OBSERVATIONS OF A DEVOTED "SHAND MORINO" PLAYER
By Roy Magna
In the late 1930's Jimmy Shand and his employer Charles Forbes set about designing a method of reducing the number of pallets on the three row button keyed accordion from three rows to two rows, thus making the overall sound much more balanced and the instrument easier to play. They met with Hohner's Chief Designer, Venazio Morino, and the first and only Hohner Special was delivered to Jimmy in 1939. It was at the time not realised that this wonderful instrument was actually the very first "Shand Morino". The instrument had the Shand name on the front with Hohner Special on the grille. It had forty treble button keys arranged in three rows tuned outer row B, middle row C and inner row C#. The treble side had 4 voices with a slide coupler behind the keyboard which gave three or four voices only. The bass side had five voices and no couplers. As stated previously, this accordion is totally unique and those who have had the privilege of playing it would hopefully agree with me that it was, and still is, the best that Morino ever made. The onset of World War II put an end to any further developments.
After peace was declared in 1945 and by the end of the forties Jimmy felt it was time to get a new accordion. He conferred with his great friend Dr. Sandy Tulloch and they put forward their ideas to Mr. Morino. This resulted in Jimmy ordering a new accordion. In 1951, when the order was delivered and the packaging removed there were found to be four accordions! They all had Shand on the front. They were dark red which was similar to the pre-war model, but there the similarity ended. The treble side had four sets of reeds plus one set of bassoon reeds. There were five couplers which operated from the keyboard giving single reed, three voice, four voice, two voice, and the separate bassoon reeds. It had forty-six button keys and a bellows lock lever which was sited at the back of the keyboard. There was also a thumb groove which helped make playing more controlled. The bass side had two couplers which gave two or four voices. There was an air valve lever which went down the full length of the bass board, but this was modified to a shorter one after twenty or so were made. My preference is for the full length one as it makes playing in the flat keys easier. On both sides the slides for the couplers were set into the reed blocks which gave the crispness of sound which has become associated with this accordion. It also had a method of clamping the treble side to the bellows which was reached by removing the grille and revealing two levers which when opened out enabled the treble side to be removed from the bellows, thus giving quick access to the reed blocks on the treble and bass sides. This method was in use until 1965 when it was replaced by the use of pins which held the treble and bass parts to the bellows. This was a very retrograde step!
Jimmy did not require four accordions, so the other three were sold to Sandy Tulloch, Davy Simpson (Dundee) and Jimmy Edwards of Moffat. I am uncertain as to whom these boxes currently belong although I am aware they are still going strong!
It is not known exactly how many Shand Morinos were made during the years of its production as Hohner made some without the Shand name on the grille. These were for European sales and I know that some found their way to Scotland. Hohner usually made the models in batches of 100, mostly red in colour although some were black. Of the first 100 approximately twenty had a four voice bass end with the balance having a five voice bass, which was to be standard until production ceased.
Buried in the mists of time is the popular misconception that the age of an accordion can be judged from the number of bars on the middle of the treble side grille. This is not true, as Hohner subcontracted some of their minor production needs to outside suppliers, and if the accordion had one, two or three bars on the centre of the grille it only denoted who made the grille and not the age of the box. I have to thank Ian Holmes for this information. He was told by Wilburt Grund, Hohner's head tuner at the Newton Aycliffe tuning and repair centre, that when a batch of boxes were received there would be mixture of one, two & three bars in the shipment. I also have to thank Mickie Ainsworth who was Hohner's UK sales representative for a number of years for his input on the same subject. It would appear that Hohner standardised on a three bar grille in the early 1960's and this carried on until production stopped.
When I first met Jimmy Shand in 1958 he was playing a black 40-key instrument which was unique, being black with no couplers on the bass and five couplers on the treble side. It was smaller than the 46-key model but was larger than the 40-key red ones that came out in 1960. Jimmy did not like it very much as it kept going out of tune. It's whereabouts are not known but, it is thought to be in Ireland.
