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Gary: The Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus

Christian Greuter

The Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus
Story by Gary Singh
Photos by James Gaffney

omeone once said a man’s home is his castle, a safe refuge for all. Everyone knows the phrase. But in Christian Greuter’s 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 source—the Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus, the oldest continuously operating accordion shop in Switzerland. An instrument retail annex adjoins the building, but naturally I’m 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 can’t 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.

Christian Greuter at work in his accordion shop
Here in Schwyz (pronounced shveets), the oldest village in Switzerland, Greuter’s 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, Christian’s 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.

accordion and accordion parts at the Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus
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. We’re 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 handles.

Christian working on an accordion
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, that’s 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 makers—from the beginning down through Christian’s dad, Werner—were 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 Jailbreak.

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.

Eichhorn Schwyzerorgelfabrik und Musikhaus
Hinterdorfstrasse 29
6430 Schwyz
Tel/Fax +41 811 49 51

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Let Gary know what you think about his traveling adventure.

* * * * *

Your tea adventures are especially interesting because I've always associated tea with British etiquette or a bevy of women wearing dainty victorian costumes and sipping tea with their little pinky sticking out. To see Tea from a man's perspective brings new light in a man's psyche. I've been among the many silent admirers of your writings for a long time here at Traveling Boy. Thanks for your very interesting perspectives about your travels. Keep it up! --- Rodger, B. of Whittier, CA, USA

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