Accordions Worldwide Celebrity Interview, Peter "Stormy" Hyde Accordions
Celebrity Interviews


Aldgate, South Australia, 19 July 1999
Moderator: Wallace Liggett

Q. Australia is not regarded as a usual country for accordion or general instrument manufacture. Why did you locate production in Australia?
A. Australia has never had an accordion industry in the past which is rather surprising considering the popularity of the button accordion here before the 1914 -18 war. There was a concertina maker by the name of Stanley who was situated in Bathurst N.S.W at the end of last century.

I'm situated at Aldgate in the Adelaide hills, South Australia. This is about 30 minutes drive from the center of the city and is semi rural living. The whole area is very heavily wooded with both native and imported trees. The only reason I'm situated here is because this is the place I was living when I first manufactured an accordion. .

Q. Is there any features about the local climate that are beneficial for your manufacturing?
A. The hills are very nicely situated for instrument makers as the Adelaide Plains can get very dry in summer. It is said the Adelaide Plains climate is very Mediterranean, which tends to cause a few problems for instrument makers with it being too dry.

Q. How did you first get started/involved with the accordion?
A. In a very round about way. It started when I was at sea and I used to play the concertina to pass the time off watch. Interestingly I was not very fond of the button accordion at all. I was on a ship that used to run to the West Coast of the USA and we would be at sea for about 21 days, so in this situation I had plenty of spare time and not much to do with it.

So I decided to start to make concertina bellows during the times when I was not playing or working. After a few years I'd shifted into doing all the repairs needed to fully restore the concertina and I was still doing this at sea as well as at home whilst on leave.

You should have seen the number of suit cases I had to travel with. I would normally pack one case full of concertinas and another full of tools and materials needed to do the job. The oilskins and seaboots would be in a backpack, and I was the curse of the small plane operators who had to fly me to the ship in the small outlying ports of the north west shelf.

In 1976 I applied for a grant from the Crafts Board of the Australian Council to further research the manufacture of the concertina and I had one year to make my first concertina. The project was going very well until my toolmaker had a very bad skydiving accident, that was to put him out of work for over a year. As I would be unable to acquit the grant within the given time period, it was suggested by John Meredith, one of Australia's foremost Folk Lorists who was also a good friend, that I should make a button accordion as it would be a lot easier to do in the time span, and the Crafts Board would never know the difference!

Well I did meet the deadline with the very first accordion made in Australia. At this point it was my intention to return to the concertina development, then it seemed to slowly dawn on me that I'd fallen down a very big hole and there was nobody else in the hole, and in fact I'd rather enjoyed making the button accordion. So I decided the to become an accordion maker rather than a concertina maker.

Q. Where did you learn the art of accordion manufacture?
A. You might say I learnt the craft in various ships, seaports and oceans around the world. I continued to teach myself at sea and it was not until 1993 that I stopped going to sea. From this time onwards I went full time accordion making.

Q. Do you play any type of accordion?
A. Not at all! The main reason was that with the commitment to the development of the accordion I was not able to pick up my concertina or an accordion without my head space heading back into the workshop.

I even had to stop playing the concertina until the end of last year when I took it back up again. I use it as a song accompaniment instrument with the sea shanty group I perform in.

Q. Have you any family and do they share your interest in accordion manufacture?
A. Not at all. At this point of time, my daughter who grew up with my passion of folk music, just will not have anything to do with manufacturing, and I don't blame her. I sometimes feel the same way.

Q. Do you have formal qualifications or manufacturing expertise in areas not directly related to accordion manufacture? If so, what are these?
A. The only qualifications that I have are all of a nautical nature as I was 30 years at sea. However this did train me for the long haul that was needed to get my accordions where they are today.

Q. Do you have any full time or part time staff?
A. None. Over the years I have had a few trainees, but what tends to happen is that you put the time in to teach them the skills needed, then they go away and build their own houses and boats with the skills I've taught them.

Q. Describe your factory? Tell us a little about it?
A. My factory is an artists studio in the back garden of my home. It is very handy as it is divided into two rooms - both rooms are about 25 ft (8m) x 15 ft (5m) each. One acts as the dirty space and the other as the clean space. It is a very nice space to work in, well heated in the winter and cool in summer, being a brick building with timber lining and plenty of natural light. I have only been here for about 18 months.

Before at my old place, I had the whole house between the dirty and clean workshops. It kept me very fit running from one side to the other, and no matter how many rulers and pencils you have, they all end up in the wrong place, which slowed the production down rather a lot.

