Say I want a builder to make me a Monarch copy (i.e., not a modern cajun accordion / Acadian copy). Something LIGHT, sporting reeds that have a very dry sound with little bass and overtones.
What wood should be used?
What were the old prewar accordions made of? How about the Hohners?
I want something light and still resistant to warpage. Cedar?
What reeds should be used?
I'm thinking about the Czech Harmonika reeds, but they have many variants available.
Thanks very much!
If you're looking to get as close to the old Germans as possible, I'd definitely go with the Harmonikas Dix reeds. You can get them on zinc plates like the old ones, and the dimensions of the reeds are about the same.
Wood is a crap shoot. They didn't use a particular wood back then, just probably what was readily available and cheap. I like the sound that come from lighter woods. I made one out of very old salvaged pine wood with the Dix reeds and that was pretty darn close.
I once made an accordion out of instrument grade spruce with balsa reed blocks, just to see how light I could get. It was a featherweight, and sounded awesome. In fact, my friend and field tester, Cory McCauley, a pretty darn good player, liked it best of all the ones I've made. So don't listen to folks that say it HAS to be out of a hardwood. Only issue with it was durability. It dinged easily. Quick character.
I can't get technical on this one Boudreaux, but I'd go with the pine like Bryan said. I became aware of light pine accordions and how they sounded after playing on a pine accordion that belonged to relative of mine. Before that, I had been playing on a really heavy (African Babinga) wood Cajun made accordion. I really noticed that pine, how light it felt, and how crisp it sounded. I made a mental note. Then I played on someone's old "G" Hohner 114 which was even lighter. I noticed that lightness again and how bright the hohner sounded. Then, later, a very light weight "Acadian" fell into my hands, but the sound was off to me. It was the Italian reeds that were causing trouble to my ear. But man, the action on that Acadian was unbeatable. Then I was offered to play on an $850 Gabinelli Cajun King and noticed it to was as light or lighter than that Acadian and had a pretty good sound. That's what made me decide to order my own Gab King. To hell with them heavy accordions! I like them light. There is something to them, and both you and Bryan just confirmed it! WooHoo!
Thank you very much for the answers, Bryan and Greezy.
Cory McCauley sure can play. I have his compact disc somewhere.
Glad to hear the softwood accordions "work". Personally, I just can't stand wielding the thick and heavy 8 pounders that most builders seem to produce on a regular basis. I always end up pickin up my Hohner with a big sigh of relief.
Absolutely! I got that African Bubinga accordion when I was 20 years old. I'm here to tell you that it may have been heavier than 8 lbs and the dam thing physically took a toll on my hands and arms even at that young age. It would literally tire me out. And the whole time I was thinking..."What am I doing wrong?" "Why do other people's accordions seem easier to play?" Come to find out it wasn't me! It was the fault of the accordion builder who wasn't much of an accordion player that decided to use that heavy wood and by and by end up screwing me the actual accordion player over. I will never own another heavy accordion. I've learned better. Just glad you came along and brought up the subject for the rest of the people reading this. Good topic! It should "enlighten" a few people as to what weight accordion to avoid. LOL "enlighten".
Also This Just In! I wanted to let everyone know that Amede Ardoin had a system of playing his accordion. I had been struggling to play his style for about a year now. I felt like I had to get his songs under my belt if was to ever have full self respect for my accordion playing. My problem was that I was a bottom player. What I mean by bottom player is that I concentrated on buttons 5 to 10 a lot. And Id play on the pull(2nd position) in the key of "G a lot.
Amede Ardoin was a "top" player. He concentrated on the octave and chord doubles of the top half of the 10 button accordion. I've listened close to his playing and he never, and I mean never hits the bottom 2 buttons! Consequently, have you guys ever watched some of the black accordion players. They are very proficient with the top half of their accordions. In fact, I will guarantee you all that some of the best black players learn the top half of their accordion before they learn the middle and bottom like most of the rest of us Cajun players do. It was study of Joe Falcon that lead me to discover Amede's System. Unfreakinbelievable! It has eluded me for all these years. No thanks to Marc S and S Riley. But maybe, them two guys don't know about it?? They sure didn't tell anyone if they did.
