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accordion brand rankings

zauheimu

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It would be nice to see how different brands rank as compared to each other, like a university ranking. Of course this would be very rough and depend on makes/models/time of production/quality versus value and so on. It would still be nice to get a rule of thumb from those of you who've had a lot of experience with different models. I am in the market for a full-size CBA no cassotto Italian made LMMH, and the ones I see are often of the following list (not just Italian):

Victoria
Hohner
Paolo Soprani
Weltmeister
Bugari
Scandalli
Pigini
Borsini
Beltuna
Petosa
Excelsior
Titano

These are the brands that come up repeatedly as opposed to one-offs. I'd put Borsini, Scandalli, Victoria, and Beltuna into the A category; Bugari, Petosa, Excelsior into the B category; and the rest in the C category (still very good accordions!), but I am basing this on the list prices I see on the used accordion market, not on personal experience. I have a Hohner, a Weltmeister, a Paolo Soprani, and an Excelsior, all of which I dearly love (for different reasons). If I should just put a poll out there please let me know; or tell me what you think of my categories; or tell me that the whole enterprise is futile because over-simplifying; or tell me which brand I should definitely add to the list as something that comes up often; or let me know if this kind of ranking is already available somewhere.
 

saundersbp

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I'm not into commodification/brands at all (in fact I find it a big turn off the whole subject) but based on buying a large number of accordions for an education project in the UK you'll find that a fair number of these labels in recent times are actually produced in the factories of the two big (relativity) stable Italian players Bugari and Pigini. Your ear is the best judge, not the label.

I'd also add that like the instrument I know best (the organ) a lot of components are bought in from suppliers, not all made in house.

Two of the nicest modern accordions I ever heard said Petrosa and Bugari on the label and they sounded pretty identical - natural as they were made in the same factory by the same people!

The least impressive brand new accordion I have ever played said Titano on the label....who actually made it is anyone's guess....

People will pay for brand names, irrational, but capitalism needs the majority of us to behave like that for it to work! I remember a comedian saying that people would buy a t*rd if it had 'apple' stamped on it....
 
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JIM D.

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As for Titano - the models made up to the 70's were made by Victoria and will have an oval name tag on the reverse of
the bass machine with the model # inside of it. The later models that were and are made by Pigini don't have the oval plate.
The Pigini models are Well Made but do not have the same Quality Build of Victoria models.
 
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saundersbp

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Based on what I played in 2021, I'd be amazed if pigini were making the brand new ones now.
 

JIM D.

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They are STILL MADE by Pigini as are the new Excelsior accordion models.
 

saundersbp

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Thanks for the bold caps. I'd be amazed if that were true based on what I played in 2021 but will ask the boss....
 

zauheimu

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Thank you so far for your input. This is valuable information. I am totally on board with the idea that no matter what the brand, the most important criterion is how much a person likes the accordion as you examine and play it. It would be best not to know the label, as in a blinded experiment. However, if you have limited experience with the great variety available, those of you who have been exposed to many instruments can give the rest of us a better feeling of the market. And then, if you have a relatively specific set of expectations, you may have to purchase on ebay and not play the instrument before you have to make some commitment. Yes, by the way, I am looking for a new-ish instrument; not vintage.
 

Ffingers

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I started investigating accordions only recently and, very much with the help of fora like this one, have developed a slightly cynical view on the proclamations by less informed folk on this kind of topic.
Those with first hand experience and a knowledge of the history of the 'box' - and there are several such contributors here - will tell you that 'brands' identification is not usually the best indicator of the quality of the construction, accoustics and playability.
 

Vladimir M.

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Hi!

Brand rankings?

For any quality assessment and objective ranking, you need an independent authority that can test a large number of instruments. This requires considerable time and money cost, so such objective results will never be available. Every musical instrument has two aspects: sound and technical.

