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