Castagnari Tommy D/G at the Button Box

A few weeks ago my job took me within stopping distance of Sunderland, MA, so I stopped at the Button Box. It was a great time. I met Margaret of the e-mails and got to sit among the instruments. One stood out among the rest. A used Castagnari Tommy in D/G that’s there. I enjoyed most of the instruments I tried, but this one was just magical. The feel was effortless, so very responsive. Here’s me playing “Mominette,” a scottish by Maxou, of La Chavannée fame. This tune has become my “go to” piece for trying out instruments. If I had the cash, it would be hard to pass this one up.

Correspondance with L’Accordéonaire, Part 2

Continuing my correspondence with David Maust (begun in the previous post).
__________
Hooked!
Jan. 26, 2014

Spoiler!  He goes for the Panther!
Hi Gary,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation to continue the conversation.

I especially liked listening to the various renditions of On d’onderon gardathat you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward fluidity and complexity is true. I didn’t realize the CBA had such a strong presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also really like the one on the Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.

I mentioned in my last email that I have liked playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about 16 pounds).

I appreciate what you say about enjoying the process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I’m not really concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I’ve always felt I’m a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.

As far as monetary investment goes – is there a particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?

I noticed The Button Box’s most economical diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I’ve read a lot of favorable reviews, but I’m not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher quality instrument. I’ve always felt that one should get the best instrument one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?

I also remember reading that you started with a Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching different videos is helpful, but it’s nothing like actually playing the instrument.

Thanks again for the conversation, I’ve really enjoyed it! -David
__________
Honing in on an Acquisition
Jan. 26, 2014

Hello, David,
Again, thanks for your kind words.
I agree about the difference that diatonic instruments have, even if I can’t necessarily describe it.  Even when I play guitar I tune it CGCGCC.  Very drone-y.  I play whistles, keyless flutes, and diatonic accordions. The only chromatic instrument I really play is recorder (love baroque music). And I play piano, but really just to help me figure out arrangements and such.  I like the diatonic mindset a lot. I have thought a lot about the CBA, because I love that Auvergnat style — and Weltmeister makes a good, less-expensive CBA ($1200) — but I feel like it would amount to a huge distraction from the work I’ve already done.  Just taking on the quint-tuned Dino Baffetti has stretched me quite a bit (and I love it!)  It takes me away from the simplicity your describe. If someone were to gift me one, the temptation might be too much.  But the next accordion I’m going to buy is going to be a one-row in D … whenever that happens.
About buying an accordion … you really have to try it before you buy, unless you are commissioning a new instrument from a trusted maker (Saltarelle, Castagnari, Dino Baffetti).  The cheaper accordions CAN be great, but there is a variability. I am very fond of the sound of Hohners, and I would recommend a Corso or Erica. I got VERY lucky with my first accordion (a Hohner Presswood in A/D), which was a loaned to me for a time. Then also lucky with my Corso, which had a very wide tuning and a very nice touch. I have heard good things about the Panthers and such, but really, the inherent musicality you describe in your own playing will move beyond a Panther quickly. The action of the instrument is really important.  I was happy with the Corso, but I’m much happier with the Dino Baffetti I’ve gotten, which, essentially, is a Hohner clone except made with top quality parts. I do love that Hohner sound. I see the Button Box has a Corona III that looks pretty sweet. If you did decide to go for a cheaper box, I would go for a Presswood or Pokerwork and pay to have it de-clacked.  If you do get a chance to go to some place where there might be a collection of accordions — make the pilgrimage. There’s nothing like trying them and having it suddenly “feel right”.
Gary
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Framing the Quest
Jan. 28, 2014

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the tips. I really appreciate your opinions on all this and feel I know where to go from here in looking for a particular box. It’s hard to decide since there are so many beautiful accordions out there, not just brands but keys and reed set-ups as well.

I took a look at that Corona III and you are right, it is has a remarkable sound. I also love the sound of your Dino Baffetti. But I think I will probably go with a less expensive, simpler option at this stage in my playing like a Presswood or Pokerwork like you say. I should be able to afford one of these and feel it would be a better choice than the Panther. I really liked the used Presswood and Pokerwork boxes on the Button Box’s site and watched the videos.

