What do Elvis, Jimmy Stewart, John Lennon and Fred Astaire have in common?

Elvis Presley accordionJimmy Stewart AccordionJohn LennonFred Astaire accordion






They all played the accordion! And, so do many folks in Cleveland. What style of music often comes to mind when you think of an accordion? Yep, polka. But, not everyone plays polka on the instrument. It can be used for folk music, classical, and even jazz and blues. We talked to Brian Slosarik of Valley City who not only plays the accordion but he is a collector and is well known for accordion repairs.

How did you get involved with accordions?

I work fulltime in HVAC, worked for a heating company for five years and was a builder prior to that for 10 years. My grandfather played the accordion, and I remember hearing him play when I was younger. I lived in California when I was growing up, and my parents pushed us kids into playing a musical instrument. I chose the accordion at the age of nine. I was taught using the Palmer-Hughes Accordion Course, Book 1-12, and additional sheet music, including classical and overtures. After one year of taking lessons I was entered into accordion competition. I did pretty well, collecting several small trophies and many ribbons during the next few years. I quit at 13 after my parents moved to Connecticut because I couldn’t find a teacher who I felt comfortable with in the area. In 2004, I had an accident working on my house. I was on a scaffold painting gutters, stepped off the side of the scaffold and took 15-foot fall. I broke my left foot and right wrist. Recovery was about four months. My hand was still a problem. I still had my original accordion that my dad bought me in 1960. I picked it up for therapy to be able to get my fingers working again, move my wrist and use my hand. That’s all it took. I got hooked again and started buying them. Most needed repairs; so, I took them all the way to the east side to get repaired. To save money and time, I started reading everything I could find on accordion repairs. With the help of a new accordion friend, I began repairing my own. People found out I could do this, and it snowballed. There are usually six to 10 accordions waiting to be repaired in my second-floor shop. I probably work on more than 100 per year. People drive from Michigan, Pennsylavania and southern Ohio to drop them off and send them via UPS from as far away as California. There aren’t many people in this country doing repairs. I am doing my part to try and keep the instruments going. Accordions really are very fragile and need someone to look after them. I do some traveling to accordion events around the country. My favorite is the Cotati accordion Festival in Cotati, California, in August. I enjoy repairing accordions and meeting all the passionate, nutty enthusiasts. It has become a very enjoyable hobby.

What is your favorite style of music to play?

In this area, most players love and play polkas, waltzes and dance I personally like and play jazz-type music from the 40s on my accordion. Friends in California got me involved in jazz. I was playing my old music when I restarted and got hooked up with Frank Marocco’s arrangements and bought up everything he had produced. His music was my influence, and I play some of his arrangements of French and Italian music jazzed up, blues and tangos.

SANOWhat is your favorite accordion? What makes it so special?

My favorite accordion that I play is a Sano double-tone chamber from the 1950s. The Sano brand was imported into the East Coast. The sound is what makes it special to me. The interior is all made from Mahogany wood. Mahogany has a lot to do with the appealing tonal quality. Jazz boxes are mellower with a deeper bassoon. They have a richer tone that is a bit quitter. Not everyone likes this; therefore, they prefer a brighter, livelier, louder accordion.

How are accordions and/or polka music an important part of Cleveland’s history?

Yankovic started here. The Detroit and Pittsburgh areas also have a big polka following, as does the whole Great Lakes area due to the Slavic people who settled this region.

What words of wisdom do you have for the next generation of aspiring musicians?

I know several younger people who love and play the accordion but who are exclusively playing polkas for entertainment. I encourage them to diversify if they want to continue to play because as their audience ages, they need to appeal to other audiences. Some students who visit me from Oberlin College are playing Irish and Scottish mixed with jazz. In Europe the accordion is very popular. You see people playing on street corners. It is a big part of their heritage. The accordion is showing up in popular bands like Bruce Springsteen’s. And with Paul McCartney, I remember from a few years ago seeing an accordion sitting in the corner of a stage during a New Year’s Eve celebration. The accordion is out there. I feel that as younger people discover it, the accordion will be made to do new and different things.

What kind of tools do you use to repair your accordion?

Small files for tuning, custom-made tools for getting in tight places for adjustments, screwdrivers of all sizes, power tools, a table saw, belt sanders, acetones for celluloid work, sanders, polishers, X-Acto knives, glues. Being a former builder, remodeler and cabinet maker, I’ve always been into tools. Many of my tools show their age from many years of use.

What are some of the problems accordions have that cause them to need repair?

From accidents, bass buttons collapse just from knocking it over on the floor. The more you play, the bellows wear out and need to be replaced or retaped. Scratches and dings. Straps wear out, keyboards get out of adjustment and start getting too much play. Humidity and temperature are terrible on accordions. If they are stored on the floor in a basement they can mold inside. Attics with humidity and heat disintegrate the wax causing the reeds to fall out. Accordions like the same atmosphere and living conditions that people like: 70-75 degrees F. As with most things, accordions can just wear out. If it is a good brand, something special or sentimental, an accordion can be rebuilt to like-new condition. I have restored several during the past 10 years, including some for myself.

How long does it take to repair one? How costly is the repair?

I have repaired as many as five in one weekend if they require minor repairs like a stuck or broken reed or a key is hooked and bent. It can take up to 50 hours of work for a major restoration I find most repairs are in the $100-500 range.

How much do accordions cost, and where do people buy them?

A new, small, Chinese accordion runs $500-600 up to $12,000-15,000 for a top-of-the-line Italian accordion. A new full-sized, standard accordion runs $3,000-5,000, and you can get a good used one for $1,000. There are a few stores on the East and West Coasts and in Michigan that sell new ones. There’s nothing in Ohio that I know of. I can order them new through my connections, and I have almost 200 used accordions in my shop with 30-40 ready to sell at any time. I have four in my personal collection: my grandfather’s last accordion, the one from my childhood, my Sano, and one that is believed to have been owned by Myron Floren from the Lawrence Welk Show. I think picking an accordion is very personal. Everyone has different preferences and taste in how it should feel and sound.

How do you tune an accordion?

There are hundreds of reeds inside, and each reed has two reed tongues. When you pull out and push in the bellows the reed should make the same sound. To change the pitch on a reed you scratch or file the tongue in specific places to raise or lower the pitch. I use, in combination, a computer tuning program and Peterson strobe tuner. It can take up to 12 hours to tune a full-sized accordion; therefore, it is expensive — $500 or more. It is difficult to tune an accordion right to get a proper sound when you are done. It’s an art. What makes it more interesting is the different types of tunings there are: dry or concert tuning, polka, Irish, French, Italian and many more. Without proper training and experience a set of reeds can be ruined real fast in the wrong hands. Most accordions only need to be tuned about every five years if they are played regularly. Your better accordions tend to have better quality reeds. The higher quality reeds will hold a tune longer.


Get insider access to exclusive offers, special events, and HGR news!

Contact (Name of Sales Rep)

[contact-form-7 id="108241" title="Sales Rep Contact Form"]

Contact (Name of Sales Rep)

[contact-form-7 id="133177" title="Sales Rep Contact Form"]