I’ve been playing music for 30 years but accordion for only 1 year. I bought a cheap beginners accordion to see if I liked playing, and I do. During that one year, I’ve played 30 minutes a day on average (occasionally much more) and made rapid progress. But lately, as I try to progress further, I can feel the instrument holding me back. It really has to travel on the push/pull to get sound out of both hands. It’s stiff. It’s a workout.
I’ve played Martins, so I know what a top end accordion feels like. It’s effortless by comparison. It wails. And as much as I’d love a new Martin, Acadian, or Falcon, I can’t plunk down $3k for a shiny new accordion. Not right now. Even the used ones are $2500.
I guess my question is what’s the best way to upgrade from my $400 accordion?
I could make a substantial upgrade tomorrow and spend $800 or so on a used Hohner 114 or Gabanelli Cajun King. Or I can save for another year plus and maybe get a new Martin or Falcon. Or I can split the difference and go with a less renowned (less expensive) Cajun builder... Doucet, Vincent, Sanner, Mouton to name a few.
I’m certain any of those options will be an upgrade. But for an intermediate level player on a limited budget, will I really notice the difference between a $800 Gabanelli and a $1700 Louisiana made accordion? Will I be held back by the difference between a $1700 John Doucet and a $3000 Martin?
In asking these questions, I mean no disrespect to the craft of any of these builders. I have nothing but respect for all of them. I’m truly asking because I want to know how the cost of these different accordions will affect my continued progress. I don’t want to plateau because the instrument is holding me back. Thanks in advance for your opinions. Play nice, mes amis.
Doucet knows what his work is worth.
You will definitely be able to tell the difference in a Gabbanelli between a Martin. I've never played a Doucet accordion so I have no opinion on that part of your question. All I'll say is it took alot of scrap metal loads to buy my Acadiana C but it was worth every penny.
Be sure to ask about the friends of Jerry discount!
Just my opinion..
Martin is a production box.. and in my world not a "top" accordeon.
Try a Castagnari, MELODIE, Messervier.. or Beltuna.
If I were to buy a new Cajun hand built, rather than assembly line built, accordeon it would be Lanse Gris (sp), Moreau or a Doucet in no particular order.
If you are upgrading from an Ariette or similar Chinese box the HA 114 would be a decent upgrade.
Light, fast, fun. Part easily available and easy top repair if necessary. Chinese one row boxes are not worth upgrading or repairing in my opinion.
I believe there is an HA114 in C for sale..
Just happens to be mine.
I purchased this about 3 years ago from Paul Groff.. look him up on meldoeon.net. no more knowledgeable diatonic box tuner repairer dealer player in the US..
I paid $535 for it and it was a deal then.
It is from the best era .. the 50s.
Could easily be retuned "Cajun" .. Currently in Hohner's original TET and about 15 cents in the middle of the keyboard.
Lots of great music has been made on Hohners.
Forgot to add:
Martin , Savoy and other "big name" box makers use butt joints on the frames. An indicator of assembly line production. Also brings up the question... where else are they cutting corners.
Others take the time, pride in workmanship, and respect for their customers, to use mitered corners.
Leland Colligan makes his with mitered corners, he always has. He has the best finger board in the business too.
Never played one, what makes the fingerboard so good?
This is a question I asked of a very good player from another country who has owned several accordeons and does refurbs and repairs etc....
"What is your observation on the best of the one rows currently available?"
His response :
"That's a very interesting question to answer! As a one-row player, I've given that topic a lot of thought. These days I'm very much of the opinion that individual taste has a huge role to play in that. Here are my thoughts...
I would say that the easiest playing one-row (and by that I mean a 4-stop, one-row, LMMH) on the market these days is the Beltuna "Cajun", now more commonly referred to as the Beltuna Melodeon. They really are well-playing boxes - the action is light and quick, the buttons have a positive stop under the keyboard, the reeds are highly responsive and the sound is beautiful...very 'clean' and crisp. Having said that, what they lack is character; they are so perfect as to almost be bland...that's just my opinion, and of course I realize that so much of character and soul comes from a person's playing and not the instrument itself. As you know, I had a Beltuna for a while...I then got a Breton Clement (a box brimming with character!) and lost all interest in the Beltuna. The Beltuna is also ugly as sin. I like that the design is simple and that there is no tacky, metal hardware, but the etchings on the front are, well, *interesting*, and both that and any inlay only wrap around three sides of the box, with the back being bare. It's just odd, and looks like they didn't bother finishing it.