As far as key, I’m assuming a two row G/C will be a good tuning to start out with. I figure that’s what many players would do French folk music with. I know that hurdy gurdies that are usually G/C tuned are considered Auvernait and D/G Bourbonnais. I’m hoping for something that is a pretty standard key for my first instrument. And G/C is good for American folk stuff too which most of my local musician friends play – although I do like playing in D also… but I figure I always have my chromatic accordion for other keys if I want them.

And I’m going to do some looking around for a shop in my area (Los Angeles) and up north around San Francisco too as I’ll be up there most likely this summer for a family trip. There is an annual accordion festival near there in a town called Cotati (which is close to SF), although going to it is not an option this year for me. Still, maybe there is a shop up there.

And maybe I’ll be surprised and find something in my area too. I found out this year that one of my high schoolers is learning button accordion from his uncle. I’m sure there are more at my school who play as well;  my school is overwhelmingly Latino and accordion is plentiful in a lot of the traditional and popular Mexican music.

Thanks again for all your help! I’ve learned so much from our exchange and am deeply grateful for the chance to talk.

David

__________
After that I heard nothing. A few months letter, I checked in on David to see how the quest was going. His response.

March 23, 2014

The quest has been going well and thank you again for encouraging me along the way. I’m so happy I decided to get a diatonic box after many years of piano accordion.

After talking with the Button Box some, visiting a place in downtown Los Angeles that had a few diatonic accordions (mainly 3 rows for Norteno players, Corona, Panther, etc.), checking my budget and looking on Craigslist, I decided to buy a Hohner Panther to start myself out.

And although I really like some of the used “Presswoods” and Pokerworks on the Button Box site, I am looking for a G/C instrument and they don’t currently have any in my price range. I’m staying on the look out for one of these but in the meantime, I was able to easily get started with a Panther.

There are a lot of Panthers and Coronas on Craigslist out here in California, and I wanted to be able to play the box I was getting since I have heard the Panther’s out of factory tuning can be inconsistent sometimes. Getting one on ebay, even new just seemed scary to me.

Also, the place in downtown LA wanted 600 for a Panther and I could get one on Craigslist for 350-400. I found an older style Panther about 20 min. away, the model with the Corona-like grill (I really don’t like the newer grill) and it is in great shape. I have been really enjoying it! It is so light compared to my 60 bass piano accordion and I love figuring out tunes and just noodling around on it around the house while my kids play. And I can take it with me so much more easily than lugging the 17 pound piano accordion around!

So my plan is that I’ve got this Panther and will play it for a year or two to see how I like playing a diatonic box. I figured that if I didn’t like it as much as my piano accordion, I could sell it. But if I did like it (which I do!) then I eventually will probably sell my Panther locally on Craigslist and step-up to a nicer box.

I also got the Panther, because I thought I might like the 3 row over a 2 row. I’m undecided on this right now, but the Panther was an inexpensive way for me to try out playing essentially either a 2 or a 3 row system. I purchased Pignol &  Milleret Book 1 from the button box and am playing the Panther with this course like it is a 2 row instrument, since that is probably what I will eventually get (but that third row is tempting for shortcuts and fun stuff).

I like having this P and M as a structured course to get my fingering right from the beginning (but ouch it works my left hand pinky doing basses with four fingeres! – I’m used to Stradella bass and NO pinky). But even though I’m not doing much row crossing yet in the course, I’m amazed at how quickly I figure out the same tones and runs across the rows when picking out favorite tunes and messing around with it.

One question for you if you don’t mind… Pgnol and Milleret “deeply” suggest removing thirds. I looked this up on Mel.net and read up on it a little, and now am thinking about taping off my thirds.  I took my basses out and mapped out the thirds and I could tape them off easily (although it means taping the reeds themselves which I hesitate to do until I talk to the Button Box or Mel. net or something; I’m very careful to not touch my reeds, even breathe on them, so the idea of taping them makes me cringe). On Italian boxes, I guess thirds are on the same “port” so you can tape them at the “hole” very easily, but Hohners are not like this. If I take the ports on most of my thirds, then I will also be taping a tonic or a 5th for another chord.

