The following product review was originally published in the March/April 2005 edition of Accordion World magazine (editor: David Keen).
This review was written by David Keen. This work is presented here by the permission of Accordion World.
(See our review of Accordion World Magazine).
Following this review you will find some additional comments by Robert Stead.
By now you will have seen the advertisements, exclusively in ACCORDION WORLD magazine, and remember my visit and report of the 2004 Frankfurt Musikmesse Exhibition in Germany when I enjoyed an exclusive preview of Roland's exciting new product.
Well, what started as a vision some 30 years ago and came to the drawing board in the late 1990's, eventually became a reality and arrived on the international accordion scene through the last quarter of 2004.
What follows is a world-first review of the Roland V-Accordion ....
Reviews of electronic accordions, reedless electronic accordions and accordion expanders etc, usually confine themselves to the number of accordion sounds on board, the number of electronic instrument sounds on board and how good they are.
That's about it really. My review however of the Roland V-Accordion (FR7 model) initially ran to 5 pages -- this is the short version! And it has to be said right at the outset that this instrument is the most versatile accordion on the planet at this time ...
Though the V-Accordion (FR-7) is a fully fledged electronic instrument with both authentic accordion sounds and authentic electronic orchestra sounds, it is not necessary to connect the V-Accordion to an amplifier! The instrument has its own internal amplification system with an output of 2 x 25 watts (RMS) through 2 x 10cm speakers - which is ample power for those of you that play at festivals, clubs, restaurants, at home or down the garden.
There is an on-board rechargeable battery which lasts for about 8 hours, so you don't even have to connect to a mains supply! This makes the V-Accordion totally portable so you can wander around without any attached cables whatsoever producing both accordion and electronic orchestra sounds. Audiences will be amazed at your achievements. The battery can be recharged without removing it, simply by connecting the V-Accordion to the foot-controller with the supplied cable.
Both keyboards of the V-Accordion are 'Velocity Sensitive'
This means the volume and timbre of the orchestra sounds vary in accordance with how hard or how fast you depress the treble keys or the fundamental bass buttons. The possibilities here are endless to allow for greater expressive playing of, for example, consecutive short notes and chords, and so easily adds much more interest to the performance without having to twiddle with rotary volume controls, LED's, or expression pedals.
The treble keyboard has 'Aftertouch'
Whilst depressing a treble key, press it down even harder and for some of the orchestral sounds and all of the treble accordion sounds, the effect allows you to bend the pitch down (lower the note). If for example you select one of the organ sounds, 'Aftertouch' can also be used to switch between the fast and slow Rotary (Leslie) effect speeds whilst you are depressing the note or chord. The effect also applies to all notes that are sounding simutaneously. If you play a chord and then only press down one of its keys all notes are affected the same way.
Some electronic / reedless accordions / MIDI modules appear to have a great number of accordion sounds on board and you can select a Scottish musette sound or a German folk accordion sound etc, --one type of accordion and one overall factory preset sound which you cannot alter -- fine. The V-Accordion does not have any reeds, but takes things to the next level becoming a 'virtual accordion' because it has 14 treble couplers and 7 bass couplers -- just like your own accordion. There are 16ft (bassoon), 8ft (clarinet), 4ft (piccolo) and Master reed treble couplers together with 10 other coupler variations just like a traditional accordion. The same applies with the bass -- with a Master coupler and 6 other bass coupler combinations of high, middle and low reeds. Therefore, once you select for example the Scottish musette accordion, you are not confined to a single factory sound only -- ALL 14 treble couplers and 7 bass coupler combinations come into play -- so you have a fully specified Scottish musette accordion at your finger tips. The same principal applies to ALL accordion types on board the Roland V-Accordion.
12 VOICE ACCORDION
It is also worth emphasizing there are actually 7 treble reed footages on board and their combinations -- 16, 8, 8-, 8+, 4, 5-1/3, and 2-2/3, (the latter are known as quints), meaning you have available a SEVEN treble voice stradella accordion with a FIVE voice bass. Oh yes, and there are also four different FREE BASS keyboards available. A 'real' accordion with so much flexibility would obviously weigh a ton, be too bulky to handle anyway and cost the earth -- but then the Roland is a 'VIRTUAL' accordion ....
