Giansandro Breccia is the director/manager of the reed maker Salpa di Breccia e C. s.r.l. He is also well known as a partner of several other prestigious music companies: ORLA SpA (Electronic Organs & Digital Pianos), Pasco Italia (manufacturer of Soprani and Moreschi accordions). This interview will concentrate upon the reed making processes of Salpa.
Q. How did you first become involved with the accordion?
A. When I was a child, I was often playing in my grandfather's factory. It was at that time, that I first became involved with accordions, I suppose.
Q. Were you always interested in reed manufacturing and if not, how did you come to make it your career?
A. I tried to go out of this business, but it was impossible! I liked it too much.
Q. Would you describe your factory and the machinery that is used in the manufacture of reeds?
A. The factory isn't big, we have 22 employees that are working for our company. As for the machinery, we have 4 grinding machines that are working on the steel and several press that are cutting the aluminum plate and also steel all day long. Moreover we have several other small machines to make our own moulds and to cut aluminum and steel. The rest of machinery are the hands of the employees; in fact we finish all the different type of reeds by hand.
Q. Do you buy in parts and then assemble the reeds or do you make all the parts at your factory?
A. We produce all the parts in our factory, except for the rivet.
Q. Please describe in detail all the materials used to make the reed, what country the materials come from, and special features about the materials that you use. Could you explain the relative merits of any different materials?
A. The most important materials are steel and aluminum. We buy the steel from EBERLE. All the steel is certificate QMS ISO 9001, to assure the high quality. We use different sizes: from 0,45 to 0,70 x 120 mm. to be used in different reeds, plus 0,50 and 0,55 x 8/9/10 mm. to be used only in hand made reeds.
Re aluminum, we buy it from ALUSUISSE, also certificate QMS ISO 9001, in different quality: Peraluman, Anticorodal Dural, Avional Dural. Moreover we use different sizes also: from 2,5 to 4 mm. thickness. Re bass and terzetti (the very largest size) we use premade aluminum for the reed plates.. We also manufacture brass reed plates and zinc reed plates in small quantities.
Q. We see advertizements for accordions with "hand made", "hand finished" and "machine" type reeds. Could you tell us the differences between these reed types?
A. Buy 3 accordions with the 3 different types of reeds and you will understand the difference! Anyhow, many things are different: materials, work, riveting, etc......
Q. When I look inside an accordion, is there any way that I can tell if it has "hand made", "hand finished" or "machine" type reeds?
A. See the above answer.
Q. Please describe all the differences between the highest quality type reed and a machine reed? Please detail the shape of the reed tongue for the highest quality type reed, why it is shaped that way and how it is different than the machine reed?
A. First of all the Hand Made reed has a different steel: small ribbon (mm. 8 large) steel. In machine type reeds we use large ribbon (mm.120) steel that we cut by press. This make a big difference; in fact the first one (mm. 8 large) could be ground without cutting and without using grinding machine, directly by hand. The large ribbon must be ground and cut with machine and, in this case the steel is much more stressed and could be loose in harmonic.
Moreover the aluminum is completely different and the workmanship also. Re shape, is different from Hand Made to Machine reed, but also from the different reeds company: everyone has their secrets! In any case if the size of the tongue and plate are bigger you can have a better sound. Moreover at SALPA the hand made reeds are completely made by hand, using the best materials and employees, and we finish by hand the others reeds type also.
Q. Could you explain the factors that effect tone in a reed?
A. It isn't only a matter of reeds. In the reeds, the material that we are using makes the difference, the stress in the steel also, but also very important are the reed block and how you fix the reeds on the reed block. The accordion wood case in very important also.
Q. What particular tasks do your staff perform? Do you have some type of production line or does a staff member construct the full set of reeds for an accordion? Does the production system vary much for different quality reed types?
A. We have different staff members for different quality reeds and for different types of reeds (ie. bass, helikon bass, high bass reeds without leather, etc,). The production is different as I explained before because of the material, in the work process. But also there is the greater care of employee when they finish the reed by hand. However the best staff in SALPA are working on Hand Made reeds and Tipo a Mano.