Turns out Amede did play on a "D" accordion and he played in both the 1st and 2nd positions in the keys of "D" and "A" on that d accordion. But he played those two positions on the top half of his accordion never venturing down past button 8. He followed the rules and finger placement of the double octaves and chords very closely. He even knew the trick pull octaves and how every third button repeated. Once you become familiar to the tunes of Amede's music and Iry Lejeunes copies of his music and you give your attention to this system and style of playing, it comes to you like a hammer hitting you over the head. As of tonight, I can now play every one of Amede's recorded songs! As of yesterday , I might have been able to play about 5 of them so so.
I know folks. Mere words can't really explain it or make many of you understand it. Some of you will ignore this information at your own loss. But I encourage you to pay attention to the monumental information I just gave you, and use it to develop your style and knowledge of Cajun accordion play. Hell, I don't know of any Cajun that can explain it, let alone even knows about this! You are now privileged because you know more than most. You're Welcome!
Dam! I should have made this one of my "Gifts of Gifts". Oh, well, consider it lagniappe.
P.S. I came to this realization while I was in the process of converting Amede's "D" accordion music on my "C" accordion after about 3 days of playing the Joe Falcon songs.
That Amede used the top (low) notes a lot is definitely not news. I find it very appealing when people use the whole keyboard, like Marc Savoy does. A good demo of using the whole keyboard with a lot of very top buttons is this one by master player and all around good guy, Chris Miller.
I read somewhere that Amede was quite small in stature, maybe only 5 feet tall. If that is the case, then he would likely have very small hands, requiring him to pick his best stretch on the fingerboard. This could also explain his high vocal range.
By any measure he was not your average guy.
Playing low: Marc Savoy has huge hands and can cover a lot of real estate with ease, yet he favors the top end of the keyboard. Steve Riley has small hands but long fingers. He favors the top half of the keyboard, too, and plays most low octaves with fingers 1 & 2, not 1 & 4. (Wilson Savoy does that too, possibly having picked up from his cuz.)
Cameron DuPuy in comparing his version of Wandering Ace's Special to the original Lawrence Walker song, he said Walker played the song on the top end of the keyboard, and he, Cameron, shifted it up.
Chris Miller: In a discussion with Steve Riley I mentioned a lick that Chris Miller does. Steve interrupted me saying, "Chris Miller is GOOD - That guy is REALLY good." That struck me as a high compliment and a warning of a tough lick.
Mr. Guy: Your standing in Texarkana remains unremarkable.
Sean & Chris Ardoin: (video does work, but I've seen it before) One of them rushes the tempo - as if from Texarkana.
"...third button repeats..." I don't get it. Greezy, please demonstrate!
Don't know who that builder is, but he may have been going through the same experimental phase I did. Most everything everyone "knows" about accordions, including building them, is varying degrees of educated speculation. I spent a lot of time going "what would happen if I did this". I made a few out of very heavy woods, with very heavy reed blocks, and with some extra odd wood in strategic spots inside. Mostly I succeeded in making a heavy accordion. The hard dense woods seem to give a brighter clearer tone that some like. The lighter less dense woods seem to give a warmer richer tone that I prefer. But even then, the differences are not drastic and there's a host of other variables....and speculation.
Yes! Chris Miller played a part in opening my eyes to top button possibilities. So did Chris Ardoin, but they didn't "volunteer" the information too readily in order to give everyone a chance at understanding it on a deep level. I got the impression they were show casing the top button play to peacock themselves. But never the less, I stole the idea from both these good guys and then just gave it away like Robbing Hood. LOL. Remember, my purpose here is to chronicle the processes of learning Cajun accordion from my point of view. I may seem peacocky, but hey, I still haven't even given my name, and I never will...............Think of me like that magician that wears the wrestling mask and the dark suit and gives away all the secrets to the magic tricks on TV so everyone can know how the magic was done and some of the BS associated with secret trickery, knowledge hoarding and grandstanding. Nothing is safe as long as I'm around. Nothing sacred either. It's all in, balls out!