Do you play with thirds? I taped my Bb at the port to see how I would like the sound (has the third on push and pull), and I do like it. I like the simplicity and un-Stradella-bass-ness of it. But maybe I’m a little jaded to Stradella-sounding basses from piano accordion playing. When I play French-Trad. things on my piano accordion, I think the Stradella-bass mucks it up on occasion. If you did remove thirds, any advice on taping them off?

Sorry I got a little long-winded, but I love getting to talk about this stuff with someone who enjoys listening. I’m sure you understand.

Thanks! David

Correspondance with L’Accordéonaire, Part 1

Very often I am asked questions along the line of “How can I get started?” or “What sort instrument should a beginner buy?” These are questions that don’t have pat answers, but they can start great conversations. David Maust, a piano accordion player who is considering the intensity of diatonicity, began such a conversation via e-mail a few months ago. Enjoy.
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Diatonic Temptation

Jan. 21, 2014

Hi Gary,
Accordion Temptation is Well Documented
I began reading your blog a couple months ago and have really enjoyed it. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your thoughtful interviews, posts and put up videos of yourself. I also love the resources as well like the tunebooks. Your site has helped both French folk music and the diatonic accordion become much more accessible for me and I was very excited to find it.
I have a question for you, and I understand if you are busy and may not have a lot of time. If so, no worries, but still, I just have to ask. What is the experience of playing the diatonic accordion compared to a piano accordion? How does the instrument affect the music, especially for playing French folk dance tunes?
I’m aware the answer to this question may be obvious to most diatonic accordion players, but I ask because I am trying to decide whether this is an instrument I want to buy; I’m just not sure yet if this is an investment that is the right one for me. I’ll give a little background so you know where I’m coming from.
Right now I have a nice 60 bass piano accordion that I have been playing for about 10 years (it’s a German made Castiglione that has a nice musette setting and also a low set of reeds that I like the sound of too, especially when played dry with an upper register reed – in all it has 5 switches but I usually play the musette switch). It is a nice size compared to a full size accordion, but it is still much heavier than a diatonic accordion. I have played piano all my life and also enjoy playing the Hammond organ, so about 10 years ago when I wanted to start playing the accordion, this was a good choice for me. I was able to learn fairly quickly and have had much enjoyment from playing it. I use it to play French and Italian folk tunes and dances (and American folk tunes too – I also really like American folk music).
I got interested in French folk music about 12 years ago by accident. A friend and I decided to try our hands at building a hurdy gurdy after I had successfully built a mountain dulcimer in my dad’s wood shop. After we built two symphonie hurdy gurdies (those are the box shaped, diatonic Medieval types), we attended a hurdy gurdy festival put on my Alden and Cali Hackmann in Washington State. There we were introduced to a lot of people who loved French folk music (although there weren’t any diatonic accordion players when we went). I also purchased a tunebook of Ad Vielle Que Pourra at one of their concerts and it has been one of my favorite songbooks since for playing accordion. My friend too ended up being deeply impacted as a result of this as well because he ended up spending a couple years as an apprentice with the Hackmann’s, and built a beautiful chromatic hurdy gurdy in their shop for himself over that time.
For me though, since that time, the accordion has been much more of a favorite instrument than the hurdy gurdy. And I suppose I’ll be happy enough continuing to play my piano accordion, but there is just something about diatonic accordion that I feel I will love in a whole different way. I also feel I would have a good feel for it since I have played harmonica for many years and successfully messed around on my friend’s concertina.
OK, I’ll stop there; that’s more than I intended to write, but I wanted you to have an idea of where I was coming from. Purchasing an expensive instrument is a big deal for me, and the time commitment of learning a new instrument is too (I’m a teacher and have two kids of 6 and 4 with another on the way, so there isn’t lots of  “down-time” for practicing around my house), so thinking about getting a diatonic accordion is something I’ve been reading and thinking about for a while.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your experiences on your blog, and for sharing your love of this instrument and music!
David Maust
__________

Wherein I Urge Him to Succumb

Jan. 24, 2014

Hello, David,
Thank you for your kind words!  The blog is a joy of mine, along with the music. Of course you should buy a diatonic accordion.
You ask about my experience with button accordions and piano accordions. I haven’t played piano accordion but I think you can do a perfectly fine job of playing this repertoire on the piano accordion or (more commonly) the chromatic button accordion.  Auvergne, especially, has a substantial CBA tradition. I generally think of CBA and PA in the same category, since they both are fully chromatic, have the stradella bass, and don’t have the diatonic push/pull thing.
So, now that I’ve established that I’m not anti-piano accordion … the diatonic box is just very very fun. It’s a different way of approaching music and the physical activity of it is very satisfying.  If you check out this blog post. You can hear the same tune played on a number of instruments, including a CBA. You can hear that CBA/PA tends towards fleetness and smoothness. It doesn’t HAVE to lead to more complex harmonies, but I would say it tends to.  It was the CBA and its 120 basses that bridged the gap between Bal Folk and Bal Musette. (At the same time, I have to say I just did a concert with a singer doing Edith Piaf, and I did not do the quick jazz musette filigrees … it sounded different., but still good.)
I can tell from your note that you have the fascination.  Building hurdy gurdies? This is more than you wanting to play the repertoire … this is having a relationship with the physical instrument.  
I understand the concern about money. I was a teacher for 12 years and have five kids, and that’s a legitimate concern. I would not be concerned about the time spent to learn, because I get the sense that you enjoy every step of the learning curve — you aren’t practicing so that one day you can play. You’re playing right from the beginning. I guess if you want to be utilitarian about it, you could ask yourself what it is you get out of music, and what you would like to get out of it.  If getting a diatonic fits with your goals, then it’s worth it.  In my own case, my goals have led me to divest myself of other instruments, and concentrate on the diatonic box. But it’s also led me to stretch out into non-trad keys (F/Bb/Eb) because I’ve started playing with a singer.
I hope that helps. I’m happy to continue the conversation,
Gary
__________

What Box?

Jan. 26, 2014

Hi Gary,
Thank you for the thoughtful reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation to continue the conversation.

I especially liked listening to the various renditions of “On d’onderon garda” that you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward fluidity and complexity is true. I didn’t realize the CBA had such a strong presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also really like the one on the [Castagnari] Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.

I mentioned in my last email that I have liked playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about 16 pounds).

I appreciate what you say about enjoying the process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I’m not really concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I’ve always felt I’m a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.

As far as monetary investment goes – is there a particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?

I noticed The Button Box’s most economical diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I’ve read a lot of favorable reviews, but I’m not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher quality instrument. I’ve always felt that one should get the best instrument one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?

I also remember reading that you started with a Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching different videos is helpful, but it’s nothing like actually playing the instrument.

Thanks again for the conversation, I’ve really enjoyed it! -David

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NEXT POST: David takes the plunge! What will he choose?

Letter to a Similarly-Aged Accordéonist

Shortly after publishing my piece on shifting to a three-row, I got the following e-mail from Troy Bennett, of Mystery Jig Studios.

Hi Gary,
The seductive Beltuna A/D/G 
Long time, no-see. How’s the new three-row Baffetti treating you? Currently, I’ve got a three-row, three-voice, 12-bass Beltuna in A/D/G on spec from the Button Box. It’s a far cry from the two-voice Saltarelle Bouebe I’ve had since last fall. The Beltuna is much more mellow and creamy. The action is better and it’s heavy at about 16 pounds. The Bouebe is more brash and light. I’m torn. I’m also fumbling over the extra set of buttons on the bass side.
What should I do?
I’m finding the Beltuna a bit intimidating. I certainly don’t play well enough to really justify such a magnificent instrument. But, I feel like I might, some day. But I’m drawn to the light little Bouebe, too. It’s very unpretentious. Will I ever get used to all the bass buttons? Is a three-row really that much better than a two-row? Is the extra weight justified.
And I have to decide by Monday! Eeek!

