Heritage Crafts

Free reed instrument making

The making of free reed wind instruments, including accordions, melodeons, concertinas and harmonicas.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently
UK – generally the South of England
Origin in the UK
19th Century
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
1 – Geoffrey Crabb is retired and sometimes makes concertinas for fun


A free reed aerophone is a musical instrument that produces sound as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame. Air pressure is typically generated by breath or with a bellows. Various free reed instruments have been invented since antiquity.

The accordion was introduced from Germany into Britain in about the year 1828. The instrument was noted in The Times in 1831 as one new to British audiences and was not favourably reviewed, but nevertheless it soon became popular. Other accordions appeared, some featuring only the right-handed keyboard for playing melodies. It took English inventor Charles Wheatstone to bring both chords and keyboard together in one squeezebox. His 1844 patent for what he called a concertina also featured the ability to easily tune the reeds from the outside with a simple tool.

Further innovations followed and continue to the present. Various buttonboard and keyboard systems have been developed, as well as voicings (the combination of multiple tones at different octaves) and different methods of internal construction to improve tone, stability and durability.


  • Metal working
  • Wood working
  • leather working
  • Industrial design
  • Illustration
  • Musical competence


  • Accordion making
  • Melodeon making
  • Concertina making
  • Harmonica making
  • Harmonium making

Issues affecting the viability

  • Despite there being a good market for making and repairing these instruments at the moment, often the dealer takes a significant percentage of the cost price.
  • Traditionally made concertinas using individual reeds that consist of five pieces per reed, with two reeds and two leather valves used for each button (for push and pull notes) are very labour intensive and consequently very expensive with makers having in some cases ten year waiting lists.
  • There is no formal education route to learning the craft, and none of the existing makers currently have an apprentice.
  • Raw materials: Most materials (brass, aluminium and steel and many woods and leathers) come from the
    EU or further afield. They are becoming much more expensive to import, if they are even available.
  • Market issues: Brexit is making it difficult to survive as the the biggest market is in Southern Ireland.
  • Market issues: increased taxes on exports to Europe may dissuade EU customers from buying British made instruments

Support organisations


Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

The following makers use a combination of fabricated and bought components.

  • AC Norman & Co – Concertina makers, antique free-reed specialists. Make and restore mainly concertinas but also Flutinas, Lap-organs, other antique accordions, harmoniums etc.
  • Marcus Butler concertinas (Marcus Butler has passed away but his company continues to make concertinas in his name)
  • Dave Cox, Marcus Music– concertinas
  • Anthony James – concertinas
  • Paul Harvey – specialises in vegan concertinas using no animal products
  • Edward Jay 

There is a list of concertina makers on the concertina.info website.

Melodeons and accordions have always been assembled by different companies, with specialist firms making and supplying reeds, buttons, bellows etc. The harmonium (reed organ), made in huge numbers in Victorian times, hasn’t been made in the UK for many years.

Other information

While there are relatively few concertina makers the number has been seen to be stable over the last 40 years.


National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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