Interesting One-Rows at the Button Box

Temptress Margaret at the Button Box
She of the seductive e-mails

About once a month I can count on an e-mail coming over my transom from Margaret, at the Button Box, letting me know of new joys that are sitting on their shelves. It’s always interesting, but only occasionally prompts biblically suspect levels of covetousness. The latest note (June 30, 2015) did provoke such covetousness, which is very unusual since I only last month took delivery of a new (to me) Hohner Erica A/D. There were many interesting boxes, of course, but the ones that tweeked my interest were these.

First, there’s the Dino Baffetti ART organetto, one row plus (8+3), in, get this, Ab. That’s right A – bloody – flat! Aside from its value in obscurity (four flats? really?), I’ve been curious about these organettos since I got my Baffetti three row and loved the heck out of it. Baffetti makes quality boxes. Price on this one is $500 (used). Comes with a hard case.

Dino Baffetti in Eb

Similar, is the Romeo Erminio organetto, one row plus (9+3) in Eb. (I’ve not heard of this maker before.) As opposed to the Baffetti, which has two reeds per note (LM), this one has three reeds (LMM), with a stop for the low reed. Wow. All this for only $400 (used). A price so low it makes you wonder? Also, if you look at the little windows on the top of the box, you’ll see pictures of two lovely women. There are all kinds of incentives.

Castagnari

On the other end of the posh scale is the Castagnari Melodeon. A box I’ve been craving for years now. It’s a one row in D, with four reeds per note and four stops (classic Cajun structure, though the tuning doesn’t typically have the weird third that Cajun boxes have). I’ll tell you, not to fall sway to a brand name, but there is nothing like playing a Castagnari. It’s really true. Boy, would I love to get one of these. Price $2,300 (used).

Romeo Erminio is Ab, note the two pics

These boxes are interesting to me maybe because I’ve been dancing around the idea of a one row for a long time (see Rees Wesson’s boxes, for example). But it’s really all moot. I report the prices to you, but I am completely tapped this summer. In this case, I am serving the role of matchmaker. True? True.

ALSO: Another interesting thing about the Button Box notice is the large number of Irish style boxes available, 12 of them. I wonder if this is a sign of the high popularity in Irish playing (the Button Box stocks these because they expect to sell them). Or if it is the sign of a decline in such popularity (if interest were high, Irish boxes would be more rare). I don’t know. Pondering.

All I have to say to the Button Box is, “Thank God you are here!”

Welcome to a New Box

A beautiful box

Ah, joy!

Today I took delivery of my new box, a Hohner Erica A/D, sent from England by its previous owner, a denizen of the inestimable melodeon.net.

I’ve had my eye out for an A/D box for a while. I found myself playing in situations where my disdain for “the peoples’ key” was becoming more than a charming eccentricity. I had boxes that played in C, G, F, Bb, and Eb. I needed an A and a D. (Anything beyond three sharps or three flats seems a vulgar affectation.)

So, did I want posh box (oh, a Tommy!)? A less expensive posh box (a Lilly)? Or a tiny box (Giordy)? Or a Baffetti organato? I didn’t know. Then this box showed up for sale on mel.net.

I was intrigued. I always had a thing for that old fashion Hohner sound, and had actually started on a mighty Corso. The Erica is a classic bog norm box. Jean Blanchard played one back in the day. Then, accordion fettler, bold Lester Bailey, pointed out that he had worked on the Erica and that it was an excellent model of the species. Also, that the seller was very trustworthy. That was enough for me.

After adjusting all the straps to suit my massive frame, I made some videos. Be kind, still getting used the action and all that.

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.

Welcoming Baffetti

The plan unfolds slowly! Made arrangements for sale of the Nik, yesterday, and arranged to purchase a Dino Baffetti, Tex-Mex II/34 from the Button Box. As it happens, both the buyer of the Nik and the Button Box are right near Sunderland, Massachusetts.  Saturday, I’ll be making the pilgrimage.

Here’s a picture of the Baffetti, and there’s a video over on the Button Box site. It’s a three-row, MM box, tuned American Tremolo (as was the Nik), with rows in F/Bb/Eb. Baffetti has a stellar reputation as a maker. As the name of the thing suggests, it was made for the Tex-Mex market, but its wider tuning perfectly suits all of the French musics I’m obsessed with. This decision has been a long time coming. I’ve loved that Nik, but have felt the redundancy of its G/C tuning many times at gigs. Also, working in a chanson trio with Barbara Truex and Joëlle Morris, the need for key flexibility is urgent. Finally, I’ve wanted a three-row quint tuned box for ages. Now I get my chance. I’m already thinking of the new possibilities for across-the-row madness and right-hand chords.

Here’s hoping it all goes off as planned!

Castagnari Nik (G/C) for Sale (SOLD)


UPDATE:  Arrangements for sale have been made!