–TROY.
To three-row or not to three-row??? An existential dilemma! I responded:

Thinking about accordéons, Mr. Sartre?
Hey, congratulations on the dilemma you’ve placed yourself in!
“What should I do?” you ask.
I’m pretty sure I’m the wrong one to ask, being as I’m besotted by my Baffetti. According to Sartre, when you go to a priest for advice, you’ve already decided on the advice you want to get.
Letting it into your living room may have been a mistake!  
Is the three-row better than the two-row? Of course, not … not in any intrinsic sense. It depends on what you want to do. I am absolutely loving my three row. I’ve been fascinated by the three-row for years, wanting to try one out. And the opportunities it offers me (playing for singers and with other instruments) and the challenges are already making me a better musician and engaging me thoroughly. I worried that I might be sacrificing some of the “melodeon-ness” by moving away from the two-row, but that hasn’t been the case. I don’t know if you know Andy_from_Vermont, but he plays a ton of Irish and Contra on his ADG.
The thing about the three-row is that it does promote a more fluid way of playing, and offers more opportunities for right-hand chords, and it does give you that extra key (and A is pretty common in the Celtic/Contra world). But you can play up and down the rows and get the push/pull people like.  The extra weight is such that it doesn’t slow play (especially if you play while sitting). You WILL acclimate to the extra bass buttons. Really. You will.
Bethany, reading over my shoulder, recommends that you examine your three year growth plan, if you haven’t already: How do I want to grow musically in the next three years? Will this instrument challenge me in a way that is enjoyable? These are the questions she asked me when I talked about investing in the Baffetti … even though it ended up being an even trade for the Nik.
Also, I had to make adjustments to the straps to make the Baffetti sit well with my body and its various back aches, etc.
Obviously, i can’t tell you what you should do. William James posited that the right-ness or wrong-ness of a philosophy depends more on the temperament of the philosopher than the truth of the philosophy. The fact that you worry that it might be “pretentious” might point to some required self-examination on your part.
Are you worthy of this beautiful thing? Of course. 
Hope this is helpful, but suspect not.
P.S. what made you consider a three-row in the first place?
–Gary
To which Troy replied:
I decided to have a go at the big A/D/G, like Hillary, because it was there. I was perusing the Button Box website and it looked like a good deal and sounded great in the video. The price seemed more than fair. I’d be wanting to get a G/C, really, because I wrote some words to La Marianne and G is too high to sing them in. D is actually a better key for the song and French tunes sound better on the A row that the D row of my current box. I guess it was a bunch of factors, really.
But, when I got it, it seemed very heavy. I wondered if it’d just end up sounding like a piano accordion what with its three reeds and extra buttons. I’m not a very experienced player, so working with the extra four bass buttons feels like it’s setting me back months.
However, I believe you when you say it’ll come. When I first started on the two row, I didn’t think I’d ever get the 3/4 time right on the bass side. But I did. I’m already better with these 12 buttons than I was two days ago. It’s a bit frustrating, though.
The best piece of your eloquent advice/warning is the bit about the three year plan. That makes sense. Will this instrument take me, or can I take it, where I want to be in three years? Yes, I think so. Also, saying that Andy in Vermont plays contra with his is nice to hear. I’m very much interested in the New England repertoire, pre-Celtic tiger. You know, before the 1990’s when everyone started playing as fast as they could with as many grace notes a s humanly possible?
So, yes, I think I’ll keep it and trade in the little Bouebe so I can actually afford the Beltuna. Thanks for being there in my weak moment.
–TROY.

Noël pour l’accordéoniste

Fa la la la la …

What does l’Accordéonaire want for Christmas?

Je suis content, usually, and I don’t spend a lot of time desiring things, and when I do, I make sure it’s an important thing that will improve my quality of life.  Something related to accordéons. But Christmas invites the question: what do you want, darling?  Here are four things that seem especially cool to me.