Here ya go.
And here ya go.
I would not consider Chris Miller a peacock. He's an excellent teacher, one of best around, has even done lessons via his youtube channel.
Mr. Greezy you may not be the magician you wished you were. Your Amede Ardoin breakthrough is quite old news to me and there are also a lot of folk who rarely use the top two buttons, myself included. And I'm nobody special - well, maybe in Texarkana.
Sorry about that. I might have slipped off into the conspiratorial on the last comments. Chris Miller is good to go in my book. "A solid Player". And I see that I can come off as sort of ?? Cruel and self promoting. That's not my intention. I want to be about the lone accordion player and his struggle and successes of taking on the Cajun accordion. My point of view is cynical sometimes because of my experiences with people and events of the Cajun music world. I've seen and noticed some underhandedness on quite a few occasions in the past and present when it comes to the music and musicians. I'm trying to work through that and get passed it. However unfortunate, the underhandedness does exist.
I just wanted to emphasize the use of the top buttons. I have been listening to a cassette tape that I found. The cassette contains Amede Breaux, The Breaux Brothers, Joe Falcon without Cleoma, and Joe Falcon with Cleoma. I play it in my vehicle when I'm driving. It's pretty rough stuff, but when I'm driving I'm sort of a captive audience. Then, I go and apply what I hear on the "C" accordion. Sometimes, I play while I'm driving, lol. To play Joe Falcon's music, it sort of forces you to use the top half of the accordion. Just like Amede Ardoin's style, top of the accordion. Even Iry Lejeune favors the top, but less than Joe and Amede, because Iry converted a lot of the songs to the 2nd position in the key of "G". Come to think of it, Iry doesn't use the bottom buttons that much. I don't hear a lot of highs on many of his songs, but I do hear them more than Joe and Amede on Iry's recordings. After applying and being able to play on the top half of my accordion (I've been at that for years), I'm noticing the richness and oldness of the sound, especially on my wet tuned Acadian! It forces you to play that old Cajun sound. It would be good for all Cajun players to try and reach and incorporate those top button combinations as often as possible until you get used to it and can apply it at will. I myself have "peacocked" on those top buttons, but now, I'm just starting to play them as if its a normal thing. I'm also starting to think that the oldest Cajun music might be played very much on those top buttons. More so than I've thought before.
On so many old accordions, I've seen the worn paint only around buttons 5,6,7,8. The players that played them were "straight" players. Hardly any doubles for them. The older accordions I've seen that were for doubles players are worn more evenly from buttons 3 to 10, but the fade is not as bad for their top buttons either. I would have liked to seen Amede Ardoin's and Joe Falcon's accordions after a lifetime of use. Hell, I would have loved to see them actually play. I'm starting to lean toward the possibility that the oldest generation of accordion players avoided the bottom high buttons that most of us modern accordion players think are the easy buttons to play! No wonder why we can't bring that old sound as easily as they could bring it. It's not just the accordions that they played on, but they way they played them!
Totally agree with Bryan. Chris Miller is the one of the best two teachers I've known from the 10 I've had over the year. [ Disclaimer: I am a northerner and came to playing Cajun music late in life.] Miller can give you various versions, can break them down or not, and can give you as much music theory as you need or can handle to help you learn. Oh, and being really a good guy and a fine person should count for something. He's been teaching at Augusta Heritage Cajun/Creole Week these past two years. (A shameless plug for that week in summer.)
Getting on the thread track. Monarch copy. The single thing I find most appealing about those old accordions is the sound of the chord reeds on the base side, which I attribute to the large single plate with all 3 or 4 chord reeds. I cannot find any reed maker to do this, so I've improvised by attaching the 3 or 4 chord reeds together over a single large reed block chamber. Not quite the same, but close, and I like it enough it's become standard for my accordions. On the last few I've also put 4 chord reeds as opposed to the standard 3. Got that idea from an old Globe (I think) that had 4.