In order to meet my wider musical goals, I’m putting my beloved Castagnari Nik (G/C) up for sale. It’s in perfect condition, comes with original straps, and the Castagnari box. A two row, 8 bass machine, two-reeds tuned MM, “American Tremolo.” What does all that mean? It means an amazing simple box with a lovely sound.  I love this box, but having two quality boxes in G/C doesn’t serve my needs. I’m asking $2000 for this box. A new box of the same type goes for $2365 at the Button Box. I would also take a good quality F/Bb/Eb (Baffetti, for example) box in trade, if one were offered.

Contact accordeonaire@aol.com.

Here’s a video:

And another:

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.

Neil Postman and Accordion Technopoly

Neil Postman:  Not an Accordionist

Over on the Music and Melodeons blog, Owen is crafting a series of posts on the perennial query, “What is Folk Music?” At Melodeon Minutes, home of friend Andy from Vermont, the new Castagnari on-line catalogue is being gone over with the loving eye of a critical friend. Meanwhile, another friend’s blog, God and the Machine, has a piece on the late Neil Postman, not an accordion player, but a hero of mine.

Postman, in his books Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly, argued that technologies have ideologies.  In other words, a new technology encourages some possibilities (values) and discourages others (devalues).  The automobile, for example, values mobility and individualism, while devaluing stasis and communitarianism — to paint with criminally bold strokes.

It struck me that this applies to accordions, as well.

Discussing the Castagnari family of boxes over on melodeon.net, one member recommended the evolving 18-bass system, in general, as “amazingly liberating,” and pointed to its prevalence in the current wave of tradFrench players who rarely “play it straight.” And he’s right, of course. A three-row, 18-bass instrument can play in any key, and can produce the extended harmonies required for “jazzing up” the old tunes. It allows for an enormous amount of freedom.

Bruno LeTron, 3-rows, 18-basses,
and the Truth

Postman would say that the existence of such technology does more than allow for the possibility of, say, extended harmonies on the accordion. Rather, the existence of the technology is an ideological argument for such extended play.  We know this, he would say, because of the value judgements we make. Diatonic accordion playing that moves through a variety of keys or introduces chromaticism is seen as more virtuosic. It tends to be more valued. Players who can perform in such a way — players of the Mustradem collective, for example — are the stars of the genre and shape what defines “good” tradFrench playing.

(Before getting to the next paragraph, I want to make it absolutely clear that I love the music of Bruno LeTron, Didier Laloy, Norbert Pignol, Stéphane Milleret, et al. I am merely making an observation about how available technology impacts values. I understand that I am over-egging the esoteric pudding. It’s a good time for me. Are we clear?)

The Handry 18: Maybe this is
the last accordion I will
ever buy?

When I bought my Castagnari Nik (the last accordion I’ll ever buy?) I made the conscious decision to eschew the expansive ideology, opting instead for the two-row, eight bass ideology that does play the old tunes relatively straight. Perhaps it’s a recognition of my own limitations, but an over-abundance of choice is, to me, the definition of chaos. Is this luddite-ism? Is it cranky-old-fart-ism? Is it a deep, abiding, jealousy? Or is it just me making a choice about what boundaries I’ll choose for my music-making life. Ideologies are boundaries, after all. There’s still so much to learn from Jean Blanchard! The technology I’ve chosen has an ideology that allows me to focus on some things while setting aside others. It ties me in to a tradition and repertoire I love, and in its particulars greatly improves my quality of life. Color me content — at least until I can get my hands on a three-row, 18 bass ideologue.

Abandon All Hope …

Squeeze circles are abuzz over the newest release from Saltarelle. Its configuration is identical to the Elfique (which is great), but provocatively, the new one is called Inferno. And dammit if it doesn’t look very, very cool. The ad copy calls it a 19+2 button box, though it’s clearly a 21 button box (which means that the “extra” buttons are at the chin-end of the rows, rather than set aside in the middle). It’s 3-voices, with one stop. They say this means you can play it MMM or MLM, but that doesn’t make sense, since you’d need 4-voices in order to pull that off. Three voices would mean you could play MLM, MM, or LM. An MMM box would, I have to say, be pretty dang sweet!* I’d be curious to know what the real specs are.

So, an Elfique with a dark paint job, black buttons, and a reference to Dante has got my mouth watering. Pretty sure that tells you more about me than it does about the box, but dammit if it doesn’t look VERY cool.

*If all of this tech talk is baffling to you, check out Accordion Speak 101.


UPDATE: Tom (in comments) asked for a better picture of the grillwork on this demonic beast. I found this at the Saltarelle site.

UPDATE 2: I want to stress that I don’t work for Saltarelle or get any kick backs, but I find this whole ad campaign very amusing! Check out the front page ad copy below.

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.