About Kensington Concertinas

small hills on the Connemara coast

Kensington Concertinas began in 1995 as a collaboration with the late Rich Morse at the Button Box to design a quality concertina that was still affordable for people just getting into concertinas. The existing new instruments at that time were either priced too high for many people to consider, with years long waiting lists, or of such poor quality that they didn’t last for more than a few years before they started to wear out and fall apart.

The Button Box decided to focus on a high quality entry level instrument first, and I continued to develop an instrument that people could move on up to. Eventually, I developed the Kensington Concertinas, which are true concertina reeded instruments that will hold their own in comparison with the best vintage or new concertinas, without the highly inflated prices of recent years. From the beginning I have continued this process, constantly focusing on producing the best sounding, best playing, lowest maintenance instrument I could.

At the start, I decided that I wasn’t going to pursue a custom market. Customization was available from other makers to those willing to pay for it, but customization meant fewer instruments and higher prices. As a player and lover of Irish music, I decided to focus on an instrument that would be well suited to that music. I also decided to put my efforts into a well constructed instrument that had the best playing qualities and best sound I could make, with beauty built into the basic design, not from  frills or excess decoration.  I do offer handrests sized to fit the player since this helps prevent ergonomic stress issues and improves playability.

Irish music demands a fast instrument to allow clean ornamentation and session playing requires an instrument capable of a decent volume level. As a student of Noel Hill, I also knew how important a wide dynamic range was to bringing the music to life, especially in airs. Rythm provides the drive in a tune, but dynamics and note shaping is what makes them come alive. Creating an instrument that can meet all these demands has been my goal.

Originally, I wanted to produce an instrument with a sound that was close to one of Noel Hill’s wonderful Wheatstone Linotas. I also really liked the sound of some of the better Jeffries concertinas. I ended up with something in between these sounds. I found that I actually preferred this in between sound to either of the other instruments. The Jeffries reedy quality was great for melody line playing, but the higher notes would disappear in the overtones of the lower notes when you played counter notes and chords as part of a tune. Noel's Linotas were better suited to this type of playing, but while his concertinas were exceptional, Wheatstones in general had a somewhat nasal quality that too strongly colored the music for my taste. Kensington Concertinas have an overtone balance that both allows the playing of higher notes with low notes without having them get lost in the sound, and a somewhat woodwind like sound that has none of the nasal quality of most of the Wheatstones and Wheatstone copies. My focus now is not to try to duplicate the sound of another instrument, but to refine my own.

Over the years I have and will continue to make improvements in the concertinas, but the nature of the design and production methods tend to produce remarkably similar sounding concertinas. With vintage and many new concertinas, there is often a wide variation in sound from one instrument from the next, with mine there is very little. They have become more responsive and easier to play, with a wider dynamic range, but can be relied on to sound the way they should from one instrument to the next.

New concertinas of most makes sound brighter at first, but with playing, they produce a smother cleaner tone that continues to improve as they are played. Kensington Concertinas are no exception. They sound good at first, and develop a beautiful tone after a few years of playing.

Originally, I wanted to make a good affordable concertina. What I have ended up with is a concertina that, as a player, I personally prefer over all the other concertinas I’ve played. I started out wanting to make concertinas for others and instead, ended up making what I wanted for myself. 

Dana Johnson  (Plays Kensington #23 and wouldn’t trade it for anything )