What a night! The Chancers from Kiel played a reunion show to help celebrate the cultural center Hansa 48 in Kiel. Bringing one hour of our favorite arrangements back on stage felt unreal and I am still surprised that my fingers remembered all the arrangements.
Thanks to the good folks at Hansa 48, my band mates from The Chancers and everybody who came out to see us play. I really had a blast and I hope it won’t take us another 5 years until the next show…
Probably the most common question we receive is about the two Irish button accordion tunings, B/C or C#/D. That’s why we wrote the following lines. Here you’ll get a small overview on the matter alongside some points we believe are most important to know. We hope they prove useful for one or the other aspiring box player.
What’s the difference for the player?
In two -totally oversimplified- sentences the difference is this:
On a B/C box you’ll have to move your fingers quite a bit while the changes in the bellows movement are relatively little.
On a C#/D box you will have to move the bellows quite a bit, while the fingering work is less demanding.
You can get a better picture when you look at the following D-scale and the according tabulatures for both C#/D and B/C:
No too surprisingly the D-major scale can be played entirely on the inside row of a C#/D accordion while on B/C accordion two notes have to taken from the outside row.
Now let’s take the same scale and look at the bellows movements (“in & out”):
When playing the D scale on a C#/D accordion you will have to work the bellows more. Now as for the fingering, note that you will only need 4 buttons (3′, 4′, 5′, 6′) to play the scale so you can conveniently use one finger for one button. On the contrary, the B/C tuning will require 7 buttons ( (3′, 4′, 5, 5′, 6′, 6, 7′) ) so you cannot use one finger for just one button and have to spent some more thought on fingering.
Whats the difference in sound?
Of course the two tunings not only play different, they sound different too. C#/D is sounding much more ‘choppy’ than B/C because of the frequent bellows movement. This pattern is sometimes more and sometimes less obvious and I know for sure that good players can emphasize or surpress the push/pull sound to fair degree too…
Here is an example:
Here’s a nice example of some smooth B/C playing:
So which tuning should you pick?
Here are some points to consider.
C#/D is closer related to non-Irish diatonic button accordions. If you have some experience on a diatonic instrument such as a melodeon, a concertina or even a harmonica, you will probably find the C#/D tuning easier to start with. The scales are also often perceived as less chaotic. You can see the trend on the above D-major scales. Note how regular the D-scale is laid out as compared to the B/C one…
Here’s the biggest argument in favor of B/C: It is much more popular than C#/D. That might sound like a bogus argument to you, but it does have quite some relevance. There simply exist more books, dvd’s or teachers for the B/C accordion. Finding a teacher for the C#/D box can be a problem.
If you are still undecided, remember that in the end, it does not really matter all too much. Both systems can be played in any key. Both systems are giving you an authentic Irish sound and finally both systems are incredibly fun to learn and play.
What would be the most popular melodeon tuning? Probably D/G, C/F or maybe G/C, depending on whether you ask in the UK, the Netherlands or France.
So which one should you pick?
Well, if your intention is to play in a session (or a band), then you should consider sticking to the popular melodeon tunings used in the particular style of music you want to play. Otherwise you won’t be able to join in any jam sessions. After all, there’s usually good reason those melodeon tunings are so popular. For example, fiddle players like to play in the keys of D and G (and related). Not only does it sound better – due to open strings that can resonate or be used for double stops – it’s also much easier to play in those keys.
If, however, you enjoy a lone tune by the fireside every now and then (as I myself do), or you want to accompany your singing, then it’s worthwhile to revisit some different tunings, like Eb/Bb:
Take for example the D/G melodeon, you might not have noticed, but it is actually tuned very high in pitch. In fact, among the commonly available melodeon tunings, D/G is the highest one:
G/C < A/D < Bb/Eb < C/F < D/G (lower < higher)
If you prefer a more mellow, low accordion sound, then you should take a look at the other end of the scale, starting from G/C. As for the singing, let’s say you own a G/C accordion and you find it hard to sing along. It’s just a bit too low for your voice. One remedy could be to play the same tune on an A/D accordion instead. The melody will sound one note higher and will hopefully match your voice now.
So what do I prefer? My own favorite melodeon tuning is located in the golden middle. I have re-discovered this sound ever since I heard Ollie King play so wonderfully on his clubbed Erika in Bb/Eb,
While we are in the final stage of completing the next restored melodeon, we have a hot tip for all those of you who can never get enough traditional Irish music: Nuadán is an exciting young band from the Gaeltacht area in the County Waterford (Déise).
