Well I can assure you both goals where totally satisfied. I’ve met a bunch of nice smiling and happy persons and learned a lot at the same time.
Since I play mostly musette style and that it is understood that it’s very difficult if not impossible to imitate the bright sound of the typical French musette chromatic button accordion (CBA) with a piano accordion (PA), I was thus looking for a piano accordion that could get closest to the CBA musette sound. So I took several sound samples of the accordions that I tried.
I wanted to find out about the harmonic content of different piano accordions’ single clarinet reed since the more harmonic a single reed has, the best it will be for reproducing a musette sound. The musette sound is produced with a minimum of two clarinet reeds tuned with a slight difference. This results in a richer sound with added harmonics but if one starts with richer or brighter single reeds, it is obvious the sound will be even richer with two coupled out-of-tune reeds.
My experiment is not a competition nor do the results represent the best accordion since it’s my own personal taste that is biased by my preference of the musette sound. Personal taste differ and one can prefer the mellower sound of the cassoto and dislike the clear and bright musette open sound. All the accordions tested on this list are excellent instruments and they are all musette models since it is my preferred sound. It is by no mean scientifically rigorous but it confirmed what my ears heard.
I Used my Canon S1 IS digital camera to record an A440 middle reed taking care to always pull the bellows (the sound is different when pulling or pushing the bellows, did you notice that?). My digital camera is recording at 22KHz sampling rate into 16 bits so my readings got up to only 11kHertz. This is enough if one consider that the 16th harmonic of A440Hz is at 7040Hertz (7kHz) I tried to be consistent as to the distance and the force I use to take my samples but took no chance. For that, I had my own Brandoni piano accordion at hand. To compensate for different acoustic environments I would always sample the other accordion AND my own Brandoni to sort of analyze-compare the acoustic response of the different rooms or showrooms I was sampling in by analyzing the different responses of my Brandoni. I took only 1sec sample from each accordion recording and processed it with SoundForge software program. From the SoundForge program I rolled off from 320Hz downward and then make sure all the samples where at the same dB level. Only then I would pass them through a Spectrum Analyser (Fourrier Analysis) which would show me the harmonic content as well as their amplitude (importance).
I rented a car for the whole trip (23 days) at Paris Airport and spent 4 days in Paris. After I went to visit my good friend, the CBA musette player Daniel Colin who live not far from Paris. Daniel Colin plays on a French Maugein accordion.
Then I went to Tulle, a little town right in the centre of France in the Corrèze Department where Maugein the French accordion factory is. M. René Lachaize a gentlemen, was nice with my wife and I. He invited us for lunch at his friend’s restaurant. After a good meal, he made me visit the Maugein factory. Maugein is one of the few accordion makers able to produce an (almost) entire accordion. A lot of computerized machines designed especially for accordion making. I was very impressed.
Efforts are made at the Maugein factory to best explain the different aspects of accordion making to visitors. M. Lachèze himself takes care of the visitors. There was a nice wood carved representation of a reed to show the profile of a reed invisible to the bare eyes.
M. Lachèze introduced me to Laurence Lamy, the director of the new Musé de l’accordéon in Tulle. Imagine, they have taken a complete accordion shop from Paris (Martin Cayla) took apart the interior as well as the exterior’s façade and reproduced it inside the museum. It was a privilege for me to visit the museum in a temporary building because the museum is not ready yet. They will build an entire building made exclusively for the museum with controlled temperature and humidity.
And now for those of you who plan to visit the Maugein factory, I have a secret to share. For less than 60Euros per night for two, you will live in a suite of Château du Domaine Bellefond. If you have a car, you don’t want to miss that. Its only 20Km from Tulle right between LaGraulière and St-Clément. What a sight!
Had a nice chat with M. Claude Cavagnolo and saw Jean-Louis Noton demonstrating the new 3rd generation of Odyssee like he always do on Wednesdays. Now the Odyssee with the Optima option comes equipped with an amplifier and speakers incorporated in the accordion. I tried their acoustic piano accordion. Boy, sooooo many harmonic content! What a rich sound. Nailed-screwed plates and now with the elimination of the trimmings from medium plates up accounts for the added upper harmonics. So, I sampled it. See results at the end…
After we headed south towards Nimes to visit some friends musicians.
