Tiger Teardown

In the ’60s, when electric guitars were first beginning to outsell accordions, Faithe Deffner and Bill Palmer got together and designed an instrument that they “hoped would enable the young accordionist to enter the rock scene”. The result–initially sold under both the Titano and Pancordion brands–was the “Tiger” accordion:  The accordion industry’s last-ditch effort to stay relevant in a musical landscape that was inexorably changing. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.)

I’ve wanted to get my hands on one for ages, so when a pristine-condition model showed up on Craigslist, I had to snap it up! Let’s take a look at this wonderful piece of accordion history…

Tigers originally were sold in a black-and-white "tiger print" gig bag!

The yellow-felt-lined case really makes the Fiat-inspired “Fire Red” paint job pop, but I don’t think the case is original. Tigers were sold new with a black-and-white “tiger print” gig bag!

The Tiger was also available in “Sand” (sort of a dusty yellow) and “Blue Moon”. All three colors tended to fade with age and exposure to light, so I’m guessing mine was kept in storage for decades.

Tiger Side View

As distinctive as the color is, it’s the keyboard that really makes the Tiger stand out.

As Bruce Triggs points out in his excellent overview of the instrument over at Accordion Uprising, the inverted-color keys were almost certainly inspired by the then-popular Vox Continental electric organ. That, plus the stylish keyboard angle, were–according to ads–intended to show off the accordionist’s “flying fingers”. (A seldom-reported bonus of the swept-back keyboard: It’s super-easy to tuck the straps in underneath the accordion when putting it back in the case.)
In addition to the usual low (Bassoon) and middle (Clarinet) reed sets, there's a "Quint" reed that's tuned a fifth above the middle reed.

Here’s another unique, organ-inspired feature of the Tiger accordions: In addition to the usual low (Bassoon) and middle (Clarinet) reed sets, there’s a “Quint” reed that’s tuned a fifth above the middle reed. And while most Tigers had just the first six switches, I was lucky enough to find one of the rare models with the extra “Blues Bend” register. More on that in a bit…

Two switches on the bass side, giving you the option to cut out the lowest reed.

This one sports a “United” brand label rather than Titano or Pancordion. I’m guessing United (maybe an accordion store or school?) worked out a re-badging deal with the Deffners. Also notice the two switches. Unlike most Tigers, which only had one unchangeable left-hand register, this model gives you the option to cut out the lowest reed. Quite useful when playing in a rock band, I’d imagine!

The leather straps are still in excellent condition.

The color-coordinated leather straps are still in great shape, considering they’re over 50 years old. Oh, and that “Made in Italy” stamp is not a misprint. Despite Tigers being designed and sold by a US-based company, they were actually manufactured in Castelfidardo, Italy by Crucianelli.


Okay, so that’s the outside. Let’s open things up and see what makes it tick! The front grille comes off after removing a couple of small screws on the side:

Inside the front grille.

Since Tigers were intended to be played in a (presumably loud) rock band, they came with an audio jack so you could plug them into an amp. I expected to find a couple of small microphones under the front grille, but there’s nothing here but some wiring and a small bit of circuitry for the two front-panel knobs. So where are the mics?

A closer view of the treble-side mechanism.

A closer view of the treble-side mechanism.

Palm rest

To open up the bass side, like most accordions, you simply loosen the hand strap until it detaches completely on that end, then remove the palm rest panel (usually via a few screws). It’s tough to tell from this photo, but the Tiger’s plastic palm rest has a nice rounded shape to it. More obvious is the weird bubbling/scarring on this one. Looks like fire or heat damage. I wonder if a previous owner took a lighter or something to it in an attempt to “roughen up” the surface and keep their hand from slipping?

Bass machine

Pretty straightforward bass machine. I hope I don’t ever have to do any repairs on this side. It does NOT look like it would be any fun. Oh, and no microphone in here either. Hmmm…

Not much left now but to unpin the bellows and check out the reeds…

Bass reeds

Here are the reeds on the bass side. The leathers could be flatter, but overall aren’t too bad given their age. Notice that the wood in the back is stained a lovely brown. A nice touch for a part of the accordion most people will never see. Still no microphone though…

Treble reeds

Here’s the treble side. A-ha! There it is! A single, humongous, piezo microphone serves as the pickup for the ENTIRE accordion. (I guess that explains why there’s no left-side/right-side balance knob.) Not exactly an audiophile solution, but they were trying to keep the price down after all.