These guys were brought up with traditional music and that can be heard. A lovely selection of tunes and songs played on fiddle, flute, box and bouzouki. What strikes me most is the wonderful arrangements and the lilting pace. It’s almost like the instruments are singing the tunes. While the band is harmonizing perfectly, the box playing of Cárthach deserves to be highlighted. This is an accordion site after all. Well done, gents!
Tip: Check out the brilliant lift created when going into the final polka on track #2.
I will definitely have my eyes and ears open for what future traditional Irish music Nuadán will play.
I happily live in the Netherlands for a couple of years now. Before I moved here, I knew from the telling of fellow trad. musicians that the Irish session in Mulligan’s Bar in Amsterdam is top-notch and it surely is. However, what I did not know is that there exists a vivid Dutch button accordion scene outside the trad. Irish music regime.
The Dutch refer to a two row diatonic button accordion as a “trekzak” which probably translates best as “pull-bag”. There exists a variety of dedicated Dutch trekzak pages, one of which is The Harmonikahoek I already highlighted in a recent post. In general many tabulature is available for free and many workshops and lessons from notable players can be found online. There are trekzak clubs and dedicated trekzak festivals like the annual busking festival in Enkhuizen.
This episode of inside the box is dedicated to a very Dutch modification to the two row box:
De gedraaide 5de toets / The switched 5th button
So what is a switched fifth button supposed to be? It refers to the fifth button on the inner row. For this button the push/pull pattern is reversed. Here’s a look inside a box where someone has switched the fifth button by himself:
As you can see it’s quite literally a switch, a switch of the reed plates! The two reeds that correspond to the fifth button are taken off, turned around, waxed on and tuned again.
So what is it good for? Honestly, the first time I tried to play such a box I found it very confusing and not particularly appealing. However, this initial confusion faded fast.
To explain the concept, I shall focus on a C/F tuned box. It translates to other tunings such as G/D or A/D as well.
On a C/F box the fifth button on the inside row contains the notes C and D as shown on the keyboard schematics below.
Main advantage is that – with the fifth button turned – both notes C and D can be played on either push or pull. The player can choose depending on the tune. This allows you too match the note to the basses more easily.
As shown in above figure, you can play half the scale on the same bellows movement. This will result in a much much smoother sound of the tune. However, if you want the old push ‘n draw style, you can just pick the C and D from the other -non turned- buttons.
I have to say, after serviced a couple of accordions with a gedraaide 5de toets, I grew quite fond of this keyboard modification. It’s easy to adopt too and fun to play.
If you are curious and consider to try de gedraaide 5de toets, contact me for info and pricing. It is a fast, cheap and above-all reversible modification.
In this things-inside-the-box post, I will have to stretch the premise a tiny bit and move to things outside the box. This one is about a shoulder or thumb strap on the accordion and things in between. In between? Yes, apparently such a thing exists. But see for yourself:
I always thought that there are three ways one can hold and play the button accordion:
One shoulder strap
Two shoulder straps
Only thumb strap
Whether the shoulder or thumb strap on the accordion is to be preferred is discussed by many (for example here) but seems to be a matter of personal preference in the end.
With this in mind, take a look at the following
That’s the first time I have ever seen a concertina-like hand strap on an accordion.
For me it feels awful to play and that’s mostly because the fingers are forced in such a weird position. I can imagine someone who is used to placing his hand behind the keyboard, like Mairtin O’Connor, might actually be ok with it…
It would be interesting to know if someone else has come across such a construction before. Or even more so, if someone is actually playing like this?
We all have a soft spot for top lists and to my surprise I couldn’t find a ” Top 5 Best Irish accordion albums ” online, so here it is: My favorite accordion albums of all time.
My personal taste in accordion sounds tends towards more tremolo and slower more old-school kind of playing. However, this has not always been the case, so later on I will follow up with my favorite non-old-school button box records. If you have some nice suggestions feel free to drop me a note.
I think its very important to support the artist by buying their music. Therefore I have attached links below to where you can buy this music. Some of the artists can also be found on streaming sites, others don’t.
The amazon links below are affiliate links, if you choose to use those, you support me and this site.
#5 Notes from the Heart – The Mulcahy Family
Mick, Michelle and Louise Mulcahy have recorded this fantastic and much praised album in 2008 and I lost count how many times I have heard it since. Such a lovely flow.
