AMPLIFYING CONCERTINAS - INTERNAL MICROPHONES
By Howard Jones
The problem with concertinas (OK, one of the problems) is that they move around too much when being played. This makes placing microphones difficult. It’s not so bad if you’re performing solo, when a number of mikes can be positioned around the instrument at a safe distance. However, if you’re playing in a band then the instruments need to be close-miked so that the microphones only pick up the sounds they are meant to, without sound spillage from other instruments nearby. With concertinas, the usual way is to place a microphone at each end, leaving hardly enough room to move the bellows, and with the constant risk of hitting the mike. The effect of this can be spectacular, especially if the sound engineer is listening through headphones at the time! There are of course systems for fixing small microphones to the instrument itself (Microvox and Accusound, for example) but the attachments can be unsightly.
I was faced with this problem when I played with The Electropathics. I was competing with a fiddle, trombone, saxophone, guitar, cello and assorted percussion. The sound engineer had to be able to pick out each instrument without spillage and balance the volume and tone for the whole band, so good sound separation was essential. Anyway, I like to be able to move, and wave the instrument about, without being tied to a mike stand, and I didn’t want to have bits of velcro stuck on my concertinas.
I was already using a tie-clip microphone on the bass-end of my melodeon. My first thought was simply to clip this to the concertina’s hand straps, but this was clumsy and uncomfortable. The solution I came up with was to fit a small tie-clip microphone inside each end of the instrument, with micro-jacks fitted into the curlicues in the metal end-plates.
This has a number of advantages:
40-key Crabb Anglo with mikes fitted - spot the jack
With leads in place
The disadvantages are:
I have used this system on two concertinas (both Anglos) for many years of band playing and found it to be effective and robust.
HOW TO DO IT
Tie-clip mikes are very small but high-quality electret microphones. They can be bought fairly cheaply from high street electronics or music shops – I got mine, along with the other components, from Tandy. Assuming you have the confidence to dismantle your concertina and can use a soldering iron, they are very simple to fit – I have no knowledge of electronics and my soldering is pretty clumsy, but I managed it!
You will need:
2 tie-clip microphone sets
2 micro jack sockets
micro jack plugs
You may also need additional microphone cable and jacks and a battery holder (see below).
Inside the instrument, showing the mike taped to the inside of the
end-plate and the lead soldered to the jack socket
Electret microphones need a power supply to work. As purchased, they have a small box attached to the lead which contains a battery and a switch, and which can be clipped to your clothing or belt. If you are playing only concertina, this may be fine, and you could even run the leads up your sleeves to make them less conspicuous! However, I had to be able to change between the concertina and other instruments; it was inconvenient to have lengths of lead dangling from my belt, and the remaining lead was too short to leave them hanging free.
To get around this, I bought a small battery holder which takes an AA battery, and has a mini jack socket on one end and a standard ¼ inch jack plug on the other. I wired up two lengths of thin microphone lead to jacks to go via a Y-splitter (as used to allow headphones to share the same socket) into the socket, and the ¼ inch jack connects to the PA. I taped up the connections with gaffer (duct) tape to avoid any movement which might cause poor connections.
So there you go. This is a simple way to get around the problem of miking a concertina, which requires little electronic knowledge or skill, doesn't damage the instrument or look unsightly, and doesn't interfere with playing.
Playing with leads connected
© Howard Jones 2000