The two accordions I play most (by far) are custom made by Claudio Beltrami of Beltrami Accordions in Stradella, Italy. The Beltrami website is here.
Both my Beltrami accordions are the result of long discussion and decision making between me and Claudio, followed by a long wait for the machines to be made. It has been so worth it – they are the most incredible instruments and, for me, hugely superior and more interesting than anything available “off the shelf”.
Beltrami 72 Bass – Red Bellows
My main box is the smaller of the two, and the second I had made, it’s light for what it is (around 8 Kg) so it’s great for my standing up work! It has on-board Sennheiser condenser microphones for picking up the acoustic sound of the instrument, and a King Major MIDI system for electronic keyboard sounds.
The reeds are handmade by Claudio, they sound great, and (almost) never break. Also these reeds use less air for the same length of note – they leak less or waste less air, and start ringing with less effort from the player. This accordion also has an unusual variation on the Stradella bass system, there are 3 rows of basses and 3 of chords: Normally the counter-bass row is a major third above the bass row. I have a second counter-bass row a further major third above. Just as the brilliance for the Stradella system lets you play a major scale in the basses across 4 columns without moving your hand around, so this “French” system allows you to play all 12 tones in just 4 columns. Rows 4 and 5 are as you might expect, major and minor chords. You sacrifice the luxury of separate seventh and diminished chord rows – but by having a 2 note chord (an augmented fifth) in the last row you can get either by hitting the right combinations!
It is complicated inside and needs a little looking after – internal wires have snagged on the reed blocks and I have had to give the reeds or leathers attention and I have had wires break which then need mending. Having said that they have been played (often vigorously) pretty much every day for the last 15 years!
Beltrami 72 Bass – Yellow Bellows
My bigger Beltrami has 4 reeds on the right and 5 on the left – unusual for a 72 bass box. It’s octave tuned (one low reed, 2 in the middle and one high) and since I have it tuned very dry it sounds quite organ like compared to the more folk accordion sound of the smaller one. The left hand has a D as its lowest note (most accordions only go down to an G, or even to the C above my D!) This was just because I wanted to have a lower note available than most bass guitar players! Claudio had to build a special right-angled reed block to get the monster reeds in and when they play they modulate the air-stream so much that notes on the right are affected giving them a great slightly grainy growling sound! I wanted to be able to play the low basses on their own (not normally possible because you lose the chords so manufacturers don’t give you “bass only” stops.) With 5 reeds there are 32 possible combinations and you cant get a coupler much bigger than 9! We solved the problem with a 7 button coupler: The first button turns all the reeds off. The next 5 turn each reed on without turning anything off, and the last button is a master to turn all the reeds on. Thus I can choose any combination I want – though complex changes on the fly are tricky!
Both boxes have Sennheiser microphone systems on board. 3 mics on the front and one in the basses with a 9v battery which lives on the bass side and wire running through the bellows to carry the bass mic signal and the power. Normally front covers have a pattern of holes cut in them to make them acoustically see-through. Experimentation has shown me that by using far less holes you get much better feedback rejection on the mics. You can see my holes covered with black cloth in this picture they are deliberately at the edge so the mics in the middle get maximum protection.
The microphone system I have is made by Music Tech who have a website here
The MIDI system I have is also made by Music Tech and is called “King Major” I think they have newer products now…. look here for their website.