Unpublished interview with Bob Tedrow and David Knowles, Wall
Street Journal writer.
1. What got you started making concertinas?
Bad Luck? I should have invented a new
replacement heart valve or something of a more practical nature.
I have been building and tinkering with musical instruments since I was
a young boy. My departed grandmother Belle played the piano in a
hot stride style, drove a 1954 MG TD and was a talented artist.
She smelled of turpentine and cookies. I drive a
1928 Model A Ford and carry a mildly carcinogenic air of gasoline,
lacquer and mahogany dust. Perhaps I can blame my inclination to
music, benchwork and wire wheels on her, but I suspect a large part of
my interest in building concertinas is a mix of mild obsession and a
lack of fiscal responsibility. Than being said, the concertina
is a marvelous and fascinating piece of 19th century history.
What other instrument combines reeds, springs, levers, fancy
woodwork, clever leatherwork, beautiful tone, lovely old
time appeal and flexible musical utility with the portability of
a six pack of beer?
2. How long have you been making them?
I traded a violin for an old Wheatstone concertina
sometime in the 80's. The concertina had been rode hard and put
away wet one too many times and was in very poor condition. Of
course I took it apart right away and did the best I could to repair
the leaks in the bellows and make new pads. I had been working as
a woodwind repairman for several years at that point. I am
loathe to report that I took every reed and spring and lever out
of that concertina, soaked the evicerated remains in a bucket of water
to see how the woodwork and bellows were built and recorded the
dimensions of each piece as it slowly fell apart. I used this
information to build several bad concertinas. Each concertina I
built was less bad, then gradually tolerable. After several
hundred attempts and twenty years of practice, I am pleased to report
my concertinas are performing reliably and musically all over the world.
3. Can you describe your philosophy as a craftsman? You mentioned not
using any machines, etc.
Perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration. I do make use of
electricity to power my table saw, scroll saw, drill press, joiner etc.
I do not own computer driven cutting machines. All the
parts of a concertina, and there are hundreds of them, are assembled
and adjusted by hand. Each lever and spring is carefully balanced
so that it feels positive and correct. All the reeds must be
tuned and set by hand, there are over one hundred reeds in some of my
All the fretwork in the top is cut by hand with a scroll saw. Of
course the leather bellows are built by hand. One of the
benefits of working by hand is that I can build instruments to
any dimensions or design to suit myself or a customer. I work
slowly and carefully and would no doubt be fired quickly from any
factory production line. On the other hand, I still have all my
fingers. I have managed to keep all ten of them out of harms way
in the shop. Not all woodworkers can say that.
I build musical instruments and send them to places I will never
see. I build them to last for one hundred years. I like to
know they are in kitchens and pubs and porches all over the world.
It's also a nice way to say hello to my great great
grandchildren one day.
4. Why is a concertina a good instrument buy for tough economic times?
You can fudge this one.
I will say the concertina is easily learned and easily played. To
play it gives you a standing invitation to join every social circle.
It's companionship is irresistible. For accompanying
singing, its mellow harmony has so superior. By golly.
5. How many concertinas do you make each year?
I can manage to get out maybe 24. Not very impressive I am afraid.
6. Who are some of your clients? Any notable musicians? Or people that
our readers may have heard of? If not, no worries.
Hmm. famous concertina player is a oxymoron. I built
an instrument for Matt Hensley of Flogging Molly, Jeff Taylor, a
Nashville studio player has used one of my instruments on some records
with Ricky Scaggs. Most of my instruments end up in the
hands of professional people between the ages of 45 and 55 who live
near large bodies of water, no kidding. I have concertinas in
notable places all over the world.
7. Can you describe your opinion of Wheatstone concertinas, or other
makers of note? Is there an ultimate concertina you aspire toward
May I list them? Wheatstone, Dipper, Crabb, Suttner, Herrington,
Morse, Marcus, Norman, Edgley,Carroll, Thomas, Johnson, Wakker. I
am deeply flattered and honored to be mentioned in the same breath as
all these fine living craftpersons, who share my interest and
enthusiasm for an instrument that has been played by thousands since
its invention in the early 1800's.