The Squeezebox Surgeon – The New York Times

The Squeezebox Surgeon – The New York Times


“There’s a saying in my country: You don’t just pick up and learn this craft — you have to steal it,” said, Mr. Lazarov, who used part of his stipend for doctoral research to buy “my dream accordion,” an old Scandalli Super 6.

He took it to a shop in West Nyack, N.Y., run by another Italian master, Aldo Mencaccini, who agreed to fix it, but was leery about letting Mr. Lazarov hang around.

“He said, ‘It took me a lifetime to learn this and you think you can pick it up by watching me,’” Mr. Lazarov recalled. “Italians are very secretive about this. It’s almost like a tribal knowledge.”

Mr. Mencaccini finally decided to mentor Mr. Lazarov and wound up bequeathing him the toolbox of instruments he had hand-fashioned for specific accordion work.

In 2007, Mr. Lazarov left his physics career and opened his repair shop.

“And now I’m in a unique niche — not that I planned it that way,” said Mr. Lazarov, whose physics background comes in handy, especially when working on the smallest accordion reeds, which are made of steel and can be thinner than a human hair.

Being a musician also helps. Each player favors a different setting. He may adjust a player’s reeds to withstand more air flow, “if they attack the accordion the way I play, the way we play from the Balkans.”

With classical players, the priority is on precise tonality, while jazz musicians want a warm tone above all else. Many polka players want a bright sharp tone.

Photo

An Italian master who mentored Mr. Lazarov bequeathed him the toolbox of instruments he had hand-fashioned for specific accordion work.

Credit
Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Before repairing an accordion, Mr. Lazarov said he troubleshoots the instrument by playing it for a couple of days.

“I have to get to know the instrument — it’s an intense relationship,” he said, adding that after a repair is complete, he may test the instrument and get lost in the music for hours in his shop, which is decorated with autographed photos of accordion legends such as Guy Klucevsek, Ivan Milev, Bruce Gassman and Alex Meixner.

Mr. Giordano, the musician who plays with Springsteen, said he had difficulty finding a technician who could adequately tune his accordions before meeting Mr. Lazarov.

“Guenadiy immediately related to me as a musician and understood what I wanted, and was able to do it,” he said. “He sees it from the musician’s point of view and also has the skills to really get it right.”

A full tuning and overhaul can cost up to $2,400, he said, “but if I do a small repair for them for free, they’ll sit down and play something,” he said. “For me, that’s priceless.”

Mr. Lazarov also sells accordions, top instruments that are priced from $4,500 to $9,000.

As more accordion shops close, Mr. Lazarov gets busier. His repair schedule is currently booked three moths in advance, he said, but he still agrees to do quick repairs if they are urgent.

“You need to be a little crazy to do this,” he said, to which Ms. Lazarova fully agreed.

“During Oktoberfest,” Ms. Lazarova said, “it really gets crazy around here.”

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