Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Junior Martin: Maker of Diatonic Melodeons

Set back from the street in Scott, LA, was the workshop for Martin's Accordions. We parked in the Waffle House parking lot next door and made our way to the entrance of the shop. Clarence Martin, a jovial fellow in his late 60's, greeted us with a smile and "Hello, I'm Junior. C'mon in. Let me show you around the shop."

The shop itself was a workshop, a salesroom, and a performance stage. The room has been expanded at least three times to accommodate the number of people on a tour. We had learned about Martin Accordions from Elderhhostel participants we met on a tour of a rice plantation. About 40 of them had been here last week for a tour and a brief performance by Junior, his son, and daughter.

When I called Junior to ask about attending a tour, he apologized that no tour was scheuled in the near future. However, he said he would be happy to schedule "a visit" to talk about his work, although he would not be able to do any playing. Even though Junior makes fine accordions, he does not play one. "I only know four songs. That's my instrument over there," he said, pointing to a steel guitar.

As he talked about building his first accordion, he said he was told, "Don't build just one from start to finish. Work on one component at a time and produce many of each part."

Junior followed this advice--too well. When he began building the accordions from all the pieces he had in separate compartments, he had 54 accordions when he finished. "I had no idea what to do with 54 accordions, so I had to figure out some way to sell them." So began his business.

As we began the walk around the shop, Junior showed us accordions in various stages of contruction.

"I get the reeds from Italy. The best reeds come from Italy." These reeds (left) were being stored in the box of the accordion while awaiting assembly.

"The Cajun accordion is actually a 'diatonic melodeon'," Junior explained, "because each key has two notes, one sounded when the bellows are pulled out and a second note when the bellows are pushed in."

This is the arrangement (right) of the reeds in the box of the accordion.

Structurally the instrument is small (6" x 11" when closed) and light weight (8 lbs.). The size, however, is no indication of its sound power. The finest Cajun accordions have 46 reeds (four reeds per melody button and three reeds per bass button) which supply them with much more volume power than a 28 pound piano key accordion.

We mentioned having heard Junior Melancon (see our Nov. 1 blog), but before we could say anything about how much we enjoyed his playing, Junior grabbed his head and said, "He has my accordions, but oh, he's so rough on them; he's always in wanting me to repair something."

The secret to the brilliant blue and red accordions in the above two photos is . . . food coloring. A lacquered food coloring.

The finished Martin Accordion (right) shows the Martin trademark on the bellows--the crawfish.

Junior has nearly 100 instruments in varying stages of completion around the shop (it takes about 10 months to fill an order). He sells 25% of his accordions to out-of-state buyers, and surprisingly (to us), he sells another 25% of his accordions internationally (Wales, Denmark, Norway, England, France are the biggest buyers).

On the shelves along one side of the shop are a collection of accordions, each with a unique story. Junior took a moment to tell some of the stories. One was a gift from a friend who found it in a pawn shop in England and bought it for four dollars.

The accordion on the left in the photo (left) was dropped off at his door with a note saying, "I'm not sure what I want you to do. I'll give you a call in the morning."

Junior has been waiting several years for that follow-up call.

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