Tip: check out the set that starts with – The Leitrim Lilter –
#4 Up and Coming – Oisin & Conal Hernon
A cool Banjo/Box album by Oisin and Conal Hernon – this one deserves much more attention than it currently gets. The two have recorded multiple albums together but this is the only old-school sounding one as far as I know.
Tip: check out Micky Quinn’s.
#3 Martin Quinn & Angelina Carberry
Really tight Banjo/Box playing by two masters! The tunes are quite interesting non-standard tunes or at least I have not heard them played so often. The opening set – McCarthy’s and McGann’s – is a firm favorite of the Amsterdam Session’s two box players.
#2 In Retrospect – Danny O’Mahony
Danny O’Mahony’s fantastic first solo record. In my opinion one the best if not *the* best box album ever made. Created by an exceptional artist. I have not found any place where one can buy the digital album online, but it’s possible to order an actual CD (that’s also what I did).
#1 The Kitchen Recordings – Sean O’Driscoll & Larry Egan
Hands down the best Banjo/Box album. Love the sound and playing of Larry Egan, the selection of tunes and the laid back feel this record has. Have they or maybe Larry Egan made any other recordings? I’m only aware of this one and I would love to hear more!
Tip: The Cuil Aodha/Nettles in the Soup
I hope you enjoyed my Top 5 Best Irish button accordion albums! If your favourite album is missing or you have some nice suggestions feel free to drop me a note.
I get to experience the evolution of accordion technology first hand while working on old accordions. Often times I find myself smiling over dirty hacks or creative solutions after opening up a box. In this loose mini series I will showcase some fun and interesting things I find inside old accordions. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
When asked to fix an air leak on an old Hohner Club, I noticed a considerable leak on the bass side of the instrument. To my surprise the cause was not the usual misalignment of the bass mechanics but a very creative repair of a broken air release valve spring
The construction worked surprisingly well for a surprisingly long time (talking years, not days). Eventually, one of the rubber bands gave in and the loose orange end got caught below a flap preventing it’s full closing.
I replaced the broken spring but if I should ever face a broken air release valve spring and I am in the middle of nowhere without a proper spring at hand, I might revert to this temporary fix…
I have some very interesting boxes coming up soon! This is a look behind the curtain of the workshop.
An old, stylish box, fitted with brand new super dural reeds. A longer lasting project is finally nearing completion.
In the past weeks we have been fitting new reeds, new felt pads, cleaning metal parts and adjusting keyboards. Yesterday I played a first tune on it, today I put it on the tuning bellows for the first time. I can’t wait to hear the sound of it once properly tuned…
Work on the Hohner Liliput is making progress. The first Liliput has entered the workshop for an overall check-up. The original reeds in the moody key of Bb/Eb are in good condition. It seems they can be used for the restoration.
Drop me a note if you are interested in the Antique Hohner 3-voice C#/D.
The star of this blog post is small, very small, tiny one might say -at least for a full 2.5-row/2-voice button box. This is what we are talking about:
The Hohner Liliput went into production during the Nazi-era as early as 1935 and was produced until 1940. It’s sibling the Preciosa was even produced until 1943. It’s commonly believed that these accordions were made for soldiers:
Accordions accompanied German soldiers and officers to the front. To this end, Hohner designed instruments that were small and lightweight for soldiers to stow easily in a rucksack. Today, the Preciosa and Liliput are much sought after accordions.
While that surely reads spectacular, it should be kept in mind that the war started in September 1939. So quite a bit after the initial production in 1935. I believe that – though these accordions were surely taken to war by some soldiers – they were initially made for hiking.
Blog Mellisa’s Melodeons
A much more reconciliatory story about Liliputs can be found on the Blog Mellisa’s Melodeons:
I recently played my little Hohner Liliput to my mother who is 83. She immediately recognized the instrument and came up with an interesting story. Just after the war in the late 40’s she went on a walking holiday in the Swiss and Italian Alps guided by a former member of the French Resistance. Apparently whenever they met German hikers in chalets and inns, the German’s produced little accordions out of their rucksacks just like the Liliput and played and sang. Given that at that time in history Germans were not the most popular people in Europe, these little accordions did a lot to break down ill will and establish friendship between people who only a year or two before had been killing each other. Now that’s a nice thing to know about melodeons.