I have a confession to make.
I’m a serial philanderer.
Despite my protestations of endless love, I am prone to discard my object of affection after only a few months of wild passion. Then I recklessly throw myself at another, repeating the same white hot — and shamefully hollow — vows.
Oh, no… not that. My wife and I have been married 40 years as of this writing, and through it all, I have been scrupulously faithful. My brazen disloyalty extends only to the ‘cordeens in my life. And with them, I am utterly disgraceful, opprobrious, and louche. I am the fetid pit of accordianic louchiness.
Take the Hohner Verdi 1A, to whom I swore endless devotion. As I gained a modicum of skill on the instrument and found myself able to fumble through a tune or two, I quickly found myself getting restless. Something in the music was missing, and it couldn’t possibly be because of me….I began to mentally catalog the Verdi’s faults — Sixty buttons actually weren’t enough — the missing row of diminished chords I had scant interest in a few months ago quickly became a necessity. The keyboard was too slow and squishy for my lightning fingers – that certainly explained all my mistakes. What’s more, the Verdi didn’t sound at all like Dallas’ high-end instrument. It had no richness of tone, no purity of sound, no variety of voice. It sounded common –- even (Hohner forgive me!) — cheap.
It was blatantly obvious: the Verdi was holding me back.
The sad truth of things? I had become addicted to accordion porn. Every night after the Verdi returned to its case, I snuck guiltily onto the Internet and the Liberty Bellows website. I gazed with bottomless lust at the reedcake – Scandallis, Beltunas, Serenellis , Giulettis – whoa, that one is Titano! — all much gaudier and many times more expensive than my humble Verdi.
And every last one of them had a great set of reeds and a whole rack of registers.
Let me explain.
As I mentioned in Episode II of this chronicle, the accordion actually is a reed instrument. It doesn’t use natural, grown-in-the-pond reeds like a clarinet or oboe, but rather, man-made reeds like its cousin the harmonica. And also unlike “woodwinds”, which make do with a single measly reed, the ‘cordeen literally has dozens of them: when you push the bellows and press a key, the instrument forces air over the reeds, and they undulate and ululate sensually, producing their characteristic sound. The reeds are arranged in “reed blocks”, which are a bunch of reeds that produce the same tonal quality, as determined by their length and thickness. A given instrument has separate reed blocks for the treble and bass (aka keyboard and button) notes, and the more reed blocks it has, the wider variety of sounds it can produce. If you see a reference to a 3/4 ‘cordeen, that means it has three blocks of treble reeds and four blocks of bass. That gives you lots of sounds. A 4/5 gives you even more. And these reeds vary in quality from cheapo-cheapo mass produced “commercial” varieties on one end of the scale to very expensive hand-made reeds on the other. And there’s a whole lot in between. For example, you can find a ‘cordeen with machine made reeds that are “hand finished”, or “Tipo a Mano”, which are significantly better than the low end, and in the opinion of some reed experts, almost as good as hand made reeds, which you couldn’t afford anyway. The quality of the reed in large part defines the quality of the instrument. Really fine reeds use special steel and are fitted to the instrument with precise tolerances so they vibrate immediately as the air flows through them. Their sensitivity allows a wider range of volume, and they last longer and just plain sound better.
And how do you choose the sound you want? You push your desired register switch, which directs the air from the bellows to the proper combination of reed blocks (more on that later…). Think of a register switch as a stop on an organ.
Of course, you can only do that if your instrument actually has any registers. But my Verdi had none. It had two reed blocks for the treble notes and four for the bass, and they always produced the same sound –a very nice little musette  . Always a very nice little musette. But very nice little musettes aren’t appropriate for everything. Sure, they’re great for playing “La Vie en Rose”, but just imagine whaling away on Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’ (an accordion favorite) with a very nice little musette. Absurd.
In the blackness of night I pored furtively over the Liberty Bellows website, hungering over instruments with multiple reed blocks and registers — there was a gleaming black Iorio 3/4 with four registers in the bass and six in the treble! Think of the combinations! There’s a Loreto 4/5 with thirteen treble registers and four in the bass! And oh, my – that Giuletti is a 4/6 with twenty-two individual treble registers and hand made reeds! And tone chambers – a feature of expensive instruments allowing one or two of the reed blocks –- frequently the bassoon and clarinet — to thrust their tones through a secret hollow, producing an even richer, more sensual sound.
Oh, be still, my ululating heart!
I had convinced myself. I needed a different, more versatile instrument. Convincing my wife was another story entirely, but with a combination of spurious logic and firm manly resolve, I got her permission…..
I am back at Liberty Bellows, on the crowded second floor, waiting to try out the used instruments. It is the lair of Mike, the Accordiental Potentate, and he has granted me a boon: he will give me the full price of my Verdi towards a more expensive axe. But my budget is modest. I am trying to keep the total investment to less than $1000.