In about 1960 Hohner started to make some forty key models. I think that only 100 were made, 10 of which did not have any bass couplers. It was at this time that the coupler slide system was altered to have the slides put in between the pallet board and out of the reed block. This made for easier maintenance but was to change the sound forever! The thumb groove was also removed (my own preference is to have a thumb groove). There are those who prefer the 40-key box due to its size making it easier to handle, however there is not much difference in the weight. My preference is for a 46-key model as the 40-key ones with bass couplers did not seem to have such good compression. I recently had the pleasure of playing Sandy Anderson's 40-key with no bass couplers and found it to be a really good box which had a crisp and bright sound and excellent compression. I know that it has been well played and cared for by Sandy since he bought it on 06/02/1960 for the sum of £165.15s 0d from Morrison, McLeish & Shand in Perth.
After the death of Venazio Morino in 1961 things slowly started to change and in 1963 Hohner started making the 46-key version again. This accordion had no thumb groove and was 2lbs heavier and 1" larger all round than the previous 46-key model. The bass system was much larger and used much more air than the 1950's models, but in the main they were still very good accordions, although you could get the odd rogue which would not answer quickly enough or used too much air.
1965 saw the start of altered production techniques. The bellows lock was replaced with straps to keep the bellows shut. The clamping method was replaced and pins were used to keep everything in place. The wood used for the reed blocks was changed to a lighter coloured one and the reed plates became bigger and thicker, which gave the effect of muffling the sound making it difficult to be tuned to the crisp, bright sound which we had all come to expect from a Shand Morino.
The late 1960's saw a complete redesign of the instrument and the Shand Morino was changed forever. The brilliants were removed. The grille was modified to make room for the couplers which now had to be pushed into the grille. This had the effect of muffling the volume of sound. The reed blocks were offset on the pallet board making it difficult to maintain and set up. The bass couplers were changed to chrome plated versions and the bass end was made into a complete 120 diagonal system. Until this time the accordions were made of laminated wood and were reasonably light in weight, but now they were made from solid wood and were very heavy. Another problem which became apparent was that the key levers were made of aluminium and had a habit of breaking if the instrument was played hard. I have played a couple of these models and found them to be acceptable and I know their owners are more than happy with them.
The last models were made with the white Gola style couplers but were otherwise similar to the previous model. They too were very heavy and the sound produced was not as crisp and bright as the 1950's accordions.
I have collected some pictures of various models of the Shand Morino including the gold/silver one which was made on spec by Hohner in approx. 1959 with the idea that Sir Jimmy would like it for TV and Stage work. He did not like it and never played it professionally and in fact did not order or own it. The present owner, Dave Pullar, has lovingly restored it into a playable condition and it is now part of his massive collection of accordions.
The pictures are all Shand Morinos, except one which is a Hohner Gola made in approx. 1964. This was some three years after the death of Mr. Morino. Sir Jimmy said it was too well made and the treble side did not have the crispness of a Morino although he did like the bass side very much. I have played it and much prefer to play a Morino.
Dave Pullar has now acquired a Black 40-key 105 bass with couplers model which started life as a 12 Bass and no bass couplers and there is a picture of it before it was sent back to Hohner to become a 105 bass with couplers.
This accordion is smaller than the first Black 40-key which did not have any bass couplers. There is a picture of Sir Jimmy in the gallery.
Final observation: Why did Hohner change so many times when they got it right first time?
I would like to thank the following friends and fellow players for their help and time which enabled me to write about this most wonderful instrument: Jimmy Shand Jnr., Ian Holmes, Sandy Anderson, Ian Cruickshanks, Dave Pullar, John Crawford, Archie Patterson, George Wilson, Ian Stuart, and the late Mickie Ainsworth and Ronnie Brown.
Roy Magna 31/5/2012
* This article is an update of one which first appeared in "An A to Z of the Accordion, Volume 4" by Rob Howard (Robaccord Publications, 2009). Published with permission.