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!”

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.

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