We have been lucky enough to meet many incredible people over the years who have such great knowledge about the instruments that we are all fascinated by. The fact that the term ‘concertina’ encompasses so many different styles, variations and systems makes it an intriguing historical study. So we thought that it would be great to have some experts in this field contribute to our blog, and tell us more about their specialist subject. Today’s article is contributed by the lovely Gary Coover, the author of ‘The Jeffries Duet Concertina Tutor’, a few copies of which we currently have in stock. 

The Jeffries Duet- Gary Coover

The Jeffries Duet is an incredibly rare musical instrument that for all intents and purposes looks like a large Anglo concertina with four horizontal rows, but with buttons that play the same note whether pushed or pulled. 

Invented by Charles Jeffries in the 1890’s, it is roughly based on the layout of the Anglo and is rumored to have initially used Anglo end plates. It takes the push-pull middle row of the Anglo and expands it into two unisonoric rows, with sharps and flats and extra notes (high and low and overlap) in the top and bottom rows and around the edges. Lower notes are on the left side of the instrument, higher notes are on the right, with the left side and right side an octave apart. 

The major scale of the expanded rows is referred to as the “home key” of the instrument. This scale is played in a sawtooth pattern in the middle two rows on each side. The “C” in the middle of the left side corresponds to middle C on the piano. Jeffries Duets are fully chromatic – but playing in the home key gives best results. 

Jeffries Duets vary in size from 27 buttons to 70 buttons, and are the only duets based around a home key, typically C or B. Many have called the keyboard “totally confusing” and “incomprehensible”, but there is a basic logic to the core pattern. 

Chords are especially effective on the Jeffries Duet, and the basic patterns are easy to learn. Want to play augmented, diminished, or fancy jazz chords? Not a problem.

Would you like to play songs like “The Sunny Side of the Street, “Icicle Joe the Eskimo”, or “The Dambusters’ March”? In 1977 Free Reed Records released The Rampin’ Cat showcasing the amazing Jeffries Duet playing of Michael Hebbert on these and a variety of other traditional and British Music Hall songs. With “octaves on the right and fistfuls of chords on the left”, Michael’s brilliant and creative playing is a perfect example of what a Jeffries Duet can do at full steam.

The Jeffries Duet is especially good for oom-pah type accompaniment, with lots of bass notes readily available just to the left of the main chords. Your left-hand pinkie finger will get quite the workout, and might be really hard to train at first, but it’s the key for all sorts of really interesting bass notes, runs, and walk-downs.

Unfortunately, there are no new Jeffries Duets – the last one was made over 50 years ago, and only a few hundred were ever made, so they are very rare indeed. It is a testament to the high quality of Jeffries construction that so many have survived to the present in top working order. 

The heyday of the Jeffries Duet was in the 1920’s, and there are reports of some people converting larger Anglos into Jeffries Duets. Wheatstone built ten “A.G. (Anglo-German) Duets” between 1922 and 1930, and Crabb made at least one about that same time and another in 1969. No one has yet seen one made by Lachenal, but as Chris Algar says, “everything turns up eventually”.

Over the years, many Jeffries Duets have been converted to Anglos, with the end result being an overly heavy Anglo with too many buttons. And then there’s also the loss of a rare and valuable duet.

If you are fortunate enough to find or own a Jeffries Duet, the good news is there is now a 200-page tutor with over 80 tunes – The Jeffries Duet Concertina Tutor (Rollston Press, 2020). Only 100 years too late, but better late than never! It includes tips for beginners plus transcriptions of tunes played by Michael Hebbert, Gavin Atkin, Hidetoshi Yamashita, Nick Robertshaw, Erik House, Stuart Estell and Gary Coover. Many have QR code links to YouTube videos.

Is the Jeffries Duet for you? If you like everything from folk music to old popular songs to Tin Pan Alley, even avant garde, then it might be the perfect instrument for you. If you already play Anglo it will be confusing at first since some of the patterns are similar, but if you play keyboards the overall layout will make a lot more sense to you than the other duets. 

It’s a fun instrument to play, with lots of unusual chords and accompaniments that are easy to discover even if by accident. Listen to The Rampin’ Cat album and if you want to be able to play tunes like that then you should definitely consider the Jeffries Duet. 

In the words of Stuart Estell, “The Maccann makes me think, the Jeffries just lets me play.”

50-button Jeffries Duet in home key of C, showing patterns and overlaps