It was the 17th of November and in France it’s the Beaujolais Nouveau day and some accordion players can be found in different venues. I saw an accordion duo in a café. One of them I knew, his name is Fredo Boss. He’s a French guy playing a piano accordion would you believe! He sings some very typical old French musette type songs.
Right in front of our Hotel was a nice restaurant which had a pianist and accordionist programmed for the Beaujolais Nouveau night. I went for super and I had a ball jamming with this old French musette player “Momo”. He also play nice Django type manouche guitar. We had so much fun playing musette and manouche!
On our way to Castelfidardo, we stopped at nice villages nearby the Mediterranean Sea like Aix-En-Provence, Nice, Menton, etc.
Castelfidardo is 10Km inland from the Adriatic Sea. Boy never was I to miss that! So we took a Hotel room at Sirolo Hotel. Sirolo is right on the Adriatic Sea. What a picture!
Next day, the first thing to do was to follow Ventura’s advice and take a lunch at Dionea’s Trattoria. What a feast! We went back 4 times!
The first accordion I tried and sampled was at an accordion builder’s showroom that had threaten me of legal pursuit if I didn’t remove his company name, so I did . I guess he wasn’t satisfied with my next sentence: nice and open sound but not more. Their showroom is away from the factory so I didn’t visit their factory.
Since 12 years I’ve bought my Brandoni accordion, I always enjoyed its sound and was grateful to Mini and Romolo from the Montreal accordion shop “Les Accordéons Excelsior” now “Accordéons Excellence” to find it for me. So I was curious and figured it was a good idea to visit the Brandoni factory. It is now run by the Bompezzo family. M. Bompezzo senior first came to my wife and me but he couldn’t speak a word in English neither could I speak Italian for the same manner so he phoned his son Giampaolo to rescue. Giampaolo could speak a little English and his wife even more so we managed to communicate.
I showed them my Brandoni and they liked the smooth musette tuning I did on it. I tried other black Brandoni boxes and liked them too. But their natural wood finished boxes where great. Full sound and a big dynamic. The bellows opened far away without resistance. I felt at home playing this box. Was it because I’m used to play it? I don’t think so. It’s probably due to the nice idea to put only the bassoun and the picolo inside the cassoto leaving the 3 clarinets outside the cassoto so you don’t sacrifice the real open musette sound. The one I tried was not completed yet with the right hand registers still needed to be installed.
There is a tendency in Castelfidardo to produce more and more natural wood finished accordions which I think is a good thing. One of the first to produce nice wooden finished accordion as I recall was Fisitalia but now you see more and more wooden accordions made in Castelfidardo. I know some beginners would choose the diatonic model over the piano model because it was in natural wood finish and that they didn’t like the “artificial” celluloid finish on the piano accordions. But now they have the choice.
Talking about celluloid, the tendency is to substitute varnish to this old product. Celluloid is very dangerous for the health of the accordion factories’ employees. Like M. René Lachaize from the Maugein factory says, “with the development of new technologies in producing good varnish, one doesn’t need celluloid anymore”. I think he’s right plus, it’s bad for the environment. Here are two photos taken at SEM’s factory of a worker dying soaking the celluloid in acetone to then fit it around the accordion’s body.
Note: celluloid was invented in 1869 by Hyatt but was used on accordions only 57 years later in 1926 by Astolfo Danieli!
Playing a lot of musette tunes, Giampaolo Bompezzo then showed me a “not so good-looking” accordion. WoW! The musette sound coming out from this box. I was completely impressed. It was an accordion sold by Bompezzo for a manufacturer in Stradella. The name on it is byMarco Stradella.