Three 'digital effects' are available, controlled by 'rotary' controls on the treble grill
REVERB -- This effect adds depth to the sound and gives the impression you are playing in a concert hall, a church, in a room etc.
CHORUS -- Gives the impression that several instruments of the same type are playing at the same time.
DELAY -- The effect creates echoes (repetitions) with the ability to vary the interval between echoes.
Normally these types of effects are produced from the amplifier some distance away, however the V-Accordion produces them all from within the accordion's internal amplifier / speaker system -- the result and sound quality is quite amazing adding so much professional variety to your performance.
An ON/OFF switch marked 'Sordina' allows you to simulate the characteristics of the cassotto wooden resonance chamber. A tone chamber would usually be found only on more expensive instruments and then at additional cost. Players would normally choose between an instrument with single / double cassotto, or perhaps a specific musette tuned accordion, (French or Scottish etc) or choose a standard straight tuned instrument, determined by their playing priorities. But with the VIRTUAL accordion everything is possible .... Normally, only one or two sets of reeds would be available in the tone chamber, but with the V-Accordion the 'tone chamber' resonance is possible and effective on all available accordion instruments and on all 14 treble couplers and 7 treble reed sets. Therefore you can have as many or as few reeds in the tone chamber as you desire.
Two further 'rotary' controls
VOLUME -- controls the overall sound level of the entire instrument -- but don't forget the V-Accordion bellows control works the same way as your own accordion -- the harder you move the bellows the louder is the sound -- less bellows pressure produces a softer sound -- accents are played in exactly the same way -- as are crescendo and diminuendo -- and don't forget wrist vibrato and the bellows shake! All musical articulations are played in exactly the same way and there is no loss of expressive qualities at all.
BALANCE -- sets the balance between the treble and bass keyboards -- one small adjustment increases the treble and decreases the bass at the same time, or the other way round.
At the heart of the V-Accordion is Roland's new technology known as Physical Behaviour Modelling (PBM) which uses complex alogrithms to capture the sound characteristics of an acoustic accordion. This allows for expressive and physical behaviour - just like the actual responses of your own accordion. The note-by-note micro tuning allows for faithful reproduction of the world's authentic and original accordion types. These are available as SETS (memories) and include: Concerto, Classic, Jazz, Bandoneon, Ballroom, Cajun, Tex Mex, Old Paris, Ciao Rome, Studio, Baroque, Romantic, Concertina, Diatonic, Scottish, Irish, Celtic, X Low Reed, Future and many others.
For each accordion type selected, all 14 treble couplers and 7 bass couplers come into play with their various reed combinations -- just like your own accordion. A further 3 SETS are also available and are rather unique. These are called MUSETTE, BASSOON and MASTER. Here, selecting the MUSETTE Set, all 14 treble couplers 'change' to produce a different type of musette accordion with their individual 8ft musette tunings and sounds. So if musette is your thing, you can work your way through all 14 choices! You can also change the couplers via the foot controller so as not to interrupt your playing.
The same principal applies to the BASSOON Set! 14 bassoon coupler/sounds become available -- ideal for those jazzy numbers or cassotto type sounds -- and the MASTER Set -- well I think you get the picture ....
There are also another 10 empty memory SETS where you can create, programme in and 'save' your own combinations of both accordion and orchestra sounds for both the bass and treble.
You will then have 40 memory SETS -- but if that is not enough -- you can permanently 'save' the 40 SETS (via MIDI) and start all over again ....
It must be emphasized immediately that the bellows control of the 'accordion' sounds also applies to the control of the 'orchestral' sounds - so the stronger you move the bellows the louder is the sound and less pressure produces a softer sound.
Therefore as an accordionist, you know that the heart and soul of the accordion is the bellows movements through expressive playing - well now you are able to apply your musical skills and feelings to the orchestra sounds as well. Just apply your accordion skills to the 'harmonica'or 'violin'... there really is no other instrument in the world, including top of the range keyboards, where orchestral sounds can be expressed and controlled in this way.