In Ireland these days, the Beltuna is THE melodeon to get, and everyone seems to have one now. Whilst I can understand why, I don't miss mine.
It goes without saying that I am fully aware of your unfortunate history with Melodie, so anything I comment on here refers to the box itself and not the people behind it. My first experience with a Melodie was the one that belonged to Patrick Nolet. We were at a Jackie Daly concert, and afterwards we had a chance to play some tunes. I had the Beltuna then, but when I picked up Patrick's box to try, I knew in an instant that *that* was the sound and feel that I wanted from a box, and the Beltuna would never be it. I gave the box back and decided to forget about it. Fast forward a year or so, and I was looking to sell my Beltuna. Patrick was interested in trading, but I did not want his Melodie as I had just got the Breton. However, I knew that if I tried his box, I would be hooked. He knew it, too. I ended up lending him the Beltuna to try, and in turn I borrowed the Melodie. What's the harm, I thought? I might as well have another box to mess around with while he had mine...Unfortunately, I was immediately hooked, and within a day or two of having his box I pretty much begged him to trade with me. In the end, he ended up with the Beltuna, and I his Melodie, which is the box I play to this day.
It's probably fair to assume that some Melodies out there aren't as good as the majority of them. Listening to clips of Bobby Gardiner's Melodie (now sold to a younger player) leave something to be desired; the box sounds weak, and apparently he wasn't too fond of it either. Mine is a powerhouse. The sound is strong and loud. You can feel it in your hands. If anything, I would complain that it is too loud! I've learned to play quietly...The flipside is that the sound can also be a bit harsh. It tends to want to dominate and walk all over other instruments rather than blend in nicely.
I don't think there is another one-row accordion out there that is like the Melodie, whether one likes it or not. The closest anything has come has been my friend's new Sag'ne, which copied the angled reedblock design of the Melodie. Apparently the angled reedlblocks, along with the short-scale Binci reeds, is what gives Melodies that strong, full-bodied sound and volume. I've dried mine out and lightened the treble springs, both of which improved the instrument in my opinion. The big downside to mine is that it doesn't have working stops, so it's all four LMMH all the time. I'm not too disappointed, though, because the MM sound on the Melodie is a bit too harsh and tinny for my taste...
I love the sound of the MM reeds on the Castagnari Melodeon. I also like the full LMMH sound, however the sound of the Castagnari is nothing like any other 4-stop melodeon. This is both a con and pro. I sold the one I had because I wanted a differnet sound. Now that it's gone, I miss its uniqueness. I'm actually looking for one again now as a secondary box to my Melodie. Admittedly, the Castagnari is an odd-duck; the air button is just plain stupid (I moved the one on my old one), the corners are hard, the treble buttons a tad tall, the bass box ridiculously wide, but having said all that I still like them. The Beltuna would be an easier melodeon to play, mind you.
The Messerviers and Bretons are modelled after the traditional 'cajun' box, which of course is modelled after the old German-made Monarchs, Sterlings and Globes. However, these Quebec-made boxes are a marked improvement on playability, sound and even aesthetics in my opinion. This traditional design does seem to lend itself to a particular sound and feel, completely different from the Beltuna, Melodie and Castagnari. Some people really like this and prefer it to the models I just mentioned. My opinion? They have their place, but I prefer the newer takes on the old design.
Good for cajun music, I guess? I've tried quite a few Acadians (Savoys), Bon Tee (Miller) and Martins, and I've never really been impressed with any of them. The Acadians in particular have been disappointing. I can only assume that some were made better than others, and I just haven't tried one of the 'good' ones yet. The Martins were generally the best of the bunch. The cajun boxes have loads of character and charm, but they're bulky, clunky, sluggish, and tacky. I don't find them suitable for playing the music I like to play.