  • The sound of an instrument is always a very subjective matter and it will almost never be possible to "objectify" it.
  • However, the technical quality of an accordion can already be objectified: based on the experience of repairers and foremen. Therefore, I believe that the purely technical aspect could be partially assessed, on the basis of a survey among repairers (independent of course, because, for example, Hohner also carries out repairs of accordions).

The third independent aspect is the psychological aspect:

A/ I play the world-famous brand and I'm happy with the accordion: this is a great combination.

B/ I play an insignificant brand and I'm happy with the accordion: the sound is great and beautiful, but it doesn't benefit to my image, because e.g., Galliano plays Victoria and I don't. Psychologically frustrating.

C/ I play on a world-famous brand whose sound does not subjectively suit me and with which I have never internally identified. Sooner or later, it ends with leaving the accordion playing, or looking for "the right instrument" -of course branded. This is the worst alternative. If you judge an instrument only by its brand and financial value, then you are no longer a musician, only a snob.

Best regards, Vladimir
 

Tom

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B/1+ I play an insignificant brand and I'm happy with the accordion: the sound is great and beautiful. I don't give a **** what Galliano plays. Who is he anyway? I don't like his style. Psychologically uplifting! 😁
 

debra

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I do sometimes get asked a similar question: which brand is best, which next, etc...
First of all, when you are looking for a good new accordion the exact model is extremely important. You cannot really compare the experience of driving a Volkswagen Lupo with a Passat, or Skoda Fabia with a Superb, or a Toyota Aygo with a Prius... The same holds for accordions: you can buy a full size accordion from the same brand for about 4.000 euro and one for 25.000 euro. Trust me, the quality and playing experience will be very different.

The best experience I have had (playing, repairing and tuning) is generally with Bugari. The Bugari company is not the most innovative, but that results in proven designs that simply work flawlessly. The Bugari factory also does Zero Sette, Giulietti (if that brand is still produced, I thought not) and Petosa. Producing large numbers of well-designed and solid accordions really pays off in terms of obtaining a good reputation for making consistently the same good quality instruments.

Pigini makes good accordions and not so good, under several different brand names, including Excelsior (used to be a very good independent company until up to about 2.000), Dise, Gibelle, Titano and maybe others. I have not found the workmanship to be quite as good as Bugari but it will certainly be acceptable for most. Of course the very expensive accordions they make (especially the Nova) will be outstanding, but that's not what most people will be buying.

I have worked on a few recent Scandalli accordions. They are very well made, and nowadays also very "standard", very similar in design to Bugari. Reliable and with good sound. (I have not worked on their smaller, lower end models, so I cannot comment on those.) Production has moved over the decades and was combined with other brands. I'm not sure what brands come out of the same factory as Scandalli today.

Beltuna is a very innovative company, turning out expensive excellent instruments, but with the drawback that comes with "cutting edge"... they might try something that in the end turns out not to be such a great idea. The future will tell... But accordions like their Leader IV and V are absolutely outstanding! They recently introduced electromechanics to replace the complex bass mechanism with solenoids. An interesting innovation that may (or may not) in the end revolutionize accordion construction.

Victoria used to be very busy as they made Titano, but now they just make Victoria. They are very committed and hard working, but they are a smaller outfit, not churning out series of identical well-made and consistent accordions. Being smaller has advantages (like being flexible in accommodating special requests) and disadvantages (like having less predictable lead times). Victoria runs the Accordion Craft Academy and what I learned there was very valuable!

Many great accordion makers from the past no longer exist: Hohner (except for a few Gola's made in a small workshop in Germany, so I heard), Excelsior (gobbled up by Pigini), Borsini (closed down), Fantini (not so great, but also closed down), and some names may have been bought by others so if you see a new Paolo Soprani or Crucianelli for instance, someone here may know who makes it, but they ceased to be real independent factories decades ago...

Weltmeister... I don't know how good their new accordions are. The someone less new (but still post-iron-curtain time) ones I have seen were absolute garbage. But I have not seen the insides of a new Supita for instance, so I cannot comment.

