Yes, it’s back! After a gap of three months, Inside and Out is back. I’ve got some exciting boxes yet to come in this series, but the subject of today is the newest addition to my collection, a Hohner Liliput. Specifically, it is a 12 Hayden-style Free Bass B/C+C# Liliput, or “Impiliput” for short.
As always with this series, we will start from the outside and work our way in. The Liliput is a small box (bellows dimensions of 23cm by 12.4cm), although not quite as small as my Preciosa (21cm by 12.4cm). On the treble side of the standard instrument it has 21 buttons plus a 4 button half row, with eight bass buttons and two voice bass (i.e. not linked, as in the Preccy). It was made by Hohner between 1935 and 1940. All models were covered in celluloid of varying colours, grey and purple being most common. The earliest style of box was very angular, with a standard Hohner grille, looking very much like a fractionally bigger Preciosa. The later models had rounded corners, an overlapping circle based grille and slightly different styling. I’ve never seen a later box that wasn’t in ruby red. I have a later model, which I think is one of the most stunning boxes around (along with the Hohner Erika and the Briggs).
Structually it is very similar to the Preciosa. The keyboard construction is virtually identical, meaning that putting the fingerboard back on after you take it off is a task requiring concentration and a healthy variety of expletives. It also means that the action is rather slow and clacketty, although there are at least only two rows of pallets for the two and a half rows. The button spacing is again identical to the Preciosa, being closer together than on most modern boxes. The bass end is simpler than the Preccy, with no double pallet for the air button or linked basses. There is no bellows lock, the instrument having conventional bellows straps.
Inside, the Liliput has a standard reed configuration, the two M reeds being placed together on blocks, one for each row of pallets. No flying pans for this instrument! So far so disappointing. It appears to be a slightly bigger instrument than the Preciosa, without any of the beautiful design features that made the latter so special. However, the instrument does have one more trick up its sleeve, and that is the sound. The sound is something really rather special. I’ll keep you waiting for that though…
My instrument is rather different from the standard Liliput. Myself and Mike Rowbotham hatched a cunning plan, involving the bass end of an old Hohner Imperial 1 twelve bass Piano Accordion, which had a parallel development with the Liliput in the same way that the Regina had with the Preciosa (although unfortunately the bellows weren’t a match). Mike took the bass mechanism from the Imperial and put it into the Liliput. He then milled out a larger aperture for the buttons and installed a bass plate with twelve holes in it. Finally, he took some Imperial blocks and installed them on the Liliput soundboard.
Except it wasn’t quite as simple as that. I have been a proponent of unisonoric bass on melodeons for a long time and given that I wanted this to be a BCC# (albeit with a four button C# row) having unisonoric bass seemed the way to go. However, because I wanted to play in every key, I needed every note. My solution was to do away with chords entirely and just have twelve unisonoric bass buttons, a “free bass” in other words. It was my intent that this would create quite a different sound from my other boxes, which might go well with the wiles of the BCC#.
The only thing to decide was what system to use for the twelve bass. In fact it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, I immediately went for Hayden-Wikki: two offset rows of six buttons, each ascending in whole tone scales, being offset by a fifth. In case you can’t visualise that, see the diagram below.
The advantage of this system is that you can play a diatonic major scale without moving your hand. With a 12 button configuration there are 6 major scales which are possible without having to jump between ends (F, C, G, D, A and E, the most common keys for most traditional tunes), the other 6 are possible to greater or lesser extents (Bb missing the fourth, Eb the tonic and fourth, Ab the third, sixth and seventh, Db simile, Gb missing the third and seventh and B missing the seventh only). Minors are fractionally more difficult, taking up more area, but are quite possible.
The disadvantage of this system is that it is restrictive – you generally end up in a diatonic major scale, rather than making full use of the notes available. However, this is nothing to the extent to which one can get bound up in the three chord trick with Stradella Bass and it is perfectly possible to play chromatically.
The way that Mike ended up doing it was to do a partial palletboard transplant – taking the part of the Imperial palletboard with the bass holes in it and splicing it into where the chord holes were on the Liliput palletboard. The four bass holes on the Liliput palletboard were augmented to six with the aid of a drill. The blocks are two bass blocks from two different Imperials. The reason why the buttons are black is that the mechanism came from a late Imperial, which had black buttons. One day I will replace the treble end buttons with black ones, because I really like the look. Note that the air button has been moved and enlarged.
The reed configuration for the bass end is two voice, bass and tersette. Having the bass reeds in octaves is effective, as the ear does not notice the jump in octave between (in my case) the E and the F as much as if they were single voice. So I can do continuous bass runs and it is hypnotic, rather than jumpy.
So, the sound. The sound of the Liliput is I think, the perfect Hohner sound. It is a sweet sound, but not a syrupy one (like some Italian boxes), having a bit of raunchiness to it. It is a sound with plenty of character and plenty of depth. I love it to bits. Do I prefer the sound over that of the Preciosa? Not sure. This box doesn’t have the electricity of the Preciosa, it is much more laid back. I am still getting to know it, it’s been a long process, but it is a complete and utter joy to play. My two little Hohners are utterly different, for two that share so many characteristics and I love both of them.
Below is a recording that I made a few weeks ago (and have already written about) on the Impiliput. It is Vektersang by Grieg and Le Ruisseau Français, by André Brunet. Hope you enjoy it.
The next post is already half written, but it is proving a little recalcitrant. It is the next instalment of the Primer, so look forward to that in a week or so.