Correspondance with L’Accordéonaire, Part 2

Continuing my correspondence with David Maust (begun in the previous post).
Jan. 26, 2014

Spoiler!  He goes for the Panther!
Hi Gary,

Thank you for the thoughtful reply! You have given me a lot to think about and I appreciate the invitation to continue the conversation.

I especially liked listening to the various renditions of On d'onderon garda that you posted. I agree that the various instruments give the music a very different feel, and think what you say about the CBA and PA tending toward fluidity and complexity is true. I didn't realize the CBA had such a strong presence in the Auvergne music, but I can see how this would have bridged the Bal Folk to the Bal Musette. I love the sound of the CBA recording, but I also really like the one on the Giordy. And really, for some reason the less adorned Giordy version seems to fit more what I feel is my own personality as a musician. I really love simplicity and maybe that is why I feel drawn to a diatonic box. I think I have always felt musically more at home in playing in a diatonic mode, even on chromatic instruments. Maybe this also comes in part from playing different diatonic instruments like the mountain dulcimer and harmonica. I feel that I put the love of those instruments into my playing of chromatic instruments like the piano, organ and piano accordion.

I mentioned in my last email that I have liked playing from an Ad Vielle Que Pourra songbook on my PA. There is something so different about how the tunes feel on my PA and the sound of the recordings of the band with the diatonic accordion. Of course the musicians are so well accomplished, but the instrument itself too is just different and that keeps my interest in looking at the diatonic accordion. Also the lighter weight of the diatonic is something I know I would like. When I bought my 60 bass PA I downsized from an extremely heavy Titano 120 bass and that made a great improvement in my comfort with the accordion (and my 60 bass still weighs about 16 pounds).

I appreciate what you say about enjoying the process of learning the instrument. This is true for me. I'm not really concerned with reaching a goal of ability, although it is always nice to improve, but the satisfaction from playing is of much more value to me. I've always felt I'm a bit of a slower learner, but I really enjoy, and deeply remember the process. I have so many memories over my life of playing music in different places, situations and with different people, and there in lies the richness of music for me. I sense you approach music in the same way and I appreciate your causing me to reflect on this.

As far as monetary investment goes - is there a particular box you would recommend for someone on a budget?

I noticed The Button Box's most economical diatonic accordion is the Hohner Panther, and I've read a lot of favorable reviews, but I'm not yet sold. I really would like to try and save for a higher quality instrument. I've always felt that one should get the best instrument one can afford, and that has certainly proved true for me in playing the accordion I have. I just love hearing it every time I play it; it always seems worth the money I spent on it. Have you ever played a Panther?

I also remember reading that you started with a Hohner Corso. Do you like the Hohners? They seem a little more affordable than some of the other brands the Button Box carries. I wish I had a place like the Button Box close by where I live and I could try out different boxes. Watching different videos is helpful, but it's nothing like actually playing the instrument.

Thanks again for the conversation, I've really enjoyed it! -David
Honing in on an Acquisition
Jan. 26, 2014

Hello, David,

Again, thanks for your kind words.

I agree about the difference that diatonic instruments have, even if I can't necessarily describe it.  Even when I play guitar I tune it CGCGCC.  Very drone-y.  I play whistles, keyless flutes, and diatonic accordions. The only chromatic instrument I really play is recorder (love baroque music). And I play piano, but really just to help me figure out arrangements and such.  I like the diatonic mindset a lot. I have thought a lot about the CBA, because I love that Auvergnat style -- and Weltmeister makes a good, less-expensive CBA ($1200) -- but I feel like it would amount to a huge distraction from the work I've already done.  Just taking on the quint-tuned Dino Baffetti has stretched me quite a bit (and I love it!)  It takes me away from the simplicity your describe. If someone were to gift me one, the temptation might be too much.  But the next accordion I'm going to buy is going to be a one-row in D … whenever that happens.

About buying an accordion … you really have to try it before you buy, unless you are commissioning a new instrument from a trusted maker (Saltarelle, Castagnari, Dino Baffetti).  The cheaper accordions CAN be great, but there is a variability. I am very fond of the sound of Hohners, and I would recommend a Corso or Erica. I got VERY lucky with my first accordion (a Hohner Presswood in A/D), which was a loaned to me for a time. Then also lucky with my Corso, which had a very wide tuning and a very nice touch. I have heard good things about the Panthers and such, but really, the inherent musicality you describe in your own playing will move beyond a Panther quickly. The action of the instrument is really important.  I was happy with the Corso, but I'm much happier with the Dino Baffetti I've gotten, which, essentially, is a Hohner clone except made with top quality parts. I do love that Hohner sound. I see the Button Box has a Corona III that looks pretty sweet. If you did decide to go for a cheaper box, I would go for a Presswood or Pokerwork and pay to have it de-clacked.  If you do get a chance to go to some place where there might be a collection of accordions -- make the pilgrimage. There's nothing like trying them and having it suddenly "feel right".

Framing the Quest
Jan. 28, 2014

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the tips. I really appreciate your opinions on all this and feel I know where to go from here in looking for a particular box. It's hard to decide since there are so many beautiful accordions out there, not just brands but keys and reed set-ups as well.

