Paul Hardy's Lachenal Concertina - 27590
Pictures of Lachenal 27590 before restoration
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. 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
The general condition was good for an instrument of its age. The keys still have pitch names on their tops, and the red 'C' keys are still totally red,
indicating that it has not been played much over the past 130 years!
It was *not* in modern concert pitch, nor in equal temperament - see section below.
The leather valves had drooped as the machine has been stored on its end, as well as stiffening, so they needed replacing, which Liz had done.
Its pads had not been replaced for many decades (if ever), and would need doing to get it playing well. However they work now for trying it out.
In all, it was generally playable, solo, as-is, but needs retuning to modern pitch (possibly staying in meantone temperament).
Original Tuning and Temperament
This concertina came *not* in modern concert pitch – it was still at A=450 (rather than A=440) so about a quarter-tone (35 cents) sharp.
This was probably intended as old London philharmonic pitch, usually indicated as A=452.
Retuning to concert pitch is a non-trivial task – filing the right amount of metal off 96 reeds! It was however in tune with itself,
so could be played by itself, or with a singer, or a violin – but not with a piano or other fixed tune instrument.
On further investigation, there was an additional important point to note about the tuning - it was not in equal temperament, where all the semitone intervals are the same size, like a modern piano.
I believe that it was in a meantone tuning, probably quarter-comma meantone. The enharmonic pairs of notes present on all English 48-key concertinas (Ab/G#, Eb/D#) are not tuned the same,
but the flats are sharper and the sharps flatter, to give more pure mathatical ratios for the thirds of chords, and hence sweeter harmonies.
To learn more about the fascinating art and science of musical pitch and temperament, I recommend the slim book By Ross Duffin called
"How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)".
New Tuning and Temperament
I decided to retune the concertina into a compromise tuning system:
It should be brought down from Philharmonic to modern concert pitch of A=440.
I would retain a meantone temperament (rather than equal temperament), so as to the give purer-sounding thirds and fifths similar to what it was originally.
As I wanted to be able to play it (occasionally) with other instruments in equal temperament (which is 1/11 comma meantone),
I chose Fifth Comma Meantone tuning (1/5 comma meantone) rather than the original 1/4 comma. By choosing Fifth comma, and centreing this temperament on A, it had the advantages:
that A=440 and I could give a standard concert pitch A to fiddles etc for tuning.
It never strays more than 12 cents away from equal temperament in the keys that I generally play folk music in,
which use one flat to three sharps (F, C, G, D, A majors and their relative minors) - and most notes are a lot closer to ET.
That is acceptable in a folk music session where tuning is always 'approximate'!
Within those keys, and played by itself, it has nicer 'purer' thirds and fifths than an Equal Temperament instrument would have. That applies to chords,
but also to melodies where the brain remembers previous notes and likes to hear simple mathematical fractions of the vibration rates between them.
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 Concertina.net, 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 closer 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 Temperement 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.
But, ET fifths are already tempered from Just tuning by 11th of the syntonic comma (ET is 1/11 Comma meantone tuning),
so we need to subtract that (1.96 cents), giving about 2.34 cents as the unit to be applied 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:
|Degree||Note||ET cents||1/5MT||From ET||Whole 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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