How to repair an accordion? You probably don’t. They do – meet the technicians of a “dying profession” who keep the instrument alive
My answer so far has been ‘no’ on both points. Given the active music scene in Boston, one would expect that any instrument could be easily repaired here. Accordions are a glaring exception. When mine in need of emergency repair after a car accident, the closest technician I found willing to take on the job was based in New Jersey. Although I lived in this area for six years, I still didn’t know where to send someone who needed an accordion tuned or revised – but I know that someday someone will be me.
Most generalist music stores don’t have a clue what to do with an accordion. The Button Box in Sunderland only does warranty repairs on piano accordions, that’s what I play. Some DIY repair and tuning instructions can be found online, but to the untrained eye, the innards of an accordion are a confusing maze. Unless you know exactly what to change, you could end up looking worse, much worse than before. Returning my Brandoni accordion to the factory in Castelfidardo, Italy – long considered the accordion capital of the world – would do the trick, but I wouldn’t have an instrument for months. Would it really be that complicated?
Yes and no. Paul Tagliamonte Jr. of West Harwich has been working on accordions since he was 10 (now 63), and says there are three essential elements to the art of accordion maintenance. The first is know-how; second, spare parts such as keys, flapper valves (usually leather bands) and metal rods; and the third is the tools, however most of them are not found in your average hardware store. Tools like a set of bellows to test the reeds without having to reassemble the whole instrument; a configuration for melting wax at a temperature low enough to secure the reeds without burning them; maintenance and adjustment tools that look like what a dentist might use to scrape someone’s dental plaque; even a platter that indexes the bass knobs to ensure they return to the instrument the same way they came off.
Some of Tagliamonte’s tools and craftsmanship come from his father, Paul Tagliamonte Sr., an accordionist and teacher who ran a series of studios under the name “Paul Monte” and only closed his Wellesley School of Music. ‘a few years ago when he retired. at the age of 90. Part of his knowledge comes to him from men he calls “the ancients”, accordion makers of Italian origin who first taught his father, then taught him as a teenager.
Tagliamonte never considered himself a full-time accordion technician; for decades he worked for audio technology company Bose. But after his father retired, his mother implored him to continue, and he both enjoys the job and wants to be a resource for the next generation of players.
“There was a time when the only accordions I saw coming in were old, rather damaged boxes, belonging to people with a lot of gray hair,” he said in a telephone interview. Now he sees a flood of clients in their late twenties or early thirties (like me) who didn’t take accordion lessons as a child, but learned the instrument later in life. . I wanted to learn an instrument I could wear, I loved accordion groups like Beirut and the Decemberists, and since I had taken piano lessons all my childhood, I already knew how to play half the accordion, the less I thought; what I lacked at the start in technique, I invented it out of bravado.
Ten years later, I’m still playing – mostly dance music from various parts of Europe and America – and I’ve learned pieces about the instrument’s strange history along the way. .
The popularity of the accordion in America swelled, then waned, then swelled again. As far as the instruments are concerned, it is a relatively young two centuries old. The first button accordion was developed in Europe in the 1820s; the piano accordion arrived several years later, and when European immigrants brought their accordions to the Americas, the instrument found its way into vaudeville, blues, popular music, and big band jazz.
Because piano accordions were cheap and portable compared to pianos, they were great early instruments for children. When accordionist Sam Falcetti founded his music store and namesake school in western Massachusetts, it was first an accordion studio; by the time it opened a third location in 1963, near 400 students took accordion lessons from him and his employees.
“It was more popular than the piano or the guitar, believe it or not! Exclaimed Falcetti in a telephone interview.
But a lot of young musicians hid their instruments in the closet once rock ‘n’ roll took off. “My dad blames the Beatles,” said Tagliamonte, who started playing as soon as he could hold the instrument, just in time for Beatlemania to strike. When Tagliamonte reached college, the accordion was unusual at best, and he took up electric bass so he could play in rock bands.
Maybe he had to get out before he could come back. Thanks to artists such as polka-parody master “Weird Al” Yankovic, clever rock bands like They Might Be Giants, and exuberant conductor Buckwheat Zydeco, the accordion has lasted long enough for kids who grew up on this music – myself included – to take the instrument, without the stigma. We explore its traditions and forge its future. But playing the instrument and knowing its inner workings are two different animals.
At the House of Musical Traditions folk instrument store in Takoma Park, Md., Accordionist and technician Wendy Morrison answered frequent inquiries about old accordions from the 1990s, many who had just entered in an accordion from a relative or a real estate sale.
“It was a sneaky, progressive thing,” Morrison said over the phone. “I knew it was coming back when I started hearing it in the commercials.”
While at the store (she left in 2009), she did some minor repairs – what she called “easy stuff”.
“There were times when I could fix a bass mechanism,” she said. “I could just give him a little kick and he would go where he was supposed to go.” For anything that was complex, she had to send it elsewhere. Eventually, she wrote a lengthy layman’s guide to evaluating older accordions.
Morrison speculated that Italy’s long-standing culture of island guilds and apprenticeships led some experts to take their knowledge to the grave. “Boy, were these guys jealous of their secrets!” ” she said.
But what happens when knowing these secrets is no longer a viable career path? Now, Falcetti said, the next generation isn’t even taking over the profession at Castelfidardo.
Falcetti Music’s Springfield store still has two accordion technicians on staff. One works on acoustic instruments and the other specializes in the digital Roland V-Accordion, which Falcetti attributes to why he’s always working – changing instrument sounds is as easy as pressing a button. .
For Falcetti, who began selling door-to-door accordions at the height of the instrument’s popularity, the digital accordion represents a path to the future.
“The accordion will never go by the wayside. People are very happy to listen [it] , “he said. But accordion repair is” kind of a dying profession… I don’t know if this will continue into the next 40 or 50 years.
Still, Tagliamonte is adamant that many older accordions still have a lot of life in them. If a customer brings an instrument and determines that buying another would be more profitable than repairing it, they will tell them.
“Usually there aren’t too many instances where I’m unable to help someone,” he said. “There aren’t many people who can heal these old instruments, and I feel an inner obligation.” Now retired, Tagliamonte plans to spend even more time at his workbench and occasionally mentor his clients through home accordion surgeries over the phone. He doesn’t yet think about teaching others the tricks of the trade, but he has decided to be an “old man” for the next generation. “I will not end my life without passing the baton,” he said.
Soon he and his wife are planning to spend a few weeks in Italy and make a pilgrimage to Castelfidardo, a town he has heard of all his life but has never seen himself.