It is an exercise steeped in desperate longing: I am surrounded by the newest, most desirable houris in the seraglio — all at divorce-inducing prices. I’m going to need something considerably more humble. I am an amateur with meager skills: I could never justify, say, $6995 for a lustrous Beltuna Studio IV, or almost $10,000 for a Black Scandalli Air VI with Artisan Reeds. ( I have no idea what “Artisan Reeds” are, but jeez, they sure sound impressive.) I might have asked if they stocked the $40,000 Pigni Mythos, but since it was a button accordion, I probably wouldn’t have bought it, anyway.
Dustin the sales guy brings me a “vintage” Cintolini (“vintage” is a commonly used accordion euphemism. It sounds a whole lot better than “old”). It has 3 registers, but it smells kind of musty and sounds like it quit a three-pack-a-day habit last Thursday. Likewise, the even vintage-er white Castle, which is not named for a cheap hamburger  , but has an equivalent sound. It does have 6 registers. Dustin tells me it’s an “ideal starter model”. Well, I’m not a “starter” anymore, dammit. And 5,000,000 illegal immigrants voted for Hillary.
Both instruments are in the under $700 range, and I quickly realize that unless I want to take my chances on eBay, instruments of any quality are not going to come cheaply. But then, just as I’m about to give up, Dustin remembers an instrument they’ve recently acquired and not yet placed on the showroom floor. I wait in nervous anticipation as he fetches it.
A moment later, he returns with the Camerano. It’s candy-apple red with cream accents, and the buttons look like half submerged jelly beans. It’s got four registers – and I eagerly looked at them to see what the available sounds are…..
Most of the time, accordion switches have some kind of text on them. The markings are generally in English, German, or Italian, and they identify the sound they’re supposed to invoke. But sometimes, rather than text, they have nothing but hieroglyphics, which the manufacturers assume you’re going to understand.
Now that’s clear, isn’t it?
On the assumption, dear reader, that you will someday run into these mystical cartouches, let me explain.
Accordion reeds, whether lovingly crafted by an Artisan, or ground out by a creaky machine last serviced in 1967, come in three varieties, identified by the pitch they produce: Low (L), Middle (M), or High(H). If you’re buying from a knowledgeable source, it’ll know what the selection is on a given instrument — usually identified by the reeds making sounds for the right hand — and they’re frequently not the same from ‘cordeen to ‘cordeen.
For example, one 4/5 accordion might be LMMH, while another might be LMMM. The distribution determines the sounds you can create. Remember the musette sound? Well, since that’s created by having a tuning discrepancy between two or more identical reeds, a musette requires at least two Ms. An LMMM ‘cordeen can create a triple musette, which can be a lovely sound, but you sacrifice the higher pitched piccolo-like notes of the ‘H’. LMMH seems most popular on 4/5 instruments, and now and then you’ll come across a 5/5 with LMMMH, which lets you have your piccolo and triple-musette, too. An accordion with 3 treble reeds might be an LMM or LMH. My Verdi was only MM with no switches – which was why musette was the only sound it made.
Back to the register glyphs: they’re frequently represented by 3 sections of a circle – the top is H, the middle is M, and the bottom is L, and each dot represents a reed engaged for a particular sound. So, for example if you have an LMMH ‘cordeen, a register marking with one dot on top, two in the middle, and one on the bottom indicates this particular register uses all 4 reeds – LMMH – but a register with one dot in each row means only L, one of the two Ms, & H in use. And if you happen to see an additional dot that’s right or left of center in the middle row, that indicates how that reed contributes to musette or other compound sound like the “master”, which opens all the blocks and lets fly. If the dot is to the right of center, it’s an M tuned a little higher. If it’s to the left (only in instruments with more than one M) it’s tuned a little lower.
But it’s nice to have the identifying text. It took me a while to learn that a single dot on the bottom meant “bassoon”. Or that a dot on top and one dot in the middle is the “oboe.” By the way — if you read the description of a ‘cordeen for sale on eBay, you’ll rarely see the reeds identified. The sellers, largely never initiated into the Brotherhood, will need to read this blog. And you should look carefully at any photos of the register switches before you buy.
A note on the sounds, however. Your “oboe” register is only a vague approximation of an actual oboe, and the same goes for many of the other instrument-named stops. Don’t expect to produce a sound like the principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra – what you’re getting is a combination of two ‘cordeen reeds producing a high and thin sound, but nothing near that of an actual oboe. Register sounds tend to be semi-standard. Almost all ‘cordeens with registers have “bassoon” and “clarinet” or “violin” settings — but you’re not likely to find a register marked “flugelhorn” or “bagpipe” .