I took a look at that Corona III and you are right, it is has a remarkable sound. I also love the sound of your Dino Baffetti. But I think I will probably go with a less expensive, simpler option at this stage in my playing like a Presswood or Pokerwork like you say. I should be able to afford one of these and feel it would be a better choice than the Panther. I really liked the used Presswood and Pokerwork boxes on the Button Box's site and watched the videos.

As far as key, I'm assuming a two row G/C will be a good tuning to start out with. I figure that's what many players would do French folk music with. I know that hurdy gurdies that are usually G/C tuned are considered Auvernait and D/G Bourbonnais. I'm hoping for something that is a pretty standard key for my first instrument. And G/C is good for American folk stuff too which most of my local musician friends play - although I do like playing in D also... but I figure I always have my chromatic accordion for other keys if I want them.

And I'm going to do some looking around for a shop in my area (Los Angeles) and up north around San Francisco too as I'll be up there most likely this summer for a family trip. There is an annual accordion festival near there in a town called Cotati (which is close to SF), although going to it is not an option this year for me. Still, maybe there is a shop up there.

And maybe I'll be surprised and find something in my area too. I found out this year that one of my high schoolers is learning button accordion from his uncle. I'm sure there are more at my school who play as well;  my school is overwhelmingly Latino and accordion is plentiful in a lot of the traditional and popular Mexican music.

Thanks again for all your help! I've learned so much from our exchange and am deeply grateful for the chance to talk.

After that I heard nothing. A few months letter, I checked in on David to see how the quest was going. His response.

March 23, 2014

The quest has been going well and thank you again for encouraging me along the way. I'm so happy I decided to get a diatonic box after many years of piano accordion.

After talking with the Button Box some, visiting a place in downtown Los Angeles that had a few diatonic accordions (mainly 3 rows for Norteno players, Corona, Panther, etc.), checking my budget and looking on Craigslist, I decided to buy a Hohner Panther to start myself out.

And although I really like some of the used "Presswoods" and Pokerworks on the Button Box site, I am looking for a G/C instrument and they don't currently have any in my price range. I'm staying on the look out for one of these but in the meantime, I was able to easily get started with a Panther.

There are a lot of Panthers and Coronas on Craigslist out here in California, and I wanted to be able to play the box I was getting since I have heard the Panther's out of factory tuning can be inconsistent sometimes. Getting one on ebay, even new just seemed scary to me.

Also, the place in downtown LA wanted 600 for a Panther and I could get one on Craigslist for 350-400. I found an older style Panther about 20 min. away, the model with the Corona-like grill (I really don't like the newer grill) and it is in great shape. I have been really enjoying it! It is so light compared to my 60 bass piano accordion and I love figuring out tunes and just noodling around on it around the house while my kids play. And I can take it with me so much more easily than lugging the 17 pound piano accordion around!

So my plan is that I've got this Panther and will play it for a year or two to see how I like playing a diatonic box. I figured that if I didn't like it as much as my piano accordion, I could sell it. But if I did like it (which I do!) then I eventually will probably sell my Panther locally on Craigslist and step-up to a nicer box.

I also got the Panther, because I thought I might like the 3 row over a 2 row. I'm undecided on this right now, but the Panther was an inexpensive way for me to try out playing essentially either a 2 or a 3 row system. I purchased Pignol &  Milleret Book 1 from the button box and am playing the Panther with this course like it is a 2 row instrument, since that is probably what I will eventually get (but that third row is tempting for shortcuts and fun stuff).

I like having this P and M as a structured course to get my fingering right from the beginning (but ouch it works my left hand pinky doing basses with four fingeres! - I'm used to Stradella bass and NO pinky). But even though I'm not doing much row crossing yet in the course, I'm amazed at how quickly I figure out the same tones and runs across the rows when picking out favorite tunes and messing around with it.

One question for you if you don't mind... Pgnol and Milleret "deeply" suggest removing thirds. I looked this up on and read up on it a little, and now am thinking about taping off my thirds.  I took my basses out and mapped out the thirds and I could tape them off easily (although it means taping the reeds themselves which I hesitate to do until I talk to the Button Box or Mel. net or something; I'm very careful to not touch my reeds, even breathe on them, so the idea of taping them makes me cringe). On Italian boxes, I guess thirds are on the same "port" so you can tape them at the "hole" very easily, but Hohners are not like this. If I take the ports on most of my thirds, then I will also be taping a tonic or a 5th for another chord.

Do you play with thirds? I taped my Bb at the port to see how I would like the sound (has the third on push and pull), and I do like it. I like the simplicity and un-Stradella-bass-ness of it. But maybe I'm a little jaded to Stradella-sounding basses from piano accordion playing. When I play French-Trad. things on my piano accordion, I think the Stradella-bass mucks it up on occasion. If you did remove thirds, any advice on taping them off?

Sorry I got a little long-winded, but I love getting to talk about this stuff with someone who enjoys listening. I'm sure you understand.

Thanks! David

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