Saltarelle Bourroche Chromatic Button Accordion Review
Posted on April 03 2020
I've had my Saltarelle Bourroche chromatic button accordion for about 3 years now and it's overall the best box I've ever owned.
Over the years (about 25 years playing accordion) I've had a lot of different accordions; piano accordions and chromatic C system button accordions.
I'm picky, very picky, about my accordions. Never satisfied. I need the keyboard to be responsive, but not have too much resistance. I need the keys to move enough when I press them, but not too much. The box needs to be light, well balanced, the strap fixings need to be in the right place, it needs to sound right and it also needs to look good. Sorry, but I'm vain!
So the Bourroche...
Saltarelle are a French company from Dijon who've only been around since the 1980's so not a particularly old company. However they use top quality Italian components and mine has hand made reeds (as opposed to "hand finished" - another blog about that coming soon).
The official spec for the Bourroche is as follows:
- Treble side: 4 or 5 rows, 3 voices, 5 couplers, located behind the keyboard.
- Bass side: 84 buttons
- Dimensions (L x w x h) : 31,4x19,7x38 cm
- Weight : 7 kg
It's a beautiful accordion with a really traditional look to it. The body on mine is made from Cherry; I think there were more options when I bought it but I loved the one I'd had a go on at the Saltarelle shop and wanted that one.
They don't seem to offer the keyboard shape I have any more, opting for a more straightforward (boring?) one.
Above: Front view of my Bourroche, showing the shaped keyboard sadly no longer offered by Saltarelle.
|Above: As you can see the one on their website looks quite bland. This one has only 4 rows of buttons and a little grille where my 5th row is. It also looks like the keyboard might be a little less steeply stepped? Hard to tell.|
When I bought mine I initially opted for all white keys, with Red and Black felt under the buttons to distinguish between the "black" and "white" notes. I later realised that I couldn't really see the difference when I was playing and had underestimated my ability to learn new tunes, particularly in odd keys, when I couldn't actually tell which notes were which! Also quite embarrassing when another musician asks "can I have an A please?" and you can't find it!! So I replaced most of the black notes with black buttons.
The keyboard is stepped and the buttons are on little stalks, unlike a lot of other chromatic boxes and certainly melodeons which tend to have flat keyboards and the buttons are inset.
You can also see in the above picture that the two black notes at the top and bottom have chrome rings around them which is how they all were when new. I actually changed most of my keys for different ones with no rings because I was finding my fingernails would sometimes catch on them. I'd recommend if you get one of these to ask for buttons with no rings on, I can't see that they offer any benefit whatsoever.
I also ran out of black buttons when I decided enough was enough with the all-white keyboard. That's why I've got this crazy mixture of black and white, with a few chrome ones and extra white notes at the very top and bottom!
The 5 couplers hidden behind the treble keyboard offer the following voices:
|1 voice||Concertina (single medium reed)|
|2 voices||Double medium reeds|
|3 voices||Double medium + single low reed|
|2 voices||Bandoneon (single medium + single low reed)|
|1 voice||Single low reed|
The initial switches to change voice had these really weird knobs on that stuck out, and would dig into my chest - so naturally I got a hacksaw and chopped them off - nothing like butchering a £5,000 instrument with a blunt saw!
Above: Original exposed couplers with knobs on.
|Above: My "adapted" couplers with leather cover. Ignore the weird brown rubber lumps, I'll explain those later too!|
After chopping the knobs off I realised that my bony ribs were moving / changing voices sometimes half way through tunes and so I decided to cover them up with a thick piece of leather. Maybe I just play more enthusiastically than most and when I close the bellows the keyboard is pushing too hard against my chest, but I honestly believe I'll never sell this box - it's that good - so who cares what the back looks like eh!!
Lastly the keyboard...it's very responsive and the hand made reeds sound at the lightest touch. Even the bassoon reed is very quick to respond with very little air pressure.
If you're interested in how it sounds, I'll update this review very soon with a video of the different voices on my box, though you can hear me playing (mostly using the MM coupler) on my YouTube channel here: www.youtube.com/mudchutney. Bear in mind though that this is only how I actually had it tuned and not necessarily how a different Bourroche would sound. How you choose to tune it really depends what kind of music you want it for.
Because I play mainly Irish music, according to the table in my Tuning Explained article (coming soon) 7 cents would be appropriate, however with my history of playing a lot more Scottish music (I played in a Ceilidh band in Edinburgh called Tapsalteerie for about 7 years) I preferred a wetter sound so went with 10 or 12. (I can't actually remember exactly which so if your superior ears are able to tell then please do share).
In retrospect I think I'd have preferred slightly wetter so one day when I get the tuning fettled I'll probably make that adjustment then.
There are 84 bass buttons on my box and when I bought it I was offered either the French or Italian stradella system. At the time I had no idea there were different options to be honest!
Above: The bass buttons on my French system stradella basses
Above: Normal Italian stradella basses
Depending on how one uses the basses the missing diminished 7th row may or may not bother you. I never used it before so haven't missed it. Saying that I don't really use the extra row of counter basses either; note to self: "must learn what they do".
N.B I was taught by a chap in the back room of a pub who literally only used about 8 different buttons and played Morris tunes, mainly in G, so never got the classical stradella education on what's possible with the basses.
On a more objective note, the buttons are on little stalks that are visible which is rather pleasing and really no different to play. I chose red felt for the pads too which looks rather lovely I think (see picture below).
Above: Saltarelle French system stradella bass buttons with red felt and one missing button (someone kicked it at a session in the pub one night)
The Bourroche comes with very high quality leather straps with good padding. My only gripe with them, and it might just be a personal thing, is that the bass strap was a bit too long for me. I know I've got quite skinny wrists but even with it fully adjusted it was still too loose for me. I had to take it to bits, cut a bit off and rivet the adjusting attachment back on again before I could tighten it enough.
Because the body on my box is made from solid wood it does tend to dent fairly easily and so looks a bit "worn". I'm no musical technician but I believe the softer body gives it a warmer sound and this is possibly why they didn't use a varnish more like the diamond hard stuff you can get for floors. This would have prevented so many little dings, but if I'm honest I actually prefer it to look a bit worn.
However because the wood on the accordion body is so soft the buckles were denting and scratching it (see pic below) and it didn't come with buckle covers which I know some manufacturers offer.
So I bought some thin leather offcuts online and hand stitched them around the buckles, trimming the edges once I'd slid them over the buckle. It took a while, but once I've set up an accordion I rarely move the buckles ever again. It has the added bonus of preventing people from moving them if you're kind enough to let someone have a go on it.
One more thing to note about the Bourroche is that on the bass side, where your wrist passes over the corner of the box has been beautifully rounded off. A couple of (un-named) competitors boxes didn't bother with this and I found it actually quite a sharp edge against your wrist. The bourroche is lovely and rounded.
As I said at the start, this is the best box I've ever owned, and I've had accordions made by Pigini, Victoria, Dino Bafetti, Zero Sette, Hohner, Brandoni, Paolo Soprani, Bugari, Beltrami...and probably others. I've also played boxes by pretty much all of the other manufacturers. There's a fantastic trade fair in Frankfurt every year called Musik Messe at which all the major manufacturers have stands. You can spend a day there trying out all their accordions - I've been twice. It's quite an assault on the ears (definitely take ear plugs...no really, do) but absolutely worth the flight over.
When I bought it I also owned a Victoria Poeta (review coming soon!) which was probably the best sounding box I've owned, but this is the overall winer due to its small size, light weight, and all round brilliance.