Sample sound track/video ???
Bryan, when are you going to make an offshoot accordion line? You could call them "Champion" and design them to mimic the looks of the Monarch, Globe, and Sterling. Make them a throwback special edition collectors item. Go with that 4 reeds on the base side like you mentioned, Dix reeds for the treble side, classic middle bellows divider, only offer black and silver for the color (no exceptions), and make them super light weight with the best playability and sound that you can possibly achieve for least cost. Oh, and only in the keys of "C" and "D". Do that my friend, and I'd bet one of my arms that they'd sell like hotcakes! I know I'd scrounge up the $1,500 dollars to buy one. Hint Hint at the price??
You could sell them with a Gabbinelli King little black case with the red fir liner on the inside. And on the inside of the case lid, install a blue and gold "Blue Max" medallion so that when the case was opened, everyone could see it. And they would ask, what is that?!! And we would answer.. "That is a Blue Max Champion accordion built by none other than Bryan Lafleur. Best accordion on the market for a great price.
A Bryan Lafluer for $1500?!?!?!
Guess I'm hauling off all my scrap metal this weekend put me down for a C in silver please
A BLUE MAX for a descendent of the French.. really ?
Black and chrome ... no red no white ..
black on black bellows.
No chrome on the flappers, cheezy.
Covered pallets similar to Bergflodt and other Euro makers.
In D. 12 TET. Dry.. perhaps a whisper of tremolo.
Thumb groove on the keyboard.
None of that embossed/engraved or painted scroll stuff.. equally cheezy.
None of the picture frame hanger strap brackets that cost 75 cents.. proper Italian hardware.
The Button Box has Berkshire Cases for about $135.
Pinned Bellows ala Hohner and Castagnari and many other makers..
Double bellows look cool, no functionally advantage.. but cool.
Varnished or lacquered interior and reed blocks.
No Jeff, you're making them sound ugly. The "Champions" could take the best qualities from the Monarch, Globes, and the Sterlings. But no modern colors.
The Blue Max was a German Medal designed by the French and was made popular in a story about a lowly enlisted pilot that earned top rank amongst the other officer pilots that would not accept him. "The Blue Max" covers all the bases for these Champion Cajun accordions. Even though they may have Czech reeds in them.
My wife's family are all Prussians
Part of my family are Prussians
The French language was the official language of the Prussian court and aristocracy and government.
The medal was of Prussian, not French origin.
Prussia was at times a separate country/state and part of Poland and a part of Germany.
The Blue Max would be an appropriate name for an accordeon given its Prussian/Germanic roots for the first accordeons bought and used by Cajuns. German and Saxon made.
There were many Czechs who spoke German, among them my GGF and GGM (my mother's grandparents.) ... both from Bohemia, a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is now the western/southernmost part of the Czech Republic where German is now a secondary language and Czech is the official language.
PS My mother's name was Maxine, affectionately called... "Max". But that name for an accordeon has already been assigned to the Castagnari "Melodeon".. aka the "MAX". I have owned 3 MAX accordeons.
Instead of "Champion"
How about "Champignon" ?
I specifically asked Danny Dyson to build a cypress box for me. Horrors!
Sounds great, looks great, strong and light. Won't rot to boot.
I build fiddles and other tuned in 5ths stringers. Fiddles for trad. SWL music are fun because various wood and carvings are acceptable.
Ok Bryan, you can go with the Czech reeds in them Blue Max's. Or what ever reed you come across that will be the perfect reed to make a grand statement with. I trust your judgement. I can see that you're not one to rush in to things without thought. Good luck! I hereby formally give up my idea freely unto you. The way I figure, it could make you a few 100 thousand dollars before you retire if you play your cards right. Put me down for both a "C" and a "D" when you get around to it. And I'll even throw in a demonstration of "La Valse de la Louisianne" the way Angelas' turns it, but using that turn for the song "La Valse Cadjin" instead. You'll never see anything like it done by anyone else. Life Changing. LOL
OK G McGill...
Recap exactly what you are proposing..
this has become fuzzy.