A close-up of the lone microphone.


I’ve removed one of the reed blocks so we can get an eyeful of that beautiful, Italian-crafted wood. I also switched the accordion to the “Blues Bend” register, and you can now see what that does. The bassoon reeds are opened only halfway! This restricts airflow and makes it possible to “bend” the pitch of the note down about a half-step by forcefully increasing the bellows pressure. I haven’t found it to be too useful in practice, but it’s still a fun feature to have.

So how’s it sound? I put a short snippet up on Instagram if you want to give it a listen.

Ultimately, the Tiger accordion proved to be no match for the electric guitar. Mrs. Deffner put the blame largely on the stodgy instructors:

Unfortunately, the accordion teachers of that period did not like rock and were convinced that it was a passing fancy. None of them wanted to teach it to their students. Needless to say, the Tiger Combo ‘Cordion did not impact on the rock world as we had hoped for it to do. There are however, still a number in circulation and many favorable comments have been heard over the years. (My husband sometimes referred to the concept as “Faithe’s Folly,” but he was always good natured about it.)

Honestly, even if accordion teachers were eager to teach rock-and-roll, I’m not sure it would’ve helped much. If you were a kid in the ’60s and tuned your radio to a rock station, you would certainly hear a lot of guitar, bass and drums. Probably some saxophone too. You would pretty much never hear an accordion. So why in the world would any aspiring rock-and-roller of that era buy an accordion–even one as undeniably cool as the Tiger?

Funny enough, sales of electric guitars are now dropping due to music largely being made on laptop computers these days. I wonder if some enterprising guitar company, in a desperate final attempt to appeal to popular tastes, will try to design a guitar specially-designed to interface with ProTools, trigger loops and beats, and stream podcasts or something?

If so, I hope they’ll learn a small lesson from an old accordion called the Tiger.

Oktoberfest Means Free Accordion Sheet Music!

Right about the time I’m typing this post up, the Mayor of Munich is getting set to perform the traditional tapping of the first keg of beer as part of the start of Oktoberfest 2018! (Yes, the real “Oktoberfest” actually runs mostly in September.)

Photo Credit: Andreas Steinhoff, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Andreas Steinhoff, via Wikimedia Commons

Well heck, this accordion blog has an Oktoberfest tradition too–the annual posting of one of my German/Bavarian/Oktoberfest-appropriate accordion arrangements! This year’s tune probably goes by a bunch of different names, but I usually see it referred to as “Tyrolean Waltz” or “Tiroler-Walzer” or something like that. If you’ve spent any length of time in a Bavarian-style beer hall, you’ve probably heard it before.

It’s a lead sheet, so you’ll have to make up your own left-hand accompaniment based on the given chords (the standard oom-pah-pah waltz pattern works just fine). I apologize for how confusing the form might be with all the repeats and coda stuff, but I wanted to keep the chart to just one page. I’ve heard versions where the sections are in different orders–not too uncommon with traditional folk music–so feel free to play the form differently if you prefer.

So download the PDF of Tiroler-Walzer for Accordion and enjoy!

And if you missed ‘em, here are Oktoberfest posts from previous years:

Viel Gluck!

New: “Hallelujah” Sheet Music for Accordion

I love creating new accordion arrangements and putting more music out there in the world for people to play. The free accordion sheet music I offer on this site is probably its most popular feature.

So far, I’ve only offered music that’s in the public domain, out of respect for copyright laws. But thanks to the folks at Sheet Music Plus and Hal Leonard Publishing, I can now start providing 100% legal arrangements of a lot of great modern music!

I’m happy to announce that the first of these I’m making available is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. While they won’t let me offer it for free, I did request that it be sold at the minimum allowable price.

So head on over there and check it out! View the previews, listen to the recorded sample, and if you think it’s up your alley, you can download it instantly and get started playing right away!Hallelujah Cover Page

Here’s Some Free Accordion Sheet Music for Christmas: Carol of the Bells

Okay, technically Carol of the Bells isn’t a Christmas song. At least it didn’t start out that way.

Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych originally wrote it to be a New Year’s carol, with lyrics telling the story of a swallow who flies into a home to tell everyone there how awesome the next year is going to be. The now-familiar English lyrics about ringing bells and having a merry, merry, merry Christmas were written over two decades later, without Leontovych’s involvement.

(There are more of these “unintended” Christmas songs than you might think. My Favorite Things, for example, has zero to do with Christmas and hardly anything to do with winter, but that doesn’t stop people from playing it during the holidays. Heck, even Jingle Bells was originally written for a Thanksgiving pageant!)

Anyway, over on one of my favorite internet hang-outs, The Accordionist Forum, someone was recently looking for an accordion-specific arrangement of Carol of the Bells at the beginner-to-intermediate level. I figured I’d try my hand at arranging one myself, and here it is:

Carol of the Bells Accordion Sheet Music

I guess it wound up being a lot closer to “intermediate” than “beginner”. If that extra melody line midway down the second page is giving you trouble (those notes played with your thumb), feel free to leave it out and just play the top part, substituting the same fingering you use in the rest of the piece.

And try not to take it too fast! Most people blaze through this song, but Leontovych’s score indicates that it should be played Allegretto, which is brisk, but still not quite as fast as Allegro.


Celebrate Oktoberfest 2017 With Free Accordion Sheet Music!

Today marks the beginning of the 184th Oktoberfest in Munich!

If you’re heading there, or to any of the many local Oktoberfest celebrations in other cities throughout the world (such as here in Nashville), you might want to grab yourself a pair of limited-edition Oktoberfest sneakers that German sportswear company Adidas has recently introduced to honor the occasion.

Adidas Oktoberfest Shoes

In addition to the lederhosen-inspired coloring and the word “Prost!” (“Cheers!”) stitched onto the side, the shoes also feature a special “DBPR” coating, which Adidas claims stands for–and I am not making this up–”Durable Beer and Puke Repellent“.

Those Germans are nothing if not practical…

Of course, the other thing any respectable accordion player needs when heading to Oktoberfest is a solid repertoire of music to play. So here’s some accordion sheet music for “Drink, Drink, Brüderlein Drink!” (In English: “Drink, Drink, Little Brother Drink!”)

Once again, I have two versions, which you may choose from (or combine) to suit your playing ability. The basic version should be playable by anyone who has gotten through most of Palmer-Hughes Book 2. The other version has some tricky stuff more suited to graduates of Book 4 at least.

Viel Glück!

Trink Basic Thumb

Trink IntAdv Thumb


P.S. Here are my Oktoberfest posts from previous years:

Hey, I’m in a Video!

For those who don’t know, in most music videos, what you hear is not actually being produced by what you’re seeing. The audio is usually from the actual studio recording, created separately and well in advance. When the video is shot, the musicians are simply playing along (or maybe even miming and not producing any sound at all) as the recording blasts from speakers somewhere as a timing reference. The different takes and camera angles are then edited together, the original recording is dropped in as a soundtrack, and voila! There’s your video.

Well, I was recently called up to play in a music video for the Nashville Celts, a local band that I’ve played accordion with a few times before. In this case, the main song we were to shoot already had accordion on the recording, played by the very talented session ace Jeff Taylor. (A surprising number of Nashville accordionists are named “Jeff” for some reason.) I like to think that I was picked for the video because I’m so photogenic, but I suspect it was really because I will work for much cheaper than any of the other Jeffs.*

Anyway, after we finished all the takes for the first tune, we still had time for another quick video. On this other song there was no accordion at all. But hey, I was there, so why not fill in some space? I brought a concertina with me, which seemed to fit the vibe of the song.

The end result is a video with me playing a concertina you can’t hear**, on a song that doesn’t even have concertina on it, from an album another accordionist played on in the first place.

But it’s a good tune and worth a look if only for that:

* Or is the correct plural “Jeves”?

** Except in the very beginning, where I’m trying to figure out how the thing goes…

Finished. Not Perfect.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is only three words long:

“Real artists ship.”

– Steve Jobs

Jobs was legendary for his perfectionism and for never settling for mediocrity. He saw the task of building computers (and the software they run) as inherently creative work, and he encouraged his team to think of themselves as artists.