I looked at Camerano on my lap and discovered that the register switches were… totally blank. They had nothing at all on them. Nothing at all.
“What are the registers?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Hey, Mike! – what are the registers on the Camerano?”
“Bassoon, Bandoneon [an Argentine accordion variant], Clarinet, & Violin,” he replied immediately. Mike knows everything.
The Camerano even had two switches on the button side – a bass and an alto sound. This was a marked upgrade over the Verdi.
Dustin placed the ‘cordeen on my lap, and I attempted to try it out. He was sitting there. Looking at me. I silently prayed my ‘playing in public’ jitters wouldn’t get the better of me.
They did. I immediately forgot everything I had learned over my three months of practice. If it had been golf, I’d have whiffed the ball. I could tell Dustin was embarrassed for me.
There was only one thing to do to save my pride. I said, “I’ll take it.”
I returned the Verdi to from whence it came, and I took my new Candy Apple ‘Cordeen home. I had registers, and I got them for just under a thousand dollars. Mission accomplished.
A Camerano accordion. Hmmm. Not a familiar brand. I went back to the Internet and searched the name. I found the website of a small town in Italy’s LaMarche region, close to Ancona and bordering the Adriatic Sea. You could almost hear the Italian Musette in the descriptive text: The heart of industry in Camerano beats to the sound of accordions. Indeed, Camerano is where the sainted Silvio Soprani, “the Stradivarius of accordion makers” had his workshop. Silvio Soprani, and the comunes of Camerano and nearby Castlefidardo are the fathers of Italian accordion manufacture.
I sighed. O, mio Babbio caro!
But there was no mention at all of an accordion company named for the town. I searched further, this time specifying “Camerano accordions for sale.” Google found me a few used instruments – almost all of them on the very low-end.
I did a search for “accordion manufacturers”, and found http://www.accordionlinks.com/manufacturer.html … a site with an exhaustive list of ‘cordeen makers. There had to be a hundred of them, many of whom went under in the Accordion Dark Ages after 1960.
I scanned the list. Most of the brands were accompanied by a brief description – for example: “Bompezzo from Castelfidardo makes chromatic button accordions, piano accordions and diatonic accordions. Bompezzo was founded in 1983 by Giampaolo Bompezzo.”
But the listing for Camerano says…”Camerano.”
That’s it. All of it.
I begin to wonder. Does no one know anything about the Camerano? Why is there nothing about the company? Is it even a real brand? None of the very few Camerano-branded instruments I’m seeing on the Internet even look like each other… It does say “Made in Italy” on that little label on the bottom of my instrument, but it also says “Custom Made for the Midwest Accordion School”, of which the internet is also ignorant. Is ‘camerano’ Italian for ‘sucker’?
It’s Sunday: Liberty Bellows is closed – I can’t ask Mike. And Mike knows everything.
I decided to bring my search to “The Accordionists Forum”, an old-school internet “forum” I discovered in search of something else. It’s a terrific UK-based hangout for the global accordion fraternity — they have a whole thread on accordion brands, and it’s full of questions like mine. I post my question, and a day later, I have an answer:
“Scandalli made a standard accordion branded ‘Camerano’ model in the 50s. A couple of pics may help if yours is same.” Somebody else even posts a picture of a “Scandalli Camerano” for me.
It’s not what I have. Doesn’t look anything like it.
Scandalli is a premium brand – they sell very high quality instruments. But a ‘Scandalli Camerano’ is not a ‘Camerano’. I am as deep in the dark as I was before.
Liberty Bellows is closed Mondays, too. I need to wonder another day. This is extremely difficult for me, for as an American Baby Boomer, I expect immediate gratification. It’s my right, after all.
I called a half-hour before the store opened on Tuesday. Maybe Mike was there. He was. He probably thinks I’m nuts.
“Hey, Mike – this is Steve. I bought the red Camerano a while ago?”
“Oh, yeah.” I could hear him thinking: it’s that nutcase who couldn’t play anything….
“Do you know who makes the Cameranos?”
He stops and thinks for a moment.
“I think maybe they’re made by Scandalli. I think it might be their student line. But I’m not sure….”
Not even Mike knows. And Mike knows everything.
How do I find my ‘cordeen’s origins? Alas, there is no Ancestry.com for accordions. So I decide to go directly to the Source. I’ll send Scandalli an email!
I compose it carefully, laying out my reasons for writing , outlining with precise detail my Search for Truth.
Days go by. There is no response. Then more than a month later, there it is, in my Inbox!
Scandalli (from 1900) is one of the oldest accordion brand [sic] in the world and over the years has manufactured hundreds of different models.
