Paul Hardy's #13 Lachenal Concertina - 27590

Pictures of Lachenal 27590 before restoration

Ends Inside Label

Description of Concertina 27590

It is an English Concertina, as invented and patented by Charles Wheatstone. So it is hexagonal with 48 keys, giving the same note pushing or pulling (unlike the Anglo-German variety which have less buttons and are like a mouth organ giving different notes in the two directions). It covers four full octaves with all sharps and flats (including enharmonic pairs like G# and Ab).

The ends are flat, of veneered and polished wood, with relatively simple fretwork. The bellows are green, with four folds, having a green stars on white coloured patterned transfer on each segment.

One one end, in an oval aperture in the fretwork can be read "JOHN G. MURDOCH & Co Ltd, ENGLISH MAKE, 91 & 93 Farringdon Road, LONDON E.C.", who operated as a reseller from 1871 to 1918. But inside, the mechanism is clearly labelled "Lachenal & Co, 8 Lit. James St, Bedford Row, London". Lachenal was Wheatstone’s foreman who set up on his own in 1858. He died in 1861, but his widow used the same label until she sold the company to a group of workers in 1873, who thereafter used the label “Lachenal & Co”. So this instrument is later than 1873. At the other end (and stamped on internal parts) is a serial number - 27590, probably dating it from around 1887.

The original thin white leather baffles are still in place, bearing the number and seller's plate. It has its original box, wood with velvet lining. Unfortunately this holds it in an 'ends-up' position, which was responsible for damage to the valves (see below).

I bought it in March 2018 from Liz, a fellow member of the Chiltinas group for £260. She had bought it in 2011 off eBay, from someone who had inherited it in 2000 from their father, who inherited it from a elderly gentleman he befriended in the 1980s.

Initial state of this concertina

Original Tuning and Temperament

New Tuning and Temperament

I decided to retune the concertina into a compromise tuning system:

Fifth Comma Meantone Temperament

Fifth Comma meantone is not very common, and most references are for keyboards like harpsichords which only have 12 notes to the octave. However the English concertina has 14 buttons to the octave, although commonly now the enharmonic pairs of G#/Ab and D#/Eb are tuned the same. Originally they would have been tuned differently, with Ab being used playing in flat keys, and G# used for sharp keys. There was some discussion on, and I went and looked up reference books on music and mathematics in Cambridge University Library! I'm still not sure I fully comprehend the theory, but my logic is as follows:

The fundamental problem to solve, is that if you tune upwards in perfect fifths (which have a vibration ratio of 3:2), you do not close the 'circle of fifths' - C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, Ab, Eb, Bb, F, C. That top C is not a multiple of two of the lower C, as it should be for an octave. It is nearly, but not quite. The difference is the Pythagorean Comma. If you leave all that error in one place, it gives you a 'Wolf interval' which sounds horrid. So, there are various ways of spreading the error around in smaller chunks, so as to hide the problem. These 'temper' the pure 3:2 fraction of the fifth, and hence are called 'temperaments'.

The Syntonic Comma is the difference in pitch between two close tones with the same note name derived by different audio tuning methods: four perfect fifths versus two octaves plus a major third. The difference is the ratio of 81:80 (80/64 v 81/64). If we describe an Equal Temperament tone as being 100 cents, then the syntonic comma is 21.5 cents. So, 1/5 comma is 4.3 cents.

However, the tempering of the fifths is away from Just tuning, not from ET, and ET fifths are already tempered from Just tuning by 11th of the syntonic comma (1.96 cents) because ET is 1/11 Comma meantone tuning. So we need to subtract that amount, giving about 2.34 cents as the unit to be applied as 1/5 comma to temper each note from ET. This puts it about halfway between Just tuning and Equal Temperament.

So my table for the English concertina with 14 notes per octave, and 1/5 Comma Meantone tuning, holding A=440 is:

DegreeNoteET cents1/5MTFrom ETWhole Cents

This is what I have used in the retuning of this concertina.

Do you know anything more about this concertina ?

Use paul at paulhardy dot net to send me an email message if you know anything about this instrument.

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