Freak of the Week: The Concertone Button Harmonica


The Concertone is one part harmonica, one part accordion, made in Germany in the early 1900’s. It was also known as a Pipoleon or a Hohnerette, the “High Class Blow Accordion.”



The instrument is part of the Weird Instruments side-collection of my Cigar Box Guitar Museum which highlights strange and obscure musical instruments from the turn of the last century. This piece was purchased for $10 from “Gentleman” Al Hamilton of Eagle Auction Services in State College, PA.

The condition of this instrument was extremely poor, with a few layers of dirt, rust and pitting covering the surface. I simply purchased it because it looked cool. A little steel wool to the horn and some lemon oil to the wood brought the instrument back to an acceptable patina-covered condition for showcasing. (I’m now tempted to restore the whole thing!)


THE DIG: On a whim, I decided to take some quick photos of the Concertone and post them on Facebook, asking anyone out there if they had any information on this. The 2020 quarantine was just starting to go full bore and people were itching for something to do. Within 15 minutes, I had an army of people hitting Google and elsewhere to help me.


Because this instrument was made in Germany, many folks immediately started searching for the Hohner Company’s instruments, since they made both harmonicas and accordions. Soon, I realized that there was a hole in the back of the instrument where a mouthpiece had been. Once I posted more photos and a livestream video, we all figured out this was the grandfather of the melodeon (the mouth blown piano instrument made popular by the 80’s band, The Hooters).


The Concertone has 10 buttons, each giving two notes (one for blown ond one for draw, just like a harmonica). It’s sound is very similar to a harmonica, perhaps with a touch more body to the tone like a concertina.


Several examples can be heard on Youtube when searching for “Hohnerette.” After watching a few of these videos where the performer seems to almost hyperventilate while playing, it’s apparent why this instrument never took off!


Apparently, my Concertone was made in the Hohner factory and re-branded for non-Hohner music dealers. The original Hohnerette was featured alongside the similar Hohnerola in the 1906 edition of The Music Trade Review.


Hohner organized a band of harmonica performers to showcase their products at special events and made sure to feature the Honerette, as seen in the excerpted article below from the 1906 Music Trade Review publication.


HOHNERETTE IS POPULAR.
A Style of Blow Accordeon Much in Demand— Harmonica Concerts Now the Rage.
from The Music Trade Review, 1906
It is well known that the manufacture of blow accordeons has been characterized by an attempt to produce cheap instruments, the result being that these goods have been practically worthless from a musical point of view. A want was, therefore, felt for a real high-class blow accordeon which would rank among musical instruments.
This task was taken up and fulfilled by the production of the Hohnerette. In manufacturing this instrument the first aim is toward securing the very finest quality by using the best reeds and employing the best tuning. An instruction book is supplied free with each instrument.
There is a great demand for harmonica concerts since they were inaugurated at the recent Music Trade Exhibition, and from all appearances the Hohner band and other performers that rendered such a good account of themselves at that exhibit will have plenty of dates for the winter.
By special request, they will play for a large Swedish organization on Saturday night and have an engagement to appear before a prominent labor organization with membership of over a thousand early in December. It is only too evident that the name of Hohner will be insolubly connected with the harmonica trade in this city from now on.
This form of publicity is a very good one, and opens a way for enterprising dealers to popularize locality in which he deals. These concerts cannot fail too much toward bringing the harmonica into popular favor, as they will enable the public to appreciate the possibilities of this little instrument.
The Hohnerette was also offered in a five horn (!) version for maximum blasting power. The sad reality is, the removable bell horns add nothing to the volume or tone, but are simply there for aesthetics.



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