We have recently taken over Scandalli but unfortunately, the original factory records were destroyed or mislaid a long time ago. It is therefore difficult for us to give information or an accurate age to a specific instrument.
Further, the valuation of any instrument depends on its age, condition, country and desirability. As a general rule, old Italian accordions do not attract the same sums as attributed to old Italian violins for example and often the cost of repair or overhaul far outweighs any commercial value; usually, the accordion in question has more of a sentimental value.
Also parts for any repair work or replacement are usually difficult to obtain and are often taken from accordions of a similar age. For this reason we recommend that you seek an expert opinion in your country.
To find out further information or a local valuation you can find a list of accordion dealers/repairers at http://www.accordions.com (There may be a charge for this valuation)
In other words, we didn’t really read your e-mail, but we sent you this default response anyway. We don’t care.
I would never learn the Camerano’s origins.
My ‘cordeen was obviously not of noble birth. Its parentage was, in a euphemistic word, “doubtful”. As of course would be expected of someone with genteel breeding, I began to wonder if I should associate with it at all.
And then, just a few months later, it happened: the buttons started sticking! Every so often, I’d hit a note in the fundamental, and that translucent, jelly-bean-red button would just duck down deliberately and refuse to come out again, no matter how much I cursed it. Oh, after I’d smack the side a few times or press the equivalent tone in the counterbass it would peek back up — but sure enough, another button would go snorkeling a few minutes later. I swear, it was doing it deliberately.
I sighed in resignation, made an appointment for the repair, packed the Camerano into my car, and drove to Liberty Bellows.
Mike met me at the door. “Oh, sure, we could repair it. But y’know, I’d give you full credit on a really nice Petosa that just came in…”
Mike knows everything. Including a camerano when he sees one.
I ditched my candy-apple ‘cordeen quicker than Romeo dumped Rosalind. I bought the Petosa. It actually had one switch fewer than the Camerano, but it didn’t matter. It sounded better and responded faster. What’s more, I knew where it came from – Petosa Accordions have been operating out of Seattle since 1922, importing their own line of high-quality instruments from Italy. Sure, this was one of their student models from the 1960s, but I didn’t care. When I called Petosa to ask about its lineage, I actually spoke to the Latest Generation Mr. Petosa himself, and he even pretended he was happy to hear from me!
It was beautiful. I loved it. It sounded wonderful. I vowed to my wife it was all the accordion I’d ever need. I traded it in three months later after Dallas told me it was too small for me.
Mike didn’t even crack a (visible) smile when I walked back in to Liberty Bellows looking for something more apropos to my regal bearing. He found me another Petosa! With six treble and three bass switches, plus a fancy palm switch that I could whomp with the butt of my hand to rapidly switch to the “master” sound.
I was able to play a simple tune when I tried it out this time. Progress.
It was beautiful. I loved it. It sounded magnificent. I vowed to my wife it was all the accordion I’d ever need.
I still have it… Honest.
But only a few months later I decided that an accordion of that magnitude was too weighty to lug back and forth to our vacation home. Back I went, dragging Dallas with me for technical support.
No used Petosas this time (I would’ve bought another in a flash). But they did have a Noble with a lovely sound wafting from 10 treble and 7 bass registers. I trembled with unbridled desire when they told me it had two tone chambers.
Dallas checked it out and pronounced it worthy. Mike let me know that “Noble” was a rebranded Gabbanelli  — an admirable heritage. The technician who prepared it for sale pronounced it an excellent buy – she even thought it had hand-made reeds!
I bought it. I vowed to my wife it was all the accordion I’d ever need.
But just last week, Liberty Bellows emailed me with news of a newly-acquired Borsini professional instrument, with gorgeous sound from handmade reeds, a gazillion registers, a triple musette, two tone chambers, and in practically new condition. They were only asking $6500.
“Do not lust after her beauty,” saith Proverbs 6:25, “or let her captivate you with her eyes.”
Or her tone chambers.
Copyright 2017 Stephen A. Hirsch
 If you remember from Episode I, you need at least two reeds slightly out of tune with each other to produce a musette sound for any given note.
 For my non-American readers, White Castle is a hamburger chain that makes McDonald’s look like haute cuisine.
 http://www.duckmandu.com/notation/ Used by permission
 You can get a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) accordion that can make your ‘cordeen sound like a Themerin or harpsichord or whatever if you want to. I don’t want to. Roland is the pre-eminent manufacturer of these platypuses. I just think an accordion should sound like a damn accordion.
 Gabbanelli is still around. They operate now out of Houston, selling button accordions to the wonderfully energetic Latin accordion music community. Don Noble was a prominent accordionist working out of Chicago who also had a successful business importing and rebranding accordions. When the Great Accordion Depression occurred, he switched to guitars.