Q. Describe your range of production models?
Alongside is a photo of Hyde players with "Stormy" Hyde playing the bones.
A. This is a little hard as I only custom make to meet the customers needs. So people can design their own instruments, and if they want to have a new feature on it that I have not put on any previous instruments, I then name it after them.

For example 'The Mulligan" has stops on the bass side. This instrument was ordered by Ray Mulligan who used another model as the base design then he added the stops. This works very well as the customer feels that they had a very important role in the development of their accordion.

At this point of time I have just finished a 3 row C/F/Accidental 33-2-12. This instrument also is a new type as the whole of this instrument is made from Australian native timber using Adelaide Hills She-Oak with spruce composite sandwiched in between all sound boards, endplates and frames. This instrument has a weight of 3.75 kilo and is 280 mm x 150 mm. The spruce has helped to keep the weight down and has given it a fantastic tone. This instrument is being made for Tristan Glover of the Chipolatas (UK).

My main aim is to make small accordions. The largest I will make is 280 mm x 150 mm. In this size I will go as far as putting 36 keys on the treble side and my next size down is 240 mm x 140 mm. In this size I can get 30 keys as a 3 rower or 23 as a 2 rower.

The customer is able choose any timber they like. I have customers who supply their own timber. I even had a person send me a bit off an old toilet door that they had found on a derelict farm. It was a lovely bit of well seasoned timber.

I find the timber on the main frames and end plates is not so important as it is the sound boards and reed blocks that seem to make the notable differences to the tone, although the thickness of the timber externally can make some very big differences.

By making the instrument heavy it tends to make it a far mellower instrument and the thinner external timber tends to make it a brighter instrument. I use only Italian hand made reeds and all my components come from Italy as well.

Q. Do you plan to extend the range of models in the future?
A. Yes. This is dictated by my customers needs as I make instruments to suit the customer, not to suit me.

I ask them to tell me what they want, not what they expect to get, as is often dictated by other makers. This turns out to be a very interesting process, as I normally expect the customer to take up to 2 months to break down their preconceived ideas and then to get right into the design of their accordion. Ray Mulligan spent about six months faxing me keyboard layouts, and then I would fax back another idea. He had the layouts stuck over the kitchen sink for months and all the family would discuss the pros and cons over the kitchen sink every morning. In the end he decided on a Accidental/D/G 33-2-12, and he is now a very happy player.

I enjoyed the process as much as he did, and although I have been asked by big importers of accordions in the UK to send them instruments to sell, I was not keen on the idea at all, as I would then be making accordions to suit them and not the player.

Q. Where do you get your woods from?
A. All my timber is purchased here in Australia mostly from a close friend who is himself a top crafts person, and he is always keeping a look out for good and unusual timber for me. He quite often comes into my workshop holding a very nice bit of timber and says "what about this one then".

The latest he brought me was some Adelaide Hills She-Oak. It is a very heavy dense timber, so what I had to do was to use 1mm veneers on the inside and outside with 4mm of Spruce in between. The customer is not limited to the timbers that I have used in the past, and about 30% of my customers will supply me with the timber they would like me to use. It does have to be milled as I refuse to work from logs.

I use a very large range of native timbers and some imported species. I like to use the pest species as well. Camphor Laurel for example as it is growing out of control in northern NSW and Queensland (states of Australia).

As an accordion maker I do not have the restraints that the makers of stringed or woodwind instruments might have. As long as the timber is well seasoned and stable there is then no problems as the box construction of the accordion is very strong. In fact I make a point of not making the instruments too strong as the corners of the frames are only a bevelled fillet joint. This way, if the instrument is involved in a serious accident the corners will spring apart without ripping the timber, thus making it very easy to repair.

I had one customer who was about to do a very important recording and the accordion had been kicked off the stage and the treble mechanism had smashed through the sound board cracking it right down the middle, and the treble and bellows frame had sprung. This accordion arrived at my workshop by courier and 5 hours later the same courier took it back to do the recording.

The accordion never missed a beat and still plays as well today as it ever did even with a glued up sound board. If that instrument had been too strong at the joints I would have had to make a complete treble side for it .

Q. Which is your favourite wood and why?
A. I don't have have a favourite timber as with each plank I pick up I can see so much in it. As I work on it I can see even more. It is such a diverse medium to work with, but on the whole I think the Adelaide Hills She-Oak has to rate as very special, because of its hardness and the beautiful reds and satin texture.

Q. How did you go about designing your first instrument?
A. The old Mezon accordion (single row 3 stop) was a very popular accordion here in Australia in the early part of this century. So the very first accordion was a copy of the Mezon Grand Organ, made from Huon Pine with hand made leather bellows, made in the traditional British concertina style.