Sorry for the long-winded response, but you did ask! The Beltuna would probably be a safe bet for someone looking to find a top-of-the-line melodeon. My personal choice would be the Melodie, with a Castagnari as a backup to change things up."
Understand this is one player's opinion.. and he does say personal preference is paramount.. as well as character. He and agree on all of his opinions and observations except I have not owned a Messervier but played them, I have not owned but played the Beltuna, I got screwed badly by the maker of the MELODIE and would never do business with the sneaky, lying SOB again. I have owned 4 of the one row Castagnaris and 10 of the 2 and 2 1/2 rows.
The Beltuna has no soul and butt friggin ugly but it is a fine player.. not for me though.
My favorite box of all time was a Clement Breton. Clement was a railroad engineer and made less than 50 boxes.. I had mine custom made, #31, the first ever brought into the US from Quebec. . Key of D with Dedic tuning.
Large, beautifully crafted, he made everything but the reeds to include all the hardware, bellows, reed blocks, buttons, and leather bits... Nothing like it. I went broke and sold it and have regretted it since. Impossible to find and he no longer makes boxes. Talk about character and soul and playability and tone.. nothing like it anywhere. I do miss it. I'll see if I can find a link to one.
If I find another, I'll buy it, price won't matter.
My opinions and observations and mine alone. I have owned over 50 accordeons. to include Cajun made, Quebec, German, Italian, French, Bohemian, Saxon and so on.
See Web site link #2 for Clement Breton.. when on the site.. clic on the accordeon.
A Clement Breton Box video
also link #3
I can second the fact that Leland's boxes are mitered corners because your name came up when I bought mine. For me the when hitting the buttons it's really smooth they feel like they are floating in a puddle of oil is the best way I can describe it. And I also have a Martin and a Gabbanelli and it's a change when I get to goofing around and swapping boxes.
On a completely different note,good to see you Jeff I wondered where you was hope all is well.
A few health issues from botched surgeries following crashes mnay years ago..
Plus a torn meniscus surgery a couple months ago.
All but quit playing... offed most of my accordions..
Maybe one day when my left wrist and thumb ( which was relocated in a surgery last year in order to save it) heal up ..
and I have a little more time..
selling my place ( 11 1/2 acres in So Oregon)..
our town was invaded by dope growers so we are leaving..
Fixing this place and fixing up the place where we are moving.. this takes all my time.
Thanks to all who replied here or reached out to me privately with great advice. It is appreciated. I’m going to be patient, save up for a new Cajun made box, and just keep grinding on my beginners instrument for now. I’ll post back when I do upgrade and show everyone what I end up getting.
In the meantime if anyone runs across a smoking deal on a used Cajun box, send it my way. I keep a pretty close eye on Craigslist, eBay and FB Marketplace, but with what people are asking for used instruments ($$$$), i feel like I might as well save a little more and buy new.
Hey James. Very good idea to keep grinding on your beginner accordion until you know what you're looking for. After all, it pays to be educated before you drop a grand or 3 on a freakin accordion that should serve you for the rest of your life! The first Sterlings went for roughly $40?!! Remember what I said, you have the rest of your life to make the right choice. No need to rush. So much of Cajun accordion playing has to do with the playing style that develops over decades of playing. I've seen novices that couldn't make an accordion sound good no matter what they played on, but those same accordions in the hands of a master sounded just fine. Playing doubles and triples make the sound of your accordion much fuller. Playing doubles and triples with the right timing and rhythm, make the sound of your accordion unforgettable to the ears that hear it. It is also much more satisfying to the player to be able to play on more than just the 3 middle buttons, lol.
Playing on a crappy accordion with bad action? Well, that will make you that much more smoother and appreciative as a player when you finally find that "perfect" accordion for you (not going to happen). You'll have to settle for what you can get just like everyone else. The key is to mold yourself to the accordion that you do get. Otherwise, you'll never be satisfied and you'll spend way more money than you should.
You rushed in and bought a Chinese Hohner didn't you? By doing that, you broke the first rule of playing Cajun accordion.......patience.