Conjunto Accordion Technology
|The following is an interview
transcription from the 1998 Smithsonian Folklife Festival
with participant, Amadeo Flores, accordion player and
lead of Amadeo Flores y su Conjunto. Interview by David
Champion, presenter and interpreter at the Festival.*
|DC: We are going
to talk to Amadeo Flores from Alice, Texas which is in
south Texas. He is an acordionisto, an accordion
player, bajo sexto guitar player, a performing
artist, a recording artist and he is also, among that, an
accordion tuner. What does that mean? Well, we are going
to find out what that means. The accordion is a musical
instrument, so it does require some maintenance, just
like a guitar or any other type of musical instrument. So
lets get into it with Mr. Flores here and discuss a
little bit about tuning. First of all, how did you get
into tuning? What prompted you? Obviously you have been
playing your musical accordion for fifty years now, but
what happened that made you tune your own instrument?
AF: Well, in my time when I picked up on the accordion, there werent that many tuners. And, in fact, some of the tuners at times didnt want to tune for other people you know, the better their accordion sounded, the better it was for them. So when I got into the accordion in 1950I think it was in 1955 if I am not mistake I had problems with my accordion, and I started monkeying around with them. I would say that is how I got to learn. I am self-taught in other words. I finally found out the means and the how to tune an accordion; what it needed to either bring the sound up or bring the sound down; or to control the vibration. Then as I went down the line on it, I picked up some more on it, learned how to change keys even on the accordion.
Our type of accordion has got keys just like a harmonica: there is a G, C, F accordion; there is a F, B flat, E flat accordion; there is an E, A, D accordion. There are people that cant afford to buy another accordion. They can work with one accordion, but the key is too high. There is a low tone or low key accordion, and they want it higher, but they cant afford to buy another one. So most of the time I tell them you had better pick it out how you want, because once I tune it, it stays tuned there and you cant move it back and forth. After a while you start wearing out the reeds. They can only sustain so much tuning and then after that you have to buy a new set of reeds, or stop playing, I guess.
DC: Ok, welcome folks, what we are discussing here is accordion tuning. Amadeo Flores is sitting here with me and he is an accordion player. We are from Texas, by the way in case you cant tell and we perform a particular style of music down there called conjunto. Conjunto refers to actually a music group as an ensemble, but also refers to a particular style of music that is accordion-based. And, in addition to being a performing artist and a recording artist he also tunes accordions. What we are trying to do here is get an idea, an insight, into what it takes to tune an accordion.
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DC: Ok, so you got away from using the bellows of the accordion to tune accordions. Because bellows dont always give you the same type of air pressure all of the time. Because the bellow opens according to how much you pull it, you may not pull it exactly the same every time. Consequently, you are going to have that difference in tuning.
I think one of the things to note also is the fact that even though the accordion is an Old World instrument coming from Germany, it is it is tuned differently throughout the world. The Germans play different, the Polish people, the Czechs, the French, the Italians, the Cajunseach one of those particular types of music requires a different style of tuning. Within the state of Texas, and for that matter throughout the world, there is only a handful of tuners that actually tune what we call Tex-Mex style or that would work within the conjunto music variation. Amadeo has been tuning for some forty years now since the 1950s, since 1955, so consequently he has developed a good ear for that kind of stuff. In addition to that, he has been able to incorporate that into the music. He has made stylistic changes that have persevered.
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AF: Yes, we used to have to use air from our mouth. There was no waywe didnt have the knowledge of how to tune by leaving it on, so we had to pop it out and work it on the inside; and then, we put it back on and then try it again. And if it was low, pop it back on, and it was a continuous thing until we got it tuned. And, at first when I first started to tune, I didnt know what kind of a wax it was. And so we used to use play putty. The accordion tuners used play putty because they didnt know what kind of wax it was. It just happened that I have a female cousin that has a flower shop, and I asked her what it is. She says, "thats beeswax." That is how I found out what it was. Then, and now, that is what we should use. It keeps it in place. It creates enough suction to keep it in place without having to use any kind of before, they used to have tacks on there and now they did away with that.
DC: OK, now why do you think the beeswax is used? Is it the components of it? Does it stay in place a little better than other waxes? It doesnt get as brittle, but it is not resistant to heat. It will melt if you leave it in the heat long enough, right?
AF: It sure will, I had accordions brought to me with the reeds fallen off inside the accordion. Sometimes they are salvageable, but sometimes the reeds get full of wax, and the little brackets get full of wax where. You can salvage it, but I mean timewise, it takes about four or five days just to clean all of those, and nobody wants to pay for the time. That is the only reason they just go out and buy a new set of reeds or reed blocks and just put them into the accordion.
DC: Lets talk about that now. These musical reed blocks on this accordion I am holding here, which is a standard three row, is what we call diatonic. Diatonic means that it is a button accordion. It has thirty-two buttons on the treble side, twelve bases on the bass side, but offers you sixty-four different sounds. Diatonic also means that you get one sound in if you push in the bellows, and another sound if you pull out with the bellows. . . .
* transcript edited for clarity
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