Hohner used to be a famous accordion factory (in Trossingen, Germany). From everything I have seen coming out of Hohner I deduced that there "secret motto" has always been: produce as cheaply as possible and sell for as much as possible. There are great Hohner accordions out there, but all older. The Morino (N and S) made by Excelsior was good quality, but kept below the Gola for economic reasons, using for instance only tipo-a mano reeds, reserving a mano for the Gola. The lower end models were not bad, the Verdi series was actually pretty good. The "metalbau" (Atlantic and others) was a typical example of cheap production, called special, and then sold for a lot of money... New lower-end models are now thrown together in a Chinese factory using Chinese components. Higher end models are made in Italy by Pigini and/or other companies (it has varied over the past two decades)... They are no longer an accordion maker (except maybe for the odd Gola coming out of Trossingen). I never recommend Hohner: why would you pay extra for a name when you can buy the same quality for less, with the name of the real manufacturer on it (or another brand name used by that manufacturer)...

There are many other brands to consider that are made in not the largest factories, but made with dedication. Think of Serenellini, Mengascini, and many more "...ini" companies. Both the accordions made by the big names and the small names are made using mostly standard components (thousands of them in each accordion). What you are buying that is "special" when choosing a certain brand is 1) the maker of the case and the reed blocks (thus, essentially all the woodworking) and 2) the skill, workmanship and dedication that goes into building the accordion. Choose wisely, and consider the "sound" you are after. It is amazing how different accordions sound despite being made out of the same standard components!
 

Dingo40

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I'm with you. Tom,
I have mainly low status instruments, but so did the role models of my youth.
I've grown up with them and am perfectly happy to have them.
In any case, where could I have top of the line models serviced, if needed?
As I often have said to my wife, the great thing about having been a ww2 refugee is, that no matter what happens, it's an improvement! 🤣
 

saundersbp

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I'd add based on playing a number of instruments over the years (most keyboard instruments, drums etc.) that the biggest influence on sound is the player and secondly the acoustic the instrument is played in. An average accordion is going to sound better in a hard surfaced room such as a church or bathroom than a top of the line one played in a living room with lots of soft furnishings.

Money can't buy you great music making, and if like me you don't enjoy shopping, you'll get far more happiness out of the hobby by practicing and having lessons than chasing an elusive perfect instrument. I imagine some of the very best musical instruments of whatever variety end up in the hands of those with money that haven't put the time into really learning how to make great music on them.
 

debra

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I'd add based on playing a number of instruments over the years (most keyboard instruments, drums etc.) that the biggest influence on sound is the player and secondly the acoustic the instrument is played in. An average accordion is going to sound better in a hard surfaced room such as a church or bathroom than a top of the line one played in a living room with lots of soft furnishings.

Money can't buy you great music making, and if like me you don't enjoy shopping, you'll get far more happiness out of the hobby by practicing and having lessons than chasing an elusive perfect instrument. I imagine some of the very best musical instruments of whatever variety end up in the hands of those with money that haven't put the time into really learning how to make great music on them.
Very wise words!
I often recommend Bugari to people, because it sounds "good" (but it's a matter of taste) and most importantly it is made to last. These accordions come trouble-free from the factory and they are very reliable. I have seen too many factory defects in other brands (and very rarely in a Bugari, but it does happen occasionally), or weak designs that are bound to break at some point (after warranty expires)...
Once you have a nice sounding sturdy and reliable accordion, the rest is up to the player to make music and on the acoustics of the room.
 