Vent de Galerne: I don’t know how it is that I don’t already have this CD, but I don’t. What I’ve heard is gobsmackingly beautiful. The latest endeavor by La beloved Chavannée is focused on a nautical theme. There’s a lot of synergy between Vent de Galerne and the river boat built by the clan last year. Free samples can be heard over on myspace (of all places), and the CD can be ordered from the Chavs themselves, here.

The Early Andy Cutting/Chris Wood recordings: more stuff I should already have, but they seem to be hard to find, especially on this side of the pond. The relatively few recordings I can get — Albion, Handmade Life, Andy’s eponymous recording, etc. — have become the soundtrack for this six month of my life. What an amazing thing that two such talents should have found each other in the world.

A Trip to France:  Yeah, well …

A Wesson Melodeon: I decided some months ago — probably just moments after playing my Nik for the first time — that my next box would be a one row in D. I’ve done a lot of looking, and have gotten my heart set on a box by Rees Wesson in Welshpool, Wales. My goal is to use it to play some of the French Canadian repertoire local to Maine, and to start dipping back into the reels and jigs (flashback to the tin whistle, Irish session days in Minnesota …) Actually, I’ve always loved Irish on the one-row (no, that’s not me). One-rows also have a tradition in East Anglian music, and, of course, in Cajun music. Here’s Rees playing the Bristol Hornpipe:

Oh, my.  That is a beautiful thing that would improve my quality of life.

All right, so I guess I’m not all that great at producing the list o’ stuff to buy, a la Oprah or Rachel Ray. Cross marketing? Not for me. One thing I’d like, no one can give me: time to make more music! What do you, dear reader, want for your accordion Christmas?

Maybe I’ll do better for New Year’s Resolutions … or Yom Kippur penance.

Andy Cutting Interview Part 2: Gear Talk

Part One is Here.

Andy Cutting does NOT have an accordéon collection. Listening to Andy Cutting, one is entranced, of course, by his playing, but one also marvels — perhaps with a modicum of jealousy — at the sound of his instruments. I asked Cutting about his instruments. Is he a gear hound? Does he have a collection?

I wouldn’t say I was a gear hound at all. I’m primarily driven by playing music on a machine and have the instruments I feel I can best do that. I don’t really have a collection, as such. Although my wife would say otherwise! For those who are interested, the boxes I have are:


with the beloved Mory
  • Hohner Pokerwork D/G (my first box which I still play at home) 
  • Hohner one row four stop G 
  • Hohner Club 3 D/G 
  • One of those Chinese one rows
  • A small two row CBA thing that John Tams got in the Crimea when he was filming Sharp
  • Castagnari Mignon Gish, 
  • Two Castagnari Max, one in D and one in A
  • Castagnari Lilly D/G (bought by mistake!) 
  • Castagnari Handry 18 G/C
  • Oakwood (I’ve no idea what model. It was made for me), two row 21 button, 8 bass with stop for the thirds, G/C Bandoneon (octave) tuned, 
  • Two Castagnari Mory C/F and, finally, 
  • Castagnari Mory D/G (my most used and favorite box)

I also have on long term loan a Marcel Messervier Melodeon in D. So as I said, not really a collection.

How has he come by them? How did he first move beyond the Pokerwork?

I have over the years tried and played just about all the makes of boxes I’ve heard of. Some fabulous and a few dreadful. When I had been playing a few months I had the opportunity to play a Castagnari and it was just so much better than the Hohner I was playing. So after a lot of persuasive discussion and an approaching 18th birthday, I somehow convinced my parents that I needed a better box. We had been to Bromyard Folk Festival and I had been given a copy of the Castagnari catalogue by Rees Wesson (a fine one row maker). I sat down with my dad with a mind to get a Nik (two voice, two row, eight bass but with hand made reeds). My dad said that from all that I’d been saying, it sounded like I wanted something much more like … and he pointed to the Mory. I wasn’t going to say no, and so, with a bit of translation it was ordered. Several months later (!!) it arrived … and I hated it! It was so much bigger and heavier than my Pokerwork and I could barely reach the inside row of bass buttons, let alone the stops. I thought about it and knew that I would have to change the way I played. After a few days and a lot of work I totally fell in love with it.