The V-Accordion contains two Orchestral sections - one for the treble keyboard called 'Orchestra' and another for the fundamental basses called 'Orchestra Bass'. There are also four ways in which the treble 'Orchestra' section can be combined with the treble 'Accordion' section ....
Here, the chosen orchestral sound will be heard on its own, however, by then pressing the wrist master coupler along the treble keyboard you achieve two things at once - the orchestral sound is turned 'off' and the chosen accordion sound is turned 'on'. Press the master coupler again and you return to the solo orchestral sound turning the accordion sound 'off'.
This time the orchestral sound is added to the accordion sound so each note played sounds like an accordion and the selected orchestral instrument playing in unison. Here, the master keyboard coupler allows you to turn the orchestral part 'off' leaving the accordion sound only and a further press of the master coupler brings the orchestral back again with the accordion sound.
Therefore in both SOLO and DUAL modes you have instant changes in sound via the master coupler without interrupting your playing -- no more reaching for the expander controls or keying-in numbers to change sounds.
A very interesting development. If you play a single note melody then you hear the chosen orchestral part only. If you then continue holding a key down whilst playing a lower note or notes, the held upper note continues to play the orchestral sound only, however, the lower notes play the accordion sound only. This is perfect where you need to play split melody and counter-melody or chords, using different sounds in different parts at the same time. It appears there are actually two musicians playing different instruments together.
This is the opposite of HIGH - where the lowest note played and held plays the orchestral sound and the accordion part is played above.
There are also 14 programmed memory SETS with combinations of different accordion and orchestral sounds (both bass and treble) waiting for your enjoyment.
Treble Accordion Couplers
We discussed the treble couplers earlier in relation to the accordion sounds which operate in the same way as your own accordion couplers. Well, press the 'orchestra' register first and the very same treble couplers then provide the treble orchestral sounds. Nine couplers actually provide two related sounds -- for example the 2nd coupler pressed once produces Tenor Sax, press it a second time for Alto Sax -- the 6th coupler produces Flute or Pan Flute and so on.
Therefore, using the keyboard master coupler as a switching control, it is easy to play a solo orchestral sound, then change to an accordion solo sound and then change to a different orchestra sound -- immediate variational convenience at your fingertips.
Space permits [sic] discussion of all the authentic Orchestral sounds which are really first class, however, we mention two of interest to our Scottish players and those of you who would like to sound like a Scottish player ....
'Highland' and 'Zampogna' Orchestra Sounds
The V-Accordion contains two realistic bagpipe instrument sounds and the instruments on which these sounds are based use one or several low 'drone' notes above which the melody is played. The lowest octave on the treble keyboard is therefore assigned to the drone notes - so when you press a single low key or two keys for a polyphonic drone, the note(s) continue to play when you release them and you can play the melody on the rest of the keyboard.
The V-Accordion contains a transpose function that allows you to change the key of the music you are playing. The advantage here is that you can play a song in E major, for example, whilst using the fingering of the C major scale. This may be useful if you are used to playing a given piece of music in a particular key and need to play it in a different key, ie playing in a band, playing with other accordionists, playing with a vocalist (in their key) or playing with transposing instruments etc.
Here is a parameter that further demonstrates the power of VIRTUAL technology. You probably know that an accordion's 8ft treble register may consist of two or even three reeds that are usually tuned apart to provide a richer sound (tremolo / musette). One reed is tuned slightly above, the other slightly below the correct pitch and the third if available is unaltered.
Tuning the reeds is a specialist, time consuming and expensive job and not performed by players themselves. With the V-Accordion however, 'tuning' the 'reeds' (that do not exist of course) is a simple matter of turning a knob! Available if you require even more variations to the on-board accordions and 14 treble couplers already present. Therefore, you can create your own variations, narrow or widen the tunings etc - and 'save' to memory.
Reed Type Assignment
This parameter allows you to do two things that are impossible with an acoustic accordion. (1) You can transform the selected registers into a different accordion instrument, and (2) assign different sounds to each footage the register plays. Therefore, if you particularly like the sound of say the musette (8ft) register in any of the accordion instruments, you can assign it to any of the other accordions thus creating your own VIRTUAL personalised accordion -- the sky really is the limit.