But at the same, he knew that mere ideas weren’t enough. Products had to be finished, often on a deadline. These beautiful designs and creative solutions had to, at some point, make their way into the hands of consumers as tangible products. Real artists ship.

Along those same lines, here’s a wonderful short video where Jake Parker argues in favor of “Finished Not Perfect“:

What are you “not finishing” out of the desire for musical perfection?

Are you putting off posting a recording of yourself to SoundCloud or making a YouTube video?

Waiting to sit in on a jam, or play for your friends and family, or participate in a recital until you’re “good enough”?

One of the things I’m shooting for this year is recognizing when I’m letting perfectionism get in the way of “finishism”. Who’s with me on this? We’re “real artists”, aren’t we?Let’s start shipping!

Five Tips for Establishing a Daily Practice Habit

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is “practice every day”, here are a few tips I’ve discovered while establishing and maintaining my own (mostly) daily accordion practice habit:

#1: Define “Practice”

What counts as practice? What’s the least thing you could do that would justify checking the box next to “I practiced today”? Does playing a gig or teaching a lesson count?

It’s up to you, but I recommend going as basic and simple as possible. I’m talking absurdly basic. Author Stephen Guise calls these mini habits–habits that are “too small to fail”.

I decided to make the rule that, as long as I played a single scale on the accordion, I could “count” it. On those days when I’m not really motivated and would rather do something (anything!) else, I still force myself to at least play that scale.

And you know what? Nine times out of ten I’ll finish and think “well okay, maybe a quick tune.” Next thing you know, it turns into a full-blown practice-fest! But even when it doesn’t, that measly scale is still better than nothing. As Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent (which I highly recommend), even short sessions can be useful:

“With deep practice, small daily practice ‘snacks’ are more effective than once-a-week practice binges. The reason has to do with the way our brains grow—incrementally, a little each day, even as we sleep. Daily practice, even for five minutes, nourishes this process, while more occasional practice forces your brain to play catch-up.”


#2 Define “Daily”

Look, life happens. You gotta give yourself an out now an then. Put some wiggle room in the rules. (After all, even the Guinness Book of World Records lets you take a bathroom break now and then.)

I went with what I call the “three-hour rule”. If I’m home and awake for at least three hours, then that’s a practice day. If I’m away from home on vacation, or if it’s one of those crazy days where I’m out the door in the morning and not back until very late that night, then practice is “optional, but encouraged.”

You might want to also give yourself a few “whoops!” passes in advance for those times when you might just plain forget. And you should definitely give yourself a break if you’re nursing an injury (better to take a week off now than a year off later). The important thing is to not let accidentally ruining a “perfect” streak discourage you from completing a “nearly perfect, but still extremely helpful” streak.

#3 Keep Track

“I think the soundest management advice I’ve
heard is the old saw: ‘What gets measured gets done.’”

– Tom Peters

I’m a big fan of keeping a practice journal of some type, which not only keeps track of the days you practice but also allows you to record helpful notes about what you practiced, what you need to work on next time, broader goals, etc.

If it’s a paper journal, it has the added benefit of giving you a physical representation of your progress as you make your way through the pages (and, eventually, through more notebooks). You can also put it on your pillow, where it will keep you from going to bed without remembering to practice!

#4 Remove Barriers

The process of starting a practice session should have as little “in the way” as possible. Leave the music stand out with a chair in front of it if you can. Keep your instrument nearby, maybe even out of its case. Have your other tools-of-the-trade (metronome, pencil, tuner, etc.) at the ready.

The fewer steps you have to take to start playing, the more likely it is that you’ll do so.

#5 Be Grateful

How awesome is it that you can play a musical instrument? I don’t care if you’re a rank beginner or if you’re Joshua Bell. The fact that music even exists in the universe is a thing of wonder, and the ability to just conjure it up at will is pretty much a flat-out miracle.

A daily practice commitment is not a burden, even though it might feel like one now and then. It’s a choice to participate in something great, and we makers of music are fortunate to be able to make that choice.

So from this moment on, I want you to remove the phrase “I have to practice” from your vocabulary and replace it with “I get to practice.”