Some items on that list are very intriguing! Two Maxes? Why two one rows? 

When I started playing with Chris Wood it was primarily to play some of the Quebecois repertoire. The only one row I had was in G and not super so I got the Max in D. Later I got the A one so that Chris could play in A. Fiddle players like A. Now I mostly use them in my Solo concerts and a bit with Martin Simpson.
With Chris Wood

And why is the Mory his favorite? Not that this is a hard question … why wouldn’t it be his favorite? But he’s got a Handry 18, G/C, the classic big box played by the likes of Bruno LeTron, Didier Laloy, and other Samurai. Why isn’t the HANDRY his favorite?

I bought the Handry 18 about fifteen years ago. I really like it but it’s just not me. It is in many ways too capable and as I’ve said before, I love the limitations of the instrument. With the big box it feels a little like cheating. I know it’s not, but the challenges that box brings aren’t the ones I’m so interested in.

It’s interesting that the box is G/C and the rest are D/Gs. Switching between the two can be difficult for some (okay, me) as the center of the instrument seems to shift from the knee end of the box to the chin. What’s the method behind Cutting’s key choices?

I play in D/G tuning because that is where most of the music I play is pitched. It is the standard in England. I have always tried to play in both octaves. So, I’ve never thought the difference [between D/G and G/C] too great. When teaching in England I try to get people playing in the top octave and when in Europe I get them to play in the bottom. It’s great practice and after a while you stop going eeak, the fingerings different! and just get on with it. 

Most people I work with are amazingly accommodating. I got the C/F box so it was easier to play in D & G minor with the pipes and hurdy-gurdy. If someone wants me to play and it’s in a daft key for the box. All it usually takes is a bit of explanation and nine times out of ten they’ll shift the key.  The singers I work with have mostly been more than happy to move key’s. 

In general, what does Cutting look for in an accordéon?

When trying out boxes it has to have a great action, an even tone across both ends and most importantly for me, have a very good response from very quiet to reasonably loud. I’m not into the bullworker melodeon, loudest is right thing at all. Volume is easy. Subtlety is not. But that of course depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

For me Castagnari seem to fit the way I play, or rather, I have learnt to play the way they work, better than any other make I’ve tried. That is just my personal taste. I would like a Melodie box and would dearly love to try a Bergflodt.

And, as an aside, what about the electronics?

For miking up the box I use an Audio Technica ATM 350 pro and for the left had I use the element off a PZM (Pressure Zone Mic) made by Realistic (or rather, no longer made by Realistic) mounted on the outside of the base plate with the mic looking through a sound hole. This is wired internally to a jack socket. Of the many mic systems I’ve tried this works best for me.

Castagnari Nik Encomium!

Photo by Brigid Chapin.

So I got it. Officially. Paid for and everything. Had to sell two other accordions and Fender Telecaster with amp. Worth every cent. Don’t expect an objective review. Rather, expect a panegyric, an encomium, an elaborate laudation. I have brought the Castagnari Nik home. Paid for it. Begun getting to know it. What a ridiculously effortless ease-of-play it has! Brigid has taken some pictures. Happy.


Happy! Don’t want to appear materialistic. Acquiring this thing, being happy. But I am. The sounds that come out of the Castagnari Nik. These sounds will improve my quality of life. Unfortunately, I don’t have the recording savvy to create a document that will truly communicate how wonderfully sonorous the Nik is. I will be going into a recording studio this summer. Here are two videos I shot, recently.


The first is a classic French Waltz, Belle Bergére (“Beautiful Shepherdess”). The left hand sounds a little honky on the YouTube. Sounds better in person.





The second video is another rendition of The Cheshire Waltz. I wasn’t very happy with the version I shot on the Saltarelle, and then a colleague said, “Bet that would sound great on your Nik.” And it does.





Is it the last accordion I’ll ever buy? That’s a beacon of grail shaped dimensions. This two-row, G/C, MM, no-stops box? This simple accordion … with it’s sweet sound and exquisite, unbelievable touch? Let’s just say, if it were the last accordion I ever bought, I’d be quite okay.





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