Treble Octave Transposition
This allows you to transpose the selected treble coupler one octave up or down to avoid playing the accordion sound and orchestral sound at the same pitch. The facility applies to both the accordion registers and orchestral registers, providing a high orchestral part to the lower (played) accordion part, or the other way round.
Bellows Detune Parameters
Four settings are available - Off, Low, High and Standard. These parameters further adds to the realism of the sounds emulated from the V-Accordion. Here, you can specify how strongly the pitch of the simulated treble reeds change when you open or close the bellows.
Bass Link and Orchestral Link
Here are two parameters that allow you to specify which accordion bass and/or orchestral bass couplers sound whenever you press just one treble coupler. This way, you only need to press one coupler instead of two to change both the treble and bass sounds. There is also another parameter that allows you to associate a treble 'orchestral' sound with the currently selected 'accordion' coupler.
FBC-7 Foot Controller Unit
The V-Accordion comes with a foot controller unit (FBC-7) that acts as a power supply for your accordion (if you choose not to play with the internal battery power), and also allows you to recharge the battery without removing it from the accordion. It has MIDI 'out-in-thru' connections which allow you to stop/start an external arranger and select its style variations, fill-in's - intros-endings etc. and audio-out connections to run cables to your amplifier. There are four separate footswitches in the unit which can be used to select the 40 memory (SET) functions and also to select the numerous 14 treble coupler 'functions' described earlier, either with accordion sounds or orchestral sounds. A sustain footswitch allows you to prolong the notes of certain orchestral sounds and also generate legato notes for piano etc, as would a pianist.
Connecting an optional Expression Pedal
If you connect an optional Roland expression pedal to the foot controller unit, you can control the orchestral parts of the piano, mandolin and guitar sounds by creating swell effects in much the same way as an organist does. The expression pedal can be used to fade the 'orchestral' part in and out without affecting the volume or strength of the 'accordion' part which you continue to control as normal with the bellows. This provides for some fantastic and creative variety to your playing merging 'orchestral' sound with your accordion and then perhaps fading out again.
At the top of the V-Accordion next to the bellows locking strap, is an LED display. This is a great innovation showing the status of everything you are playing treble coupler /bass coupler/ selected reeds / accordion type /orchestral sound / SET number / volumes etc and in very easy to understand symbols. The 'pages' change to show any changes you make so you know exactly where you are at a glance.
Space prevents us talking about everything that is possible with the V-Accordion, but if you want a plug-in-and-go multi virtual accordion, with or without orchestral sounds, then the Roland is for you. If you like tweaking with things to create your own additional virtual accordions, then the Roland is also for you. Every parameter of the V-Accordion can be changed (only if you wish) and there are many others not featured in this review. The ability to discover Free Bass for example and explore numerous MIDI features will have to wait for another time -- and don't forget the headphones facility for silent practice. The orchestral sounds are certainly designed with the soloist in mind and I would like to see a few more including additional piano variations, a vibrephone and some ensemble types would also be nice -- brass band, string ensemble, choirs etc, -- and it would be useful to switch some orchestral sounds to the bass and chord buttons to achieve a 'total' organ etc. Roland have gone for quality rather than quantity.
So, how much does the Roland V-Accordion cost?
Well, the recommended price of the FR-7 model reviewed here is £3099 ($5,837 USD) and the FR5 model which does not have internal amplification or speakers (and even lighter) is £2599 ($4,895 USD). But is this value for money?
Personally, I believe this is a crazy price... let's examine the sum of the parts...
