Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus
Story by Gary Singh
Photos by James Gaffney
omeone once said a mans home is his castle, a safe refuge for
all. Everyone knows the phrase. But in Christian Greuters case,
his accordion-fabrication facility is his castle.
Especially now that a ridiculous accordion app exists
for the iPad, I crave the real thing, just like a drug. As a result,
I decide to fall off the wagon and go straight to the sourcethe
Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus, the oldest continuously
operating accordion shop in Switzerland. An instrument retail annex
adjoins the building, but naturally Im in the workshop, amidst
drill presses, heaps of miniscule metal parts and wooden planks, plus
air compressors and other heavy machinery the tasks of which I cant
possibly identify. There are crates of paperwork, hand tools and leftover
scraps of cardboard, leather and sheet metal. With soft wooden flooring
and bay windows, the entire place exudes a light, airy feel despite
the faint smell of sawdust and linseed oil. I fit right in, like an
addict who discovers a dope house.
Here in Schwyz (pronounced shveets), the oldest village in Switzerland,
Greuters shop is a veritable bastion and he is a fifth-generation
craftsman carrying on a tradition: the Eichhorn Schwyzerorgel, a
type of diatonic button accordion and one of the foundations of
Swiss folkloric music. Alois Eichhorn launched the business in 1886
and it stayed with the original family for just over 100 years.
Werner Gretuer, Christians father, grew up working in the
shop during the 1960s, learning the ins and outs of Eichhorn production
directly from the original family. In 1990, he bought the business,
keeping the Eichhorn name on all the products. Christian began hanging
out at age five, caught the bug a few years later, and subsequently
spent 16 years apprenticing with his father. Following three generations
of the Eichhorn family and then his father, Christian now represents
the fifth generation.
We make abut 30-50 accordions per year,
he tells me, through a translator. That much adequately
meets the demand, but most people bring in their old ones to get
fixed. Were always working on old ones.
Each instrument is entirely hand-made and contains
3046 parts. The wood, all local, is walnut, maple, and ash from
linden trees. The metal parts are used sparingly and air consumption
is kept to a minimum, resulting in a lightweight and much quieter
sound than most other accordions. No glue or plastic is used.
Like wine, they improve with age.
Christian explains. The wood hardens. The sound gets better
the more you play it. No two are the same, just like no two pianos
are the same. Each will have variations, some are softer, some
have a more aggressive sound. Many times, a musician will have
to play several before he finds the right one.
At the back of the shop, a concrete stairway leads
us up to the second story, where dozens of accordions in various
states of repair and disrepair lay strewn about the environs.
Several workbenches and workspaces occupy various parts of the
room. A cabinet with sprays, aerosols and varnishes sits at the
top of the staircase. A makeshift office occupies the far corner,
where the tuning equipment is also kept. Spare accordion parts
by the thousands lay just about everywhere: buttons, valves, metal
hooks, reeds, wooden pegs, stencils, finger pads, and leather
Christian says his customer base includes natives from
across the country, as well as Swiss expats living abroad. Often when
expats return to the country for vacation, they bring their Schwyzerorgels
with them. Many people get their family crests imprinted on the instruments.
If someone wants something adjusted, thats
easy, Christian declares. I know all the parts.
I look around, noticing that there are no finished accordions
anywhere to be seen.
You can see those in the store, he says,
pointing downstairs towards the retail shop next door. Ranging in price
from 3000-5000 Swiss Francs, most models are of the three-chord variety
and can include anywhere from eight to 96 bass buttons.
Gretuer considers himself a craftsman and a repairman,
but not a musician. In fact, none of the original Eichhorn makersfrom
the beginning down through Christians dad, Wernerwere accordion
players themselves. Neither is he. I ask what kind of music he listens
to and he says AC/DC. Only then do I imagine an accordion version of
On my way out, I pop into the retail annex and immerse
myself in dozens of brand new accordions. Someone once said, Use
an accordion, go to jail. But I have found my dope house. I am
addicted to accordions and I cannot stop.
IF YOU GO:
Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik und Musikhaus
Tel/Fax +41 811 49 51