Q. The lower pitched reeds often have weights attached to the reed tongue. Could you tell us the purpose of the weight, the material you use to make the weight and how it is attached to the reed tongue?
A. To have a deep note, you have 2 ways: the weight or a very very long tongue. The first solution is better, allowing a smaller size and weight of reed. The material is brass and we fix it with soft soldering.
Q. Could you tell us how the reeds are riveted to the reed plates? Is there more than one method and do you prefer one particular method?
A. In all the different reed's type we riveted them using hammer by hand. At SALPA, we use three different methods to rivet: flat, round head, diamond shaped head. We make the type the customer requests.
Q. For many years leather has been used for valves to block the reed apertures. Would you tell us of any alternative materials and their relative qualities.
A. Most of the accordions factory now prefer to have the plastic ventile, for two reasons. It became difficult to find good leather and if you don't have good leather, the ventile can be stressed when the temperature changes from cold to hot and vice versa. With the plastic ventile there isn't a problem.
Q. Why do the smaller reeds not have leathers?
A. The small reeds need a different quantity of air to make sound. If you put leather on the small reeds, you need to pull the bellows much more strongly to make a sound.
Q. Some leathers on the larger low sounding reeds have a thin metal spring on them. What is the purpose of this?
:A. Without the spring, the leather could remain open because of the weight of the leather.
Q. Could you tell us something of the development over the years of reeds and reed plates and any other important aspects of historical development?
A. SALPA was the first in Italy to make the unique reed plate used in the Russian bayan system of construction, not only in the bass but also for all the reeds. Probably we are the only company that is selling reeds to the Russians for bayan. Moreover we are the only company that is producing reeds using silver instead of aluminum for the reed plate.
Q. Does the Salpa business manufacture any other parts for accordion?
Q. I am sure many of our readers would like to know how you tune the reeds and any preferences you have for types of tuning. Could you describe the different types of tuning and how you tune your reeds?
A. We only part tune the reeds because the final tuning must be done when the reed is on the reed block. We do the tuning using a special machine. The old workers do that by "ear".
Q. In what ways and for which reasons do you see the reed accordion maintaining its popularity in the face of the development of electronic accordions, midi accordions and other new developments?
A. The sound of the electronic reed is similar to the real reeds sound, but it isn't the reeds sound. Also many people don't understand how to use electronic things!
Q. In which directions do you see reed manufacturing developing in the short and long term future?
A. At SALPA we are working to have in a short time, a good medium professional reed at a better price, with a higher quantity of production.
Q. Do you have any particular plans for the future that you would like to share with our readers?
A. SALPA is doing its best to develop a high quality reed, not only hand made but also Tipo a Mano, Export Dural and Machine, for the future. If some accordionists have any suggestions to improve the production, they are welcome.
Q. What have been the most rewarding (not necessarily financial) experiences in your business? Is there any aspect of your product that you consider to be unique?
A. At Salpa we make reeds for everyone, for the big accordion company and the single accordion player. We try to help everyone to make their own instrument in the right way. Profit is not always the final target. We also want people playing accordions.
Q. How do you approach the development of new and better materials and components in your business?
A. At SALPA we are making tests of materials and work procedures often. This is the only way to improve the quality. Re the employees, we have young people that learn from the "master".
Q. On a personal note, do you have any family and do they have any part in your business?
A. My father Romolo, 73 years old, and he is still helping in the factory, but not in summer time. He prefers to spend his time at seaside with my mother Anna (70)!! I would like also!!!!! Also my wife Roberta, (don't ask how old she is!) is taking care of the administration. My two children, Alessandro (6) and Martina (3) are too young for work!!!
Q. Do you have any personal hobbies and interests?
A. I like to go swimming during the summer time and skiing during the winter. The bike is also one of my favorite hobbies. I'm also a football supporter: my favorite team is INTER Milano. I hope that Ronaldo makes me happy in a very short time!