Well it seems they liked my playing at Bompezzo-Brandoni because they hired me to demonstrate their accordions in their boot at Frankfurt MusikMesse. So I’ll be heading towards Germany late March 2006 and promised myself to go back to Castelfidardo afterward.
The next day, I visited the Borsini Factory. Nice and big shop but didn’t try any accordions. Then I went to the Castelfidardo Accordion Museum. I took at least 300 pictures in there! So many things to see.
Met a good Italian character there who looked after the museum. His name is Antonio Franzoso “François” for the intimates. We had fun communicating musically.
At the Museum, Antonio insisted I try a Zerro-Sette. It was a tone-chamber model and boy did I have fun playing this box. One of the best in Casteldfidardo. Didn’t have the chance to sample it thought.
Went to Menghini now named Suoni (Paolo Soprani, Scandalli, SEM). Tried them and frankly was not impressed at all. The bellows where hard to open and didn’t fully open. The sound was like any anonymous Italian made accordion made years ago in Castelfidardo (see notes later for my thoughts in Castelfidardo’s evolution). Nice people there. Their shop is huge! They must produce a lot of accordions there.
To finish and like anybody else, we went to see the giant accordion at the Paolo Soprani Museum.
The yellow curve labeled Brandoni M is my Brandoni sampled at the Maugein factory.
The green curve labeled By Marco is the byMarco from Stradella accordion sampled at Bompezzo-Brandoni factory.
The pink curve labeled Maugein is the Maugein sampled at the Maugein factory.
The violet curve labeled Cavagnolo is the Cavagnolo sampled at the Cavagnolo factory.
The red curve labeled Brandoni A is my Brandoni sampled at the Anonymous manufacturer’s Showroom.
The blue curve labeled Anonyme is the accordion sampled at the manufacturer’s Showroom who don’t want to be published.
The numbers before the labels represents the order of the winners (sort to speak), 1 being the best.
As you can see, the Cavagnolo seems to have the most harmonic content with byMarco a good second but with a different type of harmonic content. Those two where the ones my ears pick. Notice the difference between the red curve representing my Brandoni recorded at the Anonymous factory’s showroom and the blue curve representing the anonymous accordion recording. The anonymous has a drop in the 4kHz region which is a good thing since this is the region human ear is most sensitive to and accounts for the “screaming” and aggressive quality of the accordion sound. Notice also a more important content of harmonics over 6kHz compare to my Brandoni giving the anonymous its “open sound” quality.
Here is another graph representing the 3 winners:
Hope you had as much fun reading my article as I did doing the trip and drinking good wine! Here is a photo taken at Roland Plou and Sons’ winery in Amboise, France.
"There are 29 Accordion “Companies/Factories” in the Castlefidardo / Ancona area producing Accordions."
Of those 29 factories, only 2 are actually able to produce an entire accordion:
CEMEX (Excelsior) and SEM (PierMaria, Gabanelli)
Only Excelsior still has a working Kiln.
All the other factories are dependant upon one or more outside companies to supply certain critical components, such as buttons, or bass actions assemblies, to them.
Some companies, like Cintioli, have moved into the specialized production of components/assemblies as their entire business."
Well I think Castelfidardo have sort of focused on the right thing, that is: select the best from each component producers and let them have the exclusivity over it. If this fellow produces the best bass mechanism so let it be him who produces all the Italian accordion’s bass mechanism.
Maybe things have evolved by themselves to bring the best from each one. I know it sounds unreal but I think some of this phenomenon has occurred over the last 5 years or so in Castelfidardo. You find truly superior accordions made in Castelfidardo today as the ones produced years ago. This is just a personal feeling but I really felt that way during my short visit.
Brandoni-Bompezzo are very good sounding accordions and the Zero-Sette I tried at the museum was marvelous.
Here is another example:
There is a fellow here in Montreal (Serge Duchesne from Les Accordéons Rosaire Larocque) who imports the Vignoni accordion. Their musette sound is very convincing!
I’m telling you, years ago, one couldn’t find Italian made accordions sounding near like they do today.
Thank you Castelfidardo!