Building A Cajun Accordion
I've built many instruments over the years: violins, banjos, guitars, hammered dulcimers, a few things I've probably forgotten about, and a few things I haven' t given names to yet. There is a great deal of pleasure in making your own. In my case, as a left hander, instruments either didn't exist or were too cost prohibitive. Of course, the other aspect is what New Englanders call frugal, and everyone else calls cheap. I started out modifying instruments and eventually started building. I'm fascinated in how all the parts and pieces work in harmony, and in some cases, discord. The Diatonic, or Cajun accordion was a project on the back burner for quite some time. This is not a 'how to' page, but rather a look at the steps it took to build this puppy. No debates about butted verses mitered corners. No preaching the virtues of one type of reed over another. This is not about the 'right' way; this was just my way.

My 'C' accordion was made by Danny Dyson, out of Big Lake, La. It's an impressive instrument with a lot of power, and a comfortable feel. It screams "Play me!" There are several builders in Louisiana, and a few outside the state as well. I chose Danny's Le Capitaine based on price and reputation.

The goal was to build an accordion in the key of D, and I knew I would have to gather as much information from as many sources as possible before I even turned the light on in the shop. I live about an hour out of NYC. Not exactly a mecca for builders, players, or suppliers. Thanks, Al, for the internet. I plowed through newsgroup archives, posted questions, and visited any site remotely associated with diatonic accordions. I requested catalogs from supply houses and ordered repair books (some of which, quite dated). And it wasn't long after I got the Le Capitaine that curiousity got the best of me, and it was scattered in several pieces on the work table. Each piece was measured and drawings were made.

The frames are curly maple stained blue, close in pattern to the C box. The face plates are rock maple stained yellow. There was nothing out of the ordinary for this aspect of construction. I did have to pre-stain the plates and frames before gluing. I made extensive use of my planer and router, but it could have just as easily been done with hand tools - though more time consuming. The reed bank stop assembly and the reed blocks were constructed out of variously dimensioned wood (3/32" to 1/8"), available through hobby shops. Fortunately, there is an dollhouse builder's supply store within driving distance that allowed me to pick and choose the pieces I needed. The flappers and buttons were cut from oversized ebony guitar bridge blanks; the flappers shaped on a router table and the buttons turned on a lathe.

The original plan was to build my own bellows, but there were many stumbling blocks. The information I gathered about materials and construction was fague at best. I opted to order the bellows from a well established company in Italy, Galassi Accordion Bellows. The reeds are Binci's that I purchased through Danny Dyson.

Here, you can see the reeds waxed in place, and the blocks installed. You can also see the stop system that slides between each bank of reeds and their sound holes.
The bass box consists of three chambers, one each for the bass note, chord, and air. The internal flappers are glued to leathers that act as hinges, and are held in the closed position by the springs.
The flapper rods were bent by hand using several versions of makeshift jigs. It was an exasperating experience. I went through a lot of brass rod before ten pieces matched to my satisfaction.
Reed wax has a low melting point. Anyone who has turned their accordion into a maraca by leaving it in a car trunk for too long can tell you that. I used my hide glue experience and put together a water bath to control the temperature of the melted wax. It was ladled around the reeds using a tool fashioned out of a brass tube (pictured below the wax pot). Knowing that a lot can go wrong during the waxing process, I practiced control and technique before actually commiting wax to reed. Also pictured are two alternate flapper rod designs. To their right are a couple of treble springs. And to their right, safety pins before and after alteration,used as bass flapper springs.

The Finished Product
Click on the accordion to hear a short MP3 sample

Happy Family

If you're interested in building a diatonic accordion, check out BOXBUILDER, a Yahoo discussion group for sharing ideas, information, and sources for supplies.
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