You bought your own accordion (probably for four figures) -- the initial cost -- and you now want to add the equivalent of some of Roland's technology - so what would you pay ? -- I have used average pricing: -- First of all, a full MIDI conversion with a 120 bass accordion together with velocity sensitive keyboards and aftertouch would cost £1400 ($2,637 USD) -- and remember most MIDI accordion keyboards are not velocity sensitive or have aftertouch -- so you will have cutting edge technology -- an echo unit (to sound authentically like those French guys) would cost £425 ($800 USD) -- a good internal microphone system to amplify your accordion reeds would cost £125 ($235 USD) -- you will need an amplifier of course but find one with a dedicated accordion input channel would add £75 ($141 USD) to its price - (with the V-Accordion there are no feedback problems anyway and you don't have to use an amplifier!) -- a reed tuner would cost £200 ($377 USD) -- and at some point you may decide to upgrade your accordion to include a cassotto tone chamber or switch to a musette model or change to a lighter instrument (the Roland is already lighter) and of course lose money on the part-exchange -- then add a few hundred £ pounds for a sound module for the orchestral sounds (and don't forget a footswitch) -- but still you will not be able to express the orchestral sounds through your normal accordionist bellows control or produce the orchestral sounds from inside your accordion!
This technology and development can only be described as amazing. So, value for money?.........What do you think?......... Do we want one?......... yes Will we get one?......... yes
David Keen has done a wonderful job in his review of the Roland V-Accordion. In December of 2004 I had the opportunity to experience the V-Accordion courtesy of John Castiglione of the Castiglione Accordion Company. Roland had placed the FR-5 model in his store for a few weeks, and John invited me to come his shop and explore this new technology. (Note: If you would like to see and hear an audio/visual demonstration of the new Roland Reedless Virtual Accordion, you can visit Castiglione Accordion Roland V-Accordion page.)
After playing it, I can see why David Keen is so excited about the potential of this instrument. While I share his enthusiasm, I must qualify it by saying that it is a virtual instrument. I have been working with MIDI instruments since 1991 and have come to appreciate their versatility. However, I have yet to experience a virtual instrument that can match the true color of the real thing. This is true for the accordion also. While the accordion sounds in the Roland are amazing, they are indeed sampled tones. I say this not to deprecate the Roland V-Accordion (or any other MIDI instrument) but rather to say that it has its place and that I do not believe it will ever replace the complex overtones and reed combinations in an acoustic accordion.
The Roland V-Accordion is incredibly versatile. As David Keen mentions above, it can emulate a host of accordions. What is also amazing is that you can experiment with alternate tunings. The V-Accordion comes with some pre-set alternate tunings, but you can also create your own alternate tuning worlds.
In my opinion, the V-Accordion is best positioned in the recording studio--especially for those recording artists who like to experiment with a wide palatte of tones and tunings. And, of course, for the accordionist who wants to cover the entire spectrum of accordion timbres with one instrument, the Roland V-Accordion has no rival!
My only disappointment with the instrument was the bass buttons. I did not care for the feel of them in that they where a bit stiff, and they did not have the same feel as my acoustic accordions. Perhaps it was just a fluke in the model that I played. I did like the touch of the treble keyboard.
One final note: While discussing the bellow (and therefore wind) sensitivity of the V-Accordion Mr Keen states: "There really is no other instrument in the world, including top of the range keyboards, where orchestral sounds can be expressed and controlled in this way." Actually, there are MIDI controllers that allow tremendous expression through wind. One example is the Yamaha WX-5 wind synthesizer. I own a WX-5 and can attest that the breathe sensitivity of this instrument in conjunction with a breathe sensitive sound module (like the Yamaha VL70) is amazing.
Mike O'Regan (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes: In David Keen's review of the Roland V-Accordion he states that the Sordina switch controls cassotto. This is not so - sordina ia a subtle "mute" effect, quite different and separate from the extensive Cassotto functions supplied on the instrument. Sound is also profoundly affected by the Delay, Chorus, and Reverb rotary controls.
The "Roland VR-7/FR-5 V-Accordion Owner's Manual" states the following:
Sordina switch - This ON/OFF switch allows you to switch the simulation of the wooden resonance chamber on and off. (Page 12)
The Sordina switch allows you to attenuate the sound (make it softer). On an acoustic accordion, this closes the wooden resonance chamber inside the instrument. (Page 20)
Cassotto is similar to the Sordina function...., but it only muffles the reed/footage in question (making the sound darker). The Sordina switch, on the other hand, applies to all accordion sounds of the Treble section." Page 40 [A bit further down the page, we find the following: Cassotto (muffled sound).]
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