Cajun Acccordion.

Continental Chromatic Squeezeboxes

In simple terms, you could think of this instrument as being a Piano Accordion that has buttons rather that keys because you get the same note on the push and pull. However, on the continental chromatic a greater number of notes is available to the player under the span of the players hand, this makes the instrument very versatile. The layout of this instrument is quite logical relatively simple to understand there are two systems and the systems are named  …The B System and The C System.

One of the smaller sized models such as the Four Row, Sixty Bass would be our recommendation for a beginner in either system B or C. Each system has its advantages for the player and none is superior to the other.

Squeezebox Care & Maintenance – A guide to looking after your squeezebox

We are often asked how do I look after my squeezebox  and how do I clean it?

Here Eagle Music answers in simple terms the important dos and don’ts regarding general care of your squeezebox, storing, cleaning and transporting your squeezebox safely.

Eagle Music Shop offers a full tuning and repair service for squeezeboxes.

The Bellows

Take great care of the bellows on your squeezebox. this part of your box is the most vulnerable part of your instrument. Damaged and leaking bellow can make your box hard to play and cause you to put more effort into your playing than is needed. Check before playing that you don’t have a belt buckle or other part of your clothing that is rubbing on your instrument. Also watch out for buckles and metal fitting on shoulder straps that may damage your box. its also good practise to cover the buttons and keys of your box with a soft towel or cloth when you put your instrument away in its case.

Storing

In general musical instruments like the same environment as their player …conditions where it is not too hot or hot and certainly not wet or damp!
keep your instrument clean and free from dust,dirt and moisture …In a UK home, its OK to leave your out say on a table between playing sessions, in fact we encourage this as it makes you pick up the instrument more frequently to play and practise. Try to keep your instrument ‘out of the way’ on a table in a corner of the room. Never leave it near a radiator or in a window where direct sunlight can fall upon the instrument and bake it! Also, never leave your instrument stored in a cold or damp place eg. cellar, loft or out in the garage, and never leave your instrument in the back of a car!

Cleaning

Each time you have played your instrument give the keys a wipe over with a lint free cloth to remove finger marks. From time to time you may want to polish your instrument …always check that this is suitable for the finish on your instrument eg. On a modern gloss finish, always choose a non-smear wax free polish. Never use abrasive cleaners as this can damage finishes.

Transporting

Care of your instrument during transportation really depends on where it is being transported to, and how it is being transported. Hard-shell cases, Mally Bags and accordion rucksacks  have their pros and cons. It can be said that a padded gig bag is sufficient to take your instrument out to the pub or a jam session.But please note …when using a gig bag, you must always remember that your instrument can still be damaged if you don’t take extreme care of how you handle it, how you put it down and where you leave it …other persons can sit on your gig bag! Also, If you are a gigging musician, It wouldn’t be a good idea to put your gig bag/ instrument in the back of a van or in the boot of a car with PA gear and other hard objects! We recommend a hard-shell case always for gigging musicians. If you’re travelling by by airplane we recommend a hard-shell or even better a flight case. Also, for added protection  ‘bubble wrap’ your hard-shell case before letting it go in the hold of an airplane …the handling of baggage at airports can be very rough!

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