Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pushing the Right Buttons

It exhales such a wonderful scent.
I have a new -- new to me that is -- diatonic button accordion, a Castagnari Sander G/C.

The Button Box, in western Massachusetts, is a purveyor of all sorts of button boxes, so I suppose their name is well chosen. They couldn't have been any more accommodating in arranging shipment. I explained that we were on a sailboat and the schedule was uncertain. Margaret said, "No problem". I explained that I wanted two matching straps and leather buckle protectors. Margaret said, "No problem". It was music to my ears.
Margaret said, "No problem".

I had a week to decide whether to send it back -- I can just imagine its humiliation at returning to the accordion orphanage after being tried out and rejected -- but I fell in love the first day. So, it is aboard as crew rather than guest. I don't know its provenance, but when I hold the air button down and give an affectionate squeeze it whooshes a heady aroma, as if it resided for years in a library and spent its time inhaling fumes given off by leather-bound volumes and snifters of brandy. Surely this will inspire my playing. 

Plus, its buttons are nearly silent, except for sounding a note, that is. What a delight it is to play this fine instrument after having clacked along on my Pokerwork for the last four months. Not to disrespect my Hohner 2815, but in addition to playing the tune it sounded like a barrel of china rolling down hill, without much padding.

It's a G/C/# in melodeon speak
and a work of art.
I had thought the Hohner would be just the ticket to have aboard, having said a sad goodby to my best box before heading off to the Chesapeake and Sweet Pea. The Gaillard gets to stay at home. No inhaling salt air for it. Instead it sits in a glass-front case with a pack of other instruments. No doubt it has to listen to the English concertinas sniff that it isn't even chromatic, despite all those accidentals, and it is French. At times, they can be so condescending. Fortunately the shelves hold a bunch of Anglos and Duets who are more sympathetic.

Swiss craftsmanship rescued from a flea market
was my first melodeon acquisition symptom.
I liked the Pokerworks enough to have acquired three of them before breaking down and purchasing a more pedigreed box. My first, I found long ago in a dusty booth at an outdoor flea market, my second was thrown in for good measure -- the seller added it and a case, but only if I would buy another that he had on hand -- and my third, a durable box made in Germany in the 70's. It turned out out to be the only one of the three that is playable and it has been along on this voyage.

Someone on described Pokerworks as the pickup truck of diatos. Like many of the parts that make up today's pickup trucks, Hohner's manufacturing has been outsourced to China. The name is still German but that's about all.

If you watch enough melodion videos on YouTube -- and who isn't addicted to such fantastic fare? -- you'll eventually see someone playing a Pokerwork with rubber bands protruding from its metal grill, making the poor thing look like it has orthidontia, the kind that includes colored elastic rings to tug those reluctant canines into position. Sprouting rubber bands is a sure sign that today's springs, the ones that make those buttons leap back up, are not what they used to be.

As a result, the vintage Pokerworks made in Germany or Switzerland are sought out. While their springs may be long in the tooth they often play and clack along merrily without needing a pack of rubber bands in the musician's kit.

Like both of its kin, my third Pokerwork featured its own built-in percussion section caused by the keyboard mechanism, which is really quite primitive (compared to a Gaillard or Castagnari) but affordable (compared to a Gaillard or Castagnari). I have been trying to learn how to reduce the clack by pressing in just the right way so that the treble buttons don't disappear down their holes in a syncopated version of Whack a Mole.

Some claim to be fond of the Pokerwork's distinctive sound. I suppose clacking is an advantage if your intent is to sound like a one-man band. Others have posted detailed accounts of declacking and otherwise souping up a Pokerwork. I should tackle just such a project some winter when I'm in Atlanta, someday.

Two accordions on a boat are too many -- actually some critics would claim they are two too many -- so in a moment of insanity I put the Pokerwork in the Castagnari's case, resealed the sturdy carton used by the Button Box, and dashed off to the post office. Without really thinking it through, I added insurance. I've grown fond of my Pokerwork and wanted it to be shown proper respect on that long trip home. Big mistake. 

Insurance required that I have a resident there to sign for the package. When? "Next Monday at the time of day you normally get your mail," I was assured. Instead I should have been told, "When ever a postman happens to show up", which is best described as someday sometime. I kept going online and requesting no earlier than 3:30 only to hear that the postman was long gone before my resident person got off work no later than 3:00.

This hearkens to those forgotten days of Leave It To Beaver when Ward could call, "Honey, I'm home," and expect an answer, 24 by 7. Nowadays, no one is home. They are either working or cruising. Well, mostly working. Actually given the recent economic unpleasantness, mostly out looking for work or standing in line. Anyway, it appears that the post office is still living in a long ago era, perhaps when Hohner still made those accordions in Germany.

After many phone calls in which various representatives said, "Too bad, nothing I can do," or slightly more polite words to that effect, I reached an unnamed co-conspirator, who took pity on me and revealed the secret formula: have someone sign the slip, add a note saying to put the parcel on the porch, and deposit the slip in your mailbox.

Ah, the PO just needs a signature, who or how isn't all that important. I get it. Before acting I did reread that bit about perjury and under penalty of law printed right on the picture of the slip that my granddaughter had emailed. Whatever. Someone, no names here, did the deed and voila, a neighbor reported the box had arrived. Big success.

This wax still works.
I hope it still clacks when played and doesn't clack when shaken. On EBay this is the critical question asked of a seller about a vintage accordion. If it sounds like it is a Hohner when shaken, the wax holding the reeds has failed and lots of parts are drifting around inside, pecking out the accompaniment to a tune that will never emerge, at least not without significant restoration.

I'll know more this fall. I wonder about that insurance . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment