Evolution of the Paolo Soprani box.

Recently, thanks to Chris Moran of The Erin Breeze I became the proud owner of an "older" Paolo Soprani box. It was definitely built before 1960, and experts have dated it as early as 1955, which would make it one of the first batch of red Soprani boxes.

Since I already owned one of the last real Paolo Soprani boxes (Note: the Paolo Soprani company folded around 1983, and though the brand name resurfaced in the early 1990s the boxes sold under that name by then were made by another well-known accordion manufacturer, Dino Baffetti. These boxes weren't quite a good as the originals, and since the wet tuning had gone out of fashion anyway these "new" Paolo Soprani boxes never sold well. The brand name has since been handed on, and the boxes currently sold under the name have hardly anything - except for the color - in common with the great boxes of the past.), bought a few years ago from the House of Musical Traditions which I was told dates from 1982, I though it might be interesting to compare the two.

For starters here are the two side by side - the evolution of the big red Paolo Soprani box:

Paolo Soprani, made around 1955, tuned B/C

The older Paolo Soprani is tuned as most of these boxes are, in B/C. It has 4 voices, 3 reeds in the middle octave tuned slightly apart for that old, "wet" sound, and a reed one octave below those, which can be switched on or off by a quick press on one of the 2 couplers. This box still has a wooden soundboard, which gives it a warm, pleasant sound. Which doesn't mean it isn't loud - it is still loud enough to be used for dances outdoors. The action is very smooth (a touch of thin oil worked miracles !) and the buttons are set really low into the keyboard, allowing you to almost "slide" on or off a button without having to lift your fingers - you can play this box fast once you're used to it.

Paolo Soprani, made around 1982, tuned C#/D

The newer Paolo is tuned in C#/D, a tuning that's a lot less common in the red Paolo Soprani boxes, though there are a few older grey or greenish boxes in this tuning out there (somewhere - there are pretty rare at all, really). It's setup is much the same as the old box, 3 middle octave reeds for the wet sound (BTW it's wetter than the old one) and a low reed controlled by the pair of couplers. The construction of the couplers however is totally different, much more like a modern piano accordion, and unfortunately it does add a bit of weight to the box - switching has become easier though, as you need much less force with this system.
The keyboard action of this one is different. Not only are the spring stiffer (possibly because it hasn't been played as much as the older one) but also the button rise much further through the keyboard, and can travel quite far, which tends to slow you down. In all other respects the mechanism is the same as in the older one. However, it's enough to make this a not-so-great box.
It is certainly as loud, but shriller than the old Paolo. This is due not only to the higher tuning, but also to the metal soundboard this one has - a feature that many boxplayers really dislike.
And another "feature" that players dislike about the newer model is it's weight - it's at least a kilo heavier !

Enter the 3-voice

Quite rare they are - but I was lucky enough to locate one recently: a mid-1950s 3-voice Paolo Soprani in D/D#.

Full view of 3-voice Paolo

It looks very similar to the above 4-voice B/C, as it was indeed manufactured around the same time (or possibly slightly earlier). The main differences are the lack of coupler buttons (3-voice musette's your only option), and the depth (front to back) of the instrument. There are also a few less lots in the curved part of the grille (right in front of the logo) but that's more than compensated by the extra slots in the area where the 4-voice has the couplers. Oh, and yes, it IS a fair bit lighter than the 4-voice !

Grille of 3-voice Paolo

Comparing logos

You can even see the evolution in the logo on the two boxes. Even though it's still the same "man with accordion", just slightly re-styled, the logo has less stars around him (6 in the old, only 2 in the new) and it also no longer has that "night sky blue" which makes the presence of stars a bit pointless anyway. Also the outline of the logo has changed: it's still a shield but of a totally different shape. The crown at the top of the old logo is also missing - the new logo has some curly gold ornament at the bottom. Oh well, see for yourself:

Logo on the old (1955) Paolo Soprani Logo on the new (1982) Paolo Soprani
Logo on the old Paolo Logo on the new Paolo

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