Formats: GigaSampler / EXS24 **** 4/5
While accordions may not immediately spring to mind for many musical applications, they can be used successfully in a variety of genres, ranging from traditional country, folk, and Celtic-inspired ensembles, to jazz, ethnic, pop, and even rock music. While concertinas and accordions both have bellows, only the accordion has bass and chord buttons on one side, to provide rhythmic and harmonic accompaniment to the melody buttons or keys on the other, making it far more versatile than the concertina.
Kip McGinnis of Bardstown Audio has collected together nine classic accordions in this two-CD Giga-format collection, and all are sampled from instruments made in the 1950s, when they were hand-made to high standards. Kip has been a professional accordion musician for over 30 years, and certainly knows his accordions inside out. Each note has been separately recorded in stereo using superb quality gear, and no looping was used, although with sustained tones like these it wouldn't have been too difficult. However, with low notes typically 18 seconds long, dropping to about six seconds for the highest ones, you'll rarely 'run out of puff'.
All instruments feature a 41-note piano-style keyboard. On the first CD-ROM, the most intimate sound comes from the single reeds of the Italian-made Bell Symphony Clarinet, while the New York-manufactured PANcordion Tone Chamber is sampled with both 'three Middle Reeds' voicing for a richer sound, and the 'Master' (all voices) setting that incorporates reeds sounding an octave lower. The PANcordion Straight Box is presented in French Musette and French Musette Master versions, both featuring the traditional 'wet' richness obtained by using several detuned 'unison' reeds for each note — French, Italian, and Irish musette tunings are traditionally more detuned than those from the Americas.
On the second CD there are three voicings of the famous Excelsior Symphony model, from Excelsior's Manhattan factory. The Clarinet is somewhat wirier than the Bell Symphony version, while the Musette has far more subtle detuning than its French cousin, and the Master with its octaves is again wirier but refined. Like all the instruments on CD one, these have a single velocity layer. However, the final instrument — a Sano Stereo Concert Master 60 with Violin voicing — features two velocity layers, to create the most expressive instrument in the collection, somewhat closer to a harmonica in tone.
The 770Mb library itself is excellent, and each Giga Instrument captures the idiosyncrasies of the original, complete with their unique attacks, subtle variations from note to note, natural chorusing, and the merest suggestion of a wheeze. However, the support material could be improved. The sleeve features a single cover photograph and a simple list of instruments, but there's no help file or manual. While you don't need to know all about accordion sounds to choose a suitable instrument for your own music, it would certainly help novices if more details of the sampled instruments and chosen voicings were supplied.
Unusually, Bardstown Audio sell their sample libraries exclusively from their web site, to every country around the world. Shipping and handling charges are detailed on their web site, and range from just $4 for US priority mail, through to $19.95 for International Express. Classic Accordions will certainly please anyone with a penchant for the squeezebox, and is probably the best Giga collection currently available in this admittedly specialist area.
$199 plus shipping and handling.