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Book Review: Pretty Complete Guide to Squeezeboxes
Wendy Morrison


1 Basic Info & FAQ
2 Choosing an Accordion
3 Treble Switches
4 Sizes of Piano Accordions
5 Accordion Features
6 Button Accordions
7 How to Pick a Concertina
8 Oddball Instruments
9 Purchasing an Accordion
10 Care and Feeding
11 All About Straps
12 Further Resources
13 The Trivia Pages

Published by Wendy Morrison (1999)
review date: October 1999

Order from: House of Musical Traditions
7040 Carroll Avenue
Takoma Park, MD 20912
Phone: 301-270-9090
Fax: 301-270-3010

Review by Henry Doktorski

I met Wendy Morrison -- accordionist, concertinist, and now author -- in person at the 1996 American Accordion Musicological Society festival at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I had already known her from her informative and often humorous posts to the Usenet Accordion Newsgroup ( and from personal email letters; in fact she helped me quite a bit both technically and etiquette-ally, since I was a newcomer to the world of cyberspace at the time. At the AAMS festival, we played duets -- she on concertina, I on accordion -- and had lunch together. I remember that I was delighted by her subtle and earthy wit. She is not only knowledgeable but darn funny at times! The 91 page book, Pretty Complete Guide to Squeezeboxes, is a compendium of her knowledge and humor. Although the book seems rather plain and humble -- simply a collection of spiral bound photocopied sheets -- I discovered early on that one should not judge a book by its cover, but on the content. And I found the content to be mostly excellent.

First, a warning to classical free-reed fans: this book is not targeted toward the classical accordion lover. In fact, the book contains practically nothing about classical music and -- listen to this! -- The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. is not even mentioned in the chapter titled Further Resources which includes a list of internet accordion websites.

Never-the-less, I believe the book will be appreciated by all squeezebox lovers, regardless of their particular preference of musical style. Pretty Complete Guide to Squeezeboxes is just what it claims to be: a practical owner's manual and buyer's guide to handheld bellows-driven free-reed instruments. It is geared especially toward folk music -- the author's specialty -- and includes a description of which type of squeezebox is appropriate for various styles such as Cajun, Zydeco, French Canadian, Irish, Morris, English country dance, Scottish, tango, etc.

Some of the information in her book is ridiculously simple common sense, such as "don't play it [your accordion] outside in the rain," and -- get this! -- "never put your accordion in the oven [and turn on the heat]," (Chapter 10: Care and Feeding). Fortunately, more esoteric matters, such as a list of over three hundred accordion brands and model names (Chapter 13: The Trivia Pages) are included.

Some of the information in the book comes from letters posted to the Internet Squeezebox Newsgroup. Unfortunately this has the dubious distinction of questionable accuracy. How do we really know for sure what Tom, Dick and Harry wrote on the internet is actual fact and not simply conjecture? The following is an excerpt from Ms. Morrison's book which I could not help sharing with you:

Here is a relevant post that appeared in January 1998 on the Squeezebox Newsgroup:

>The argument about the button box versus the piano accordion (PA) could go on forever.
>The bottom line is this - 90% of all accordions sold in the united states are piano accordions
>(this has been true since Petro [sic] Deiro added the piano keyboard approximately 1920)

I have several comments about this statement.

1) Pietro's name spelled incorrectly,

2) the date -- 1920 -- is way off. The actual year when Mr. Deiro first played the piano accordion in the United States was 1909 (see Flynn, Davison & Chavez, The Golden Age of the Accordion, page 15).

3) Is it really true that 90% of all accordions sold in the United States are piano accordions? Could it be 85% or 95%?

4) If it is 90%, then I ask when did the piano accordion achieve 90% of the market? The unknown author implies that it happened the day Mr. Deiro added a piano keyboard to his accordion. I find that hard to believe; perhaps it took several years (or decades) for the piano accordion to achieve 90% of the squeezebox market.

5) Is it still true today in 1999 that 90% of all accordions sold in the U.S. are piano accordions, or was it only during the golden age of the accordion (1930 - 1960)? With the increase in popularity of folk styles such as Cajun music, I suspect the piano accordion today may be losing ground to the button boxes.

It is regrettable that Ms. Morrison does not always quote reputable sources; she merely repeats what she has heard from other, sometimes conflicting, sources. Regarding claims by accordion manufacturers, she advised readers, "Take any such pronouncements with a large grain of salt; in the end you must decide for yourself . . ." I think I have made my point about the accuracy of some of the information found in this book; 'nuff said.

Despite its drawbacks, the book has its offbeat charm. Ms. Morrison's personality permeates her book, and that made it especially enjoyable for me. Just see the titles of these two chapters: Oddball Instruments and Care and Feeding, not to mention the title of the book: Pretty Complete Guide. . . Yeah! Pretty complete! I especially enjoyed her imaginative description of the musette tuning:

Think of the middle accordion reeds sets -- often called "voices" -- as being like 2 sets of soprano vocal chords: let's say there are two sisters, for example. They have a stage act and a steady club gig 4 nights a week, and they've been singing together all their lives, so they know how to make their voices sound right in tune when the sing unison notes (even real fast ones), which is all they ever sing -- it's their trademark. That's dry tuning.

Now, say one night the younger sister breaks up with her boyfriend and gets roaring drunk just before a gig, but the duo goes on stage anyway. The younger one can still sing pretty close to her older sister's voice, she's a professional, after all, but she's just a little out of tune, maybe a little sharp, on every note. That's musette. Now, let's say it sounds great and the audience really digs it, so the girls decided to keep it in the act, but in order to get that sound consistently, the younger sister has to drink herself silly 4 nights a week. Eventually she trashes her family life, destroys her liver, and ends up in the street, a bag lady, singing "La Vie en Rose" for spare change. A very sad story indeed.

Better she should have just taken up the accordion.

(I can't help but wonder if there is an autobiographical element in that story! :-)

All in all, I found Pretty Complete Guide to Squeezeboxes to be 90% informative (or perhaps 95%? I really should back up my claims with statistical data or else I am guilty of my own criticism!) and 100% entertaining, and I think you will too!

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