Saturday, 19 November 2011


On the 23rd of May, 1829, a Herr Zyril Demian of Vienna received a patent "on the invention of a new instrument, called accordion". Within 20 years tens of thousands of sqeezeboxes were being produced every year and exported to all corners of the world. A new craze was sweeping the world.

Most people will be familiar with the piano accordion with its piano-type keyboard at one end and a mass of little buttons operating the basses and chords at the other, the two being joined by a bellows which pumps air to both ends. There is however a huge number of variations on the theme and while the piano-accordion is a fully chromatic instrument, capable of playing in any key, many squeezeboxes are diatonic instruments which are confined to one or two keys. The instrument seen above is my little darling, a Saltarelle 'Le Bouebe' closed-fingerboard two-row melodeon in D/G, "Sally" for short.

"Sally" is an excellent instrument for pumping out country dance music from England, Scotland, USA and elsewhere. The system requires frequent changes of direction of the bellows which gives a bouncy feel to the music. It's basically the same system as is used on a mouth-organ or harmonica but instead of sucking and blowing with the mouth you use the bellows. "Nothing but a mouth-organ with an iron lung" was how I once heard it described.

The joys of playing the instrument are neatly described by John Kirkpatrick, as finer squeezeboxer as you're ever likely to hear:
   " These......instruments sometimes take on a vigorous life of their own which can defeat even the most determined practitioner. As well as contributing a varied repertoire of mechanical noises - clicks from the buttons, bumps from the bellows, and sudden rushes of air in tunes which stubbornly refuse to allow an equal quota of pushes and pulls - they can whisk the player off unawares along all kinds of unexpected and uncharted paths. Rather than standing four-square among their limitations, they turn the most predictable tune into a hair-raising adventure!"

Some little known squeezebox facts:
      -  the Zulu people of southern Africa refer to the concertina as a "Squashbox"
      -  the ancestor of these instruments, the Chinese lu sheng, a kind of mouth organ, has been in existence for around two thousand years.
      -  Hitler hated the squeezebox and the Nazi party passed laws to prevent accordion bands from playing classical music.
      -  the blues songster Leadbelly played a simple melodeon. He called it a "windjammer".
      -  the word "squeezebox" is known in Welsh, but because the language is lacking in the letters Q, Z and X it is spelt "scwisbocs". Welsh also lacks the letter J, which is inconvenient for about half the population who bear the surname Jones.

Take care.

PS - This is nothing to do with accordions but I've just been listening to the news on the radio. A spokesman for the Labour party has just accused the Conservative government of "sitting on their hands and twiddling their thumbs"! Must try that!


  1. Another of your fascinating posts. I see that this squeezebox is made by Hohner. One my prized possessions as a child was a Hohner harmonica. I could only play about four tunes, but I played those four well! I think I could still play Oh Suzanna if I could find my harmonica.

  2. I played the accordion when I was a kid for about six years... as to "sitting on their hands and twiddling their thumbs," that's what I thought they said about our senators and congressmen in Washington DC on the news last night! Lol... guess it's a world wide phenomenon!

  3. I've never seen a timber accordian before - it's a real work of art. My Father had all four of us girls learn the accordian when we were young but I haven't played it in years - I always loved the sound of it. had to laugh at the expression squash box.

  4. who knew there were so many different styles of accordion, that's what I like about blogging, you learn so many new things everyday. As for the last statement, could be fun haha!

  5. I once did a lot of research into the concertina John - they are interesting instruments although I must say I am not all that keen on the noise they make.

  6. What a beautiful instrument. It has a character by the sound of it. My dad once had a piano accordion. He always reckoned he sold it to buy my mum an engagement ring!

  7. Thanks for your comments. My main problem writing this post was keeping it short, there are so many types of accordion and so many kinds of music which rely heavily on such instruments. It's probably a good idea not to encourage me too much on this subject!


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