Ventura

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. The Bugari factory also does Zero Sette, Giulietti (if that brand is still produced, I thought not) and Petosa.

hello Debra

from what i remember (it is convoluted) Giulietti had a special arrangement
with the ORIGINAL Zero-Sette company
(similar to how Montgomery Ward held a special right to the use of and image of
Rudolph the red nosed reindeer) in perpetuity, for the life of the original company,
in specially designated market areas worldwide and/or advertising

when Monty Ward finally filed bankruptcy, even though their name resurfaced
some years later, they no longer held a right to Rudolph

when Zero-Sette lost it's factory but before they totally disappeared sort of
at the last moment (but not in bankruptcy court, as the SEM name had been taken)
Bugari stepped in as a "Friend" - but the original entity of Zero lost it's special
rights arrangement to Guilietti (and Fausto went into retirement)

there was also a brief period when Petosa was scrambling to find a new source, and
this contract was likely a deciding factor for Bugari's kindness)

the remaining Giulietti Family in the USA resisted for a long time any future
licensing of their name, so it did pass for a time completely out of existence

then a limited "right" was sold to/arranged with Petosa and a few models
were whipped together, but it appears the breadth of Petosa's marketing was
somewhat overloaded with top-dollar items and the Giulietti name seems to
have regressed to whomever die-hard buyers may want that nameplate on
their new accordion regardless of reality

i think the key thing to remember here is that Zero made bajillions of private
label accordions shipped to America
(they never really marketed their own brand name here)
and the thing that set these 1000's of clone/brands apart was the FINISHING
they received by the various American shops/pseudo factories

most of the Castiglione private label were Zero's, DaVinci, countless small
accordion schools, etc.

Petosa wins their right to brag from their seemingly infinite patience and ability
to finesse the key-action and the tuning and a few special exclusives they
contract for (like material used for the tone chambers)

Giulietti won their right to brag primarily because they had built a huge
reedmaking facility in their factory and even the models that used
Italian reeds were fitted and finished with those reeds here in America,
and they also had a few physical engineering exclusives from company
held designs and patents and contracts implemented by Zero exclusively for G models
(similar to Titano's exclusive design, patent and contract arrangements with Victoria)

it is possible that you, in Europe, have only seen Gulietti's built for
the Euro Market by Zero, and so have never worked on actual Guilietti reeds,
but this is really what sets their classic vintage top end accordions apart
and makes certain models truly desirable

many American reedsmiths learned their trade from Guiletti, and you can
find echo's of their skills hidden in some Universal and other brands of
american accordion houses

even after the second world war, there was a lot of reedmaking being
done here in the States, which was quickly won over by lower wages in Italy
in the 1940/50's and lasted until the Italian baby boomer generation, looking
to the big cities of Europe and modern jobs, kind of killed the reedmaking
industry in Italy for a time (which precipitated all the new ways
to market reeds that are not hand-made, but make you think they are,
as for a few decades there simply were not enough honest to god reedmakers
to go around)

oh, this has been long-winded after all... your experience may shed
a different perspective on this timeline, but from this side is as i remember it

and i do still have my one, original, vintage, Montgomery Ward
Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer Shopping Bag which i would
not trade for a brand new Sleigh !

ciao

Ventura
 

Walker

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In some ways I think it is about our perceptions of an instrument. Does it play well, feel good quality, have a satisfying sound, suit our music, does it suit our budget and personal philosophy...

It's funny, I had expected this to be a light hearted 'game' with some interesting efforts to categorise or rank different brands. But having read all of the comments above, I notice that accordions matter to different people in different ways - there is an emotional attachment, there is the sense that some accordion players might only buy a brand because of the kudos. There is the individuality choice - wanting to be different. Is the maker in a solid business, not going to fold etc.

I had previously cobbled a short list of my favourite accordion brands, and then realised that 'ranking' or categorising does little to convey the feelings people have for their instruments. So, it seems it is not such a light game after all. And actually very nice to hear that.

