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Which accordion will give you the typical Slovenian sound?

Content by Phillip Nadvesnik

When I started my search for a piano accordion with a typical Slovenian (Oberkrainer) sound (see Avsenik, Alpenoberkrainer, etc), I had no idea what to look for. Further information was hard to obtain through research of my own, so I had to turn to contacts from central Europe who were happy to explain what they use and what makes the sound that we know and love (as well as using Google Translate on German and Slovenian accordion forums).

I hope the following information can assist anyone who is looking for that sound and not sure where to start, particularly outside of central Europe where it is difficult to find this information in English. Please note this also applies for chromatic button accordions.

Please only take this information as guidance; there’s no solid rule about the accordion you should use. If you’re able to, try as many as you can for yourself and choose the sound and feel that you like. There’s no right or wrong.

Which alpine sound are you looking for?

Do you prefer the Oberkrainer sound, or the button accordion (Steirische) sound? Both are available on piano accordions, but it will affect the accordion’s tuning, construction, weight and price range.   If you aren’t sure, look around on YouTube and give different bands or accordionists a listen. Once you are able to hear the subtle differences, you will eventually notice two distinct types of sounds: some boxes sound like Steirische/Slovenian button accordions, and some have a distinct, different, Slovenian Oberkrainer sound to it.   If you don’t mind either sounds or don’t have a preference, that’ll make your purchase a lot easier (the cheaper one!). On the other hand you may prefer one over the other, as many do. If you do, here’s what you will need to look for.

Button accordion sound

Turboreini demonstrating an example of a piano accordion built to sound like a steirische harmonika

Piano accordions which emulate the steirische harmonika sound feature a 3 reed musette tuning and helikon basses. Most alpine accordion brands offer these types of accordions in their non-casotto variants, often using the naming convention of MH (musette and helikon).

These accordions are typically cheaper as they do not feature cassotto, and often feature high quality Tipo-a-mano reeds instead of the more expensive and higher quality A-mano reeds. I believe some cheaper brands use lesser quality reeds than either of those, which you may as well avoid. Higher quality reeds will give you a louder, richer, brighter sound compared to the lower quality reeds.

The main specifications shared between these accordions include:

  • Full 3 reed musette: 3 middle octave reeds tuned apart from one another to produce a degree of ‘wetness’ or ‘tremolo’. These boxes aren’t tuned too wet though, otherwise they’d be heading into French musette territory. Often abbreviated as MMM.Additional reeds such as the lower or higher octave can make the accordion more versatile, as it can produce different sounds suited to more styles.
  • No cassotto (also known as tone chamber).
  • Helikon basses: larger and wider bass reeds which produce a deeper sound, like the steirische harmonika basses. In my opinion they don’t sound identical to a real button accordion’s helikon basses (but I loved them until my tastes changed). However more recently, they are becoming louder and deeper with newer developments.

Many brands currently offer these accordions but they are also available second hand. Earlier on, only Zupan sold these, however nowadays many brands offer these accordions. Those brands include but are not limited to: Beltuna, Fismen, Rutar, Alpengold, Rutar, Mengascini, Kaerntnerland and so on. There is also the Weltmeister Monte from Germany which served me well until my tastes and needs changed.

Avsenik sound

gertumusic playing a Hohner Morino VM

This is the sweeter, mellower sound that you will hear from most Oberkrainer style bands who use a piano accordion. It’s become the standard for this style of music, and really suits it well. That’s not to say you can’t play this music on a non-cassotto accordion; in fact, don’t let anyone persuade you to get a certain accordion because of what they think. Follow what sound and style you love the most.

If you are looking for this sound, there are many different options, but they all share the one feature: 3 reed musette tuning with the straight tuned reed sitting inside a tone chamber or ‘cassotto’, mellowing the sound emitted from that reed (here’s a link to a Wikipedia article that provides a great summary of cassotto).

The musette-cassotto combination dramatically changes the musette sound, creating a smoother, sweeter, mellower sound that you will hear from most Oberkrainer bands from Europe since around the 1960s onward. Slavko Avsenik got onto it early in the 1960s with the Excelsior 1320s. Before then, it was more common to choose dry tuned musette boxes including the Hohner Verdi and Hohner Atlantic. In fact before Avsenik moved to musette-cassotto accordions, he performed and recorded for several years with a Hohner Verdi III B.

The basses on these accordions are typically not helikon bass. They are however, 4 to 5 reeds, and often feature bass cassotto, which to my understanding is not an actual tone chamber, although the reeds are positioned differently to produce a richer sound. This technique is called Winkelbass in German. My Fismen Proline has this, and the basses sound chunkier and brighter than other accordions – I  like it a lot. Different brands and models will use different reeds, construction, wood and tuning, therefore all accordions will vary with how they sound and feel. Below the most common musette-cassotto accordions that are used.
Older commonly used Oberkrainer accordions include:

  • Hohner Morino VM
Avsenik with his Hohner Morino VM
  • Hohner Morino VN and VS
  • Excelsior 1320s
  • Zupan Alpe V EA or IV EA
  • Hohner Alpina
  • There are others which have been used for this style of music, including the Hohner Gola, Hohner Imperator and others

If you live in Europe or are planning to visit soon, I personally recommend going for second hand rather than new accordions, since their availability seems so high and it’s a much more affordable option for not much of a sacrifice.

In my opinion, there aren’t many advantages of getting a brand new accordion. The benefits of getting a used one however include the dramatically lower price, and the fact that it has already been ‘played in’ – it has already reached its loudest and fullest sound, and its best playability.

There is a third Slovenian sound which is utilised on piano accordions; the ‘Cleveland’ style sound most utilized by American Slovenes. This seems to be typically achieved on a musette, non-cassotto accordion. However the difference here is that the musette is ‘dry’ tuned – that is, with less tremolo than the musette sound used in Europe.

I hope this can assist anyone with their hunt for a Slovenian or Oberkrainer style piano accordion. Please leave a comment if anything I’ve written is factually incorrect, or if you have any questions or additional information that could be helpful for other accordionists!