Then I found an old Mezon 2 rower in a junk shop that was to become the pattern for the next one. I would have quite happily stayed with the two rowers but I had a couple of customers who wanted me to make them 3 rowers, so in the end I had to oblige them. At that point I found I had to be willing to lock myself in the workshop for a few months and go for it.

Q. Do you make your own bellows or import them?
A. I import all my parts from Italy including the reeds and bellows, although I have been known to make a set of hand made bellows, again in the British concertina style. An accordion with these bellows has a very long stretch capability. These were made for a traditional folk player who wished to emulate the old bush player who used to play a very open bellows style.

They do not have metal corners on them, and all the cappings and corners are made from leather and are designed in a way that will keep them playing for a good 100 years or so if the leather is treated well. All the hinges are made from leather, the same way as used in good quality books.

Unlike the accordion bellows, the British concertina bellows do not self destruct in the playing. The very design of accordion bellows means that from the very first point of playing they are on the road to self destruction. This is mostly caused by the metal corners, but it can be very slow if they are treated well.

Q. Describe your reeds?
A. I import hand made reeds from Italy un-leathered and all tuned to A440. This then allows me to tune them to suit the customer.

Q. Regarding tuning of instruments. Are you the tuner?
A. Yes I'm the tuner, and as I live along way from any other accordion makers, (in fact I have never met another accordion maker in my life,) I have developed my own styles of tuning.

I have so many different ways of tuning instruments whether it be a parallel tune on the tremolos or one of the harmonic curves. I tend to tune the accordions in a way that will suit the style of music the customer plays. My favourite is the 2 beats per second right throughout the treble keyboard. This is fantastic for people who wish to sing along with their instrument, as they can decide to put a vibrato into their voice to match the tremolo or not. Being a folk musician myself I tend to like the dryer tunings.

Q. Is there anything you consider unique about your designs and construction?
A. Yes they are custom made, which results in an uniqueness specific to every instrument I make.

Q. Concerning accessories for your instruments such as straps, cases, clips etc. Do you make any of these at your factory or do you import them?
A. I make a pick up system for my accordions, and the cases are made here in Adelaide for me. Otherwise, all the rest come from Italy.

Q. Are there any professional players using your instruments (any recordings available?)
A. Tristan Glover The Chipolatas (when it arrives in the UK in August - picture of this instrument alongside.)
Barry McDonald "Maroan"
Michael Atherton "Australian made Australian Played'
John McKinnon various tapes.
Peter Ellis "Emu Creek Bush Band"
"Spiral Dance" latest C.D. unreleased
Peter Thornton with "Rocky River": "Seaboots and Swags". He is doing his second American and European tour with it.
Richard Tonkin with the Barkers "Byker Hill". He has also done about 20 CD's as an accordion player with other musicians.
Bonnie from "Celtic Connections" .

Q. How do you advertise your products and are they selling primarily in Australia or to other parts of the world?
A. Mostly by word of mouth- all my customers buy directly from me. My latest accordion has been made for Tristan Glover of the British group "The Chipolatas". Saul Rose of the McCarthy Waterson clan assisted Tristan and myself to design this instrument for the English Morris market. Saul has volunteered to be my U.K agent.

Q. Any humorous memories about accordion production that you would like to relate to us?
A. When I was learning to make the concertina bellows in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I would get to the stage where I realised that it was not going to work. I would then simply throw them out of the port hole. This would then end the agony of "shall I or shant I" try to to fix them up.

This way, as soon as they passed through that port hole the agony was over. It would be back to the start again.

One day on the return trip, one of the watch keepers came into my cabin and said "We have just crossed the date line and would you believe, we saw this old bloke out there with his entourage, and they were all playing the concertina!" "Thats good" I replied, "the bellows never went to waste!!"

Q. What do you regard as your most important accordion industry achievement?
A. Using Australian native timber to its upmost advantage, and to have the customer take an important role in the manufacture of their instrument. Also being the first accordion maker here in Australia.

Q. What other hobbies and interests aside from accordion manufacture do you have?
A. I sing with a sea shantie group, play the concertina, and the bones. And when I get a chance; to enjoy a long walk in the hills, and a nice picnic with friends, the occasional art film.

Q. What other hobbies and interests aside from accordion manufacture do you have?
A. I sing with a sea shantie group, play the concertina, and the bones. And when I get a chance; to enjoy a long walk in the hills, and a nice picnic with friends, the occasional art film.

Q. What are your more immediate objectives and where do you see your manufacturing progressing?
A. No more than it is today, a small maker who wants no more than to see the customer enjoy their accordion, and for them to feel they had a very important role in its design and crafting.
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