From a few of the comments Bugari seems a popular choice, and I own one myself. But would it be my first choice? No it wouldn't. I prefer the sound of Borsini and Beltuna for musette tuning. For classical I prefer Pigini and there are little aspects that make me enjoy the free bass mechanics of the modern Pigini in particular. I actually think Scandalli make the most stunning looking accordion and very refined, more classic than Bugari or Pigini to my eye. But the truth is, it doesn't matter how I rationalise my choices, other people will play with different rules. I would always want to buy an Italian product that is owned by a family business, if possible, rather than a company with significant investors from elsewhere in the world. Now, for many people this would seem irrelevant. Truth is, that's the real game - we do our research, make our choice based on our own reasoning, right or wrong, and then we walk away and go play.

Listing brands from top to bottom, might have been fun - but perhaps it missed the point.
 
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debra

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hello Debra

from what i remember (it is convoluted) Giulietti had a special arrangement
with the ORIGINAL Zero-Sette company
...

ciao

Ventura
Many thanks for the long explanation of the history of the contracts of Giulietti (and also of Petosa).
I never handled a Giulietti with american reeds. The old guy who taught me the first steps of accordion repair bought a few of the last Giulietti bodies when production had stopped and he put old and great Carloni reeds in them (not Cagnoni, but Carloni, an old reed maker) but these then too had Italian reeds.
 

debra

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...

Listing brands from top to bottom, might have been fun - but perhaps it missed the point.
It might have been fun but also meaningless, just as meaningless as ranking Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, General Motors... The model is more important than the brand name. And even then... is a Volkswagen Polo station wagon better or worse than a Seat Cordoba Vario? That was a question I had to answer two decades ago when I wanted to buy one of those. Turns out they are virtually identical and come from the same factory... so what's in a name?
And then... some brands make great instruments for certain types of music, not so great for other music. And even then it's a matter of taste. I would not prefer Pigini for classical music in terms of sound, but indeed they have a unique bass mechanism that is nice to play. Note that all others (in Italy) use a common bass mechanism, so they are all the same (considering the same configuration and year of production). I very much like the Russian bass mechanism in my AKKO. Beltuna indeed sounds very nice for lighter music. Borsini you can forget about because they went bankrupt several years ago, so you cannot buy a new one. Victoria is loved for jazz. And then... for a true French sound you should buy a French model from companies that specialize in them, not from a main brand like Bugari, Pigini, etc... It's a special technique I guess, to produce that French sound...
In the end, the other thing that matters most for 99% of the population interested in buying a new accordion is availability through a local dealer. That quickly limits the choices to a fraction to what's being made in the world as a whole...
 

Tom

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Very interesting, thanks for your insightful info.

For "best" maybe we mean "best for the $," as has been mentioned. Obviously we don't compare a $3000 machine to a $25,000. For this reason we must include the organetti as a special type of Italian accordion. Isn't it possible that, because of the lower amount of specialized pieces, along with the market size not dominated by China, the organetti can still be made with the same quality and passion as yesteryear? And maybe even produced a mano in Italy? Think of Della Noce or DeAngelis. These can be compared to the boutique makers of Louisiana, not the mysterious provenance of the Hohners and the like. My Della Noce compares favorably (in my mind) to my vintage Corona 2. Ok, my Piatanesi can't be compared to a $25,000 Petosa, but when you consider what's out there in the price range, I'd be sorely vexed to trade them for whatever you've got. And maybe that mysterious little "B" branded piano jobber is really an American reeds Giulietti in disguise, it sure is impressive. Just saying.
 
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Walker

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Tom, I think it can be difficult to even find true like-for-like comparisons sometimes. I was in the Bugari factory once playing their absolute top stradella model, called the G1. But in my mind, I was comparing it to the vintage Super VI, and I ended up being disappointed. Not because it wasn't good, but because it didn't compare to the old accordion. I remember thinking that the Bugari should not even be mentioned in the same breath as the old Scandalli. I guess though it's unfair to compare things that are so different. If I just enjoyed the accordion on its own merits I would have left feeling happier about the experience. As I say, its about perceptions.​
 

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