Well. It has been a while since I last spoke to you, hasn’t it? My apologies. Life moves on, ever more hectically and finding the time to keep up this blog gets ever more difficult. But I shall try. I always seem to have a few posts in mind, I just need to find the time to write them down!
Since last I spoke to you I have been busy. I spoke at a conference in Oxford on Musical Instruments organised by the Galpin Society and gave a poster at the Stockholm Music Acoustics Conference. This was very rewarding. Musically things are starting to pick up again (see this post if you are new to this blog) and I have an extremely exciting project starting, of which more anon.
The subject of this post however, is our old friend the Atzarin Accordion (my first post about which can be found here). I promised you that I would write an Inside and Out post on the instrument itself and here it is (for the other Inside and Out posts see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
First of all, a bit of background. The Atzarin system (above) was invented by Sebastian Brown Apraiz, who is a very nice chap. And I owe him an enormous apology for not getting on to this post sooner! He is decided, courageously, to put his money where his mouth is and has got some of these instruments actually produced and is selling them for around £1400 including case, straps, shipping and VAT from his website here.
So, what do you get for your £1400? Well the straightforward answer is a really quite reasonable accordion. Sebastian has made the commendable move of having his instruments made in Europe rather than in China, and so went to Delicia, a well known accordion company from the Czech Republic. I learned to play on a very battered Delicia Popular (sadly traded in many years ago), so have a soft spot for the company. In this case it is a good choice.
Starting, as always, from the outside, what we have is a three row 40 button (13/14/13) two voice 72 Stradella bass accordion. Click on any of the pictures on this post for a closer look.
Aesthetically the instrument is really quite nice. The treble buttons are coloured white for white note on the push, black for black note on the push and the grille design reflects this pattern. I think it’s quite attractive. The Atzarin logo is striking and red. The build quality on the outside is good and it is comfortable to hold, even though it is rather big and heavy for my (admittedly rather exacting) taste.
Inside the build quality continues. Little touches, like the grille actually fitting and screwing into brass inserts with felt bumpers to prevent scratching. The treble mechanism is pristine. It also feels quite fast, it has been fitted with felt bumpers both below the buttons and on the sides of the slot, meaning that there is minimal clatter. There are three rows of pallets for the three rows of buttons, which is a shame, but unavoidable nowadays. Not every instrument rises to the heady heights of the Shand Morino. Note the aluminium palletboard.
The bass mechanism is fairly taut, but not outstanding. Looking inside, we can see why, it is perhaps a slightly unsophisticated Stradella mechanism. However, it does the job and I don’t really have any quarrel with it. The strap is padded and is fully adjustable. The main problem with the bass end from a diatonic point of view is the air button, which is tiny, unreachable and doesn’t let much air in or out of the bellows. I’ll talk more about that later.
Inside the story is much the same. The reeds are standard machine reeds, but are well made and well fitted. The bass blocks are tilted to maximise space and are clamped down through the block, which might well make them stiffer and so less prone to absorbing energy from the reeds. The sculpted top plates of the blocks are promising. Few corners cut here.
The treble blocks are fairly standard and are obviously the same blocks used in a larger instrument (note the gaps on the right hand side). This is common practice for accordion makers; reusing blocks between different instruments means that they save money on tooling and inventory. Again the clamping is slightly different from the norm but looks fairly solid. The blocks are linked by a fairly substantial strap to prevent block resonance interfering with the instrument’s sound.
Overall then, it is a perfectly workable, well made instrument, of reasonable quality. It comes with a case, which looks nice but is a little rickety due to poor hinges. The sound is reasonable. Sebastian has specified a very pleasant MM 15 cent musette, which works well with the reeds. If I am being picky, the treble end lacks bite and the bass end can be quite muddy. Some of that will be sorted by letting your friendly local accordion tech go over it, something which I would recommend that people do even with a brand new instrument.
I’ve had a little bit of a time to get to know the system now and so the below is my initial (and honest) opinion. This system is not the easiest to get to know, coming straight from a D/G. With that system you tend to go in and out all the time, or else as in as much as you can and as out as much as you can, depending on how much bellows you have. On the Atzarin, changing bellows direction often necessitates a shift in hand position. This does mean that you can play a large range without moving your hand, but it also means that the use of the bellows is radically different. As Sebastian puts it, English melodeon players tend to treat each row separately, but with the knowledge that they can be combined as necessary. Whereas in order to make full use of this instrument you need to treat all three rows as a single unit. The fact that the system has a full range of reversals means that technically you do not need a large air button, since you can simply change bellows direction and shift your hand. That in itself is a massive culture shift from the English melodeon.
Having said that, I think that it would be a capable system for say a current G/C/+ player, where the rows aren’t treated as separate entities so much. I will, at some point, write a more detailed post on the system, in the same vein as my posts on the Loomes Chromatic or the Harmonetta Bass. However, that kind of post takes an entire day to complete, believe it or not, so I don’t know when I will be able to get round to it.
I have recorded a tune to let you see the sound of the instrument. It isn’t the greatest bit of playing that I have ever done (by a long shot!) and was complicated by my Stradella playing being very rusty, meaning that I had to concentrate inordinately on both hands at once. Hopefully it should give an idea. The tune is Hector the Hero.
To buy your own Atzarin Accordion, please go here: http://atzarin.com/eng/instruments/accordion/atzarin_accordion.html. For some more pictures please click here.
Happy 50th post!