The Petosa Story
The year was 1922 – founder, Carlo Petosa, passionately began crafting accordions instrument by hand, one at a time; a practice that continues to this very day. He was unaware that he was giving birth to a legacy that would pass down to his son Joe, Grandson, Joe Jr., and Great Grandson Joey III; who would continue to carry on the same tradition spanning nearly a century of accordion manufacturing.
As a child in Italy, Carlo loved the accordion. He recalls, “I was crazy about accordions, and I was determined to have one but my father always said they cost too much. We argued frequently about this until finally with the first money I earned, I bought one”. At the age of 16, Carlo emigrated from Italy to the United States. During his young adult years, Carlo traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast performing on Vaudeville’s Pantages Circuit as an accordionist. Ending up in San Francisco, he became more interested in the workings of his instrument than playing. There, Carlo served an apprenticeship at the Guerrini Accordion Factory. Before making his home, Carlo wanted to visit the Pacific Northwest. Upon his arrival he decided to stay, marry and raise a family. So, in the basement of his home in Seattle, he single-handedly devoted himself to the task of constructing his instrument. In these humble surroundings, hunched over his workbench, Carlo was completely absorbed in his work and totally oblivious to anything else. Here, he meticulously and painstakingly measured, hand-cut, shaped, and honed pieces of wood and metal which were transformed by hand over several months into beautiful one-of-a-kind accordions. Carlo ran a one-man operation with no assistance, only himself – just how many accordions he built in this way will never be known. We do know, however, that many of these accordions are still intact today and available to be seen at Petosa Accordions Seattle headquarters, part of a collection on display of dozens of early 19th, 20th, and 21st century accordions.
When he was old enough to work, Carlo Petosa’s son, Joe, began learning his fathers trade. Joe began playing the accordion at age 10 under the tutelage of Joe Parente and Anthony Facciuto. By age 12, it became apparent that Joe could become a serious musician. But, he also had a keen interest in learning the craft of building accordions, and his father was eager to teach him. Joe recalls that he was faced with a difficult decision, as there was not time for hours of practice if he wanted to devote himself to learning the complex trade of accordion building. Joe made the difficult choice to follow in his father’s footsteps, focusing on the art of building accordions rather than playing them as a career. Reflecting on this choice, Joe has come to the conclusion that in reality he had little, if any choice: “My brother became a school teacher and my sister got married, so I was left to join the family business”. Regardless of the reason, we can be sure that Carlo was pleased that his son, Joe, made the eventful decision.
Petosa Accordion Company is located at 313 NE 45th St., in Seattle, Washington. It has been at this location since 1955 when Carl and Joe moved from the small shop where the firm had its original beginnings. They also had the foresight to expand the business in 1945 by starting a partnership with a factory in Castelfidardo, Italy known as Zero Sette. In Seattle, Carlo and Joe continued to build and refine the Petosa professional artist model accordions while the factory in Italy built all Petosa student models; later manufacturing the same high quality that goes into every Seattle-built Petosa. As in the early days it still takes upwards of a year, sometimes longer, to build a Petosa. As Joe Sr. says, “you can’t hurry quality”. The time involved in producing each accordion makes high-quantity production impossible. The wood used in the instruments must first be aged years before it is ever cut and shaped into accordion pieces. After a box is glued up, it must dry, age and season at minimum an additional 6 weeks. “A quality accordion is like a violin. You can’t just stamp one out, or make one on an assembly line with machines”.
With moderate care, an accordion of this quality will definitely outlive its owner or the craftsman making it. The top-of-the-line professional Petosa models were individually custom made by Joe, Joe Jr. and long-time assistant, Giuliano Bugari – a master accordion builder who came over from Italy to help in the craft. Like his Father, Joe Jr. began learning the trade after school and on weekends at the age of 12. After graduating with a degree in Business, Joe Jr. joined the business full-time in 1980. Fourth generation, Joey III, began full-time after graduating from the University of Washington in 2010. Today, the two work alongside one another continuing what Carlo started nearly a century ago.
If great grandfather Carlo Petosa were still alive, he’d be proud of the accomplishments of his son Joe, his grandson Joe Jr., and great grandson Joey III. This company has indeed flourished in otherwise unfavorable circumstances for the accordion industry. Not swallowed up in the greed of commercialization culture. Passion, dedication, and insistence for quality have been at the core of Petosa’s existence since inception and play a large part in the sustenance of the business. Of course, over the years, some things have changed dramatically, such as better materials, sophisticated and up-to-date tools and equipment, and highly refined methods and expertise. But, the original pioneering spirit and the truly insatiable desire for optimum quality and enduring excellence is still the basic credo; the long-sought dream of founder, Carlo Petosa. Now, it is no longer a dream; the dream is a manifest in reality. The legacy left by Carlo Petosa has continued on four generations, and it will undoubtedly continue for many generations to come in the Petosa family.
A Petosa accordion begins its life as a seasoned mahogany veneer box which is then covered by hand with burnished celluloid and filled with some 4000 + parts. The parts, being mostly crafted by hand, are not interchangeable from one instrument to another. The keys are not simply molded plastic, but rather, they are a lucite top and a frame made from fine walnut wood that is lighted, shaped, and polished to a glowing hue. Some models have a sound chamber engulfing two banks of reed sets, varnished to a mirror sheen. Indeed, the interior finishes gleam, indicating fine craftsmanship. Today, the price for a Petosa ranges from around $4,000 upwards of $40,000 for Concert Series Free-Bass Converter models.
“Zero Sette has become one of the leading accordion manufacturers in Europe, and it is because of the high quality demand of the Petosa Family that has always pushed us to go one step ahead of all other competitors. Zero Sette accordions are one of the finest accordion Mfg. in Castelfidardo, but it can’t be compared with a Petosa accordion in general and by far not with a Petosa AM-1100 which is really the ‘state of the art’ in the accordion world. The Petosa models are made with the finest selected woods, the box and reed blocks are made with the addition of the finest mahogany and walnut woods, the inner box is covered with special Luthier-making varnish, the bass mechanism cover plate is covered with special wood layer, bass mechanic parts are chromed to perfection and corrosion resistant, treble keyboard valves made with special felt, and dozens of other special features that make the Petosa models unique. They are truly considered a reference for all accordion producers. In addition to that on the AM-1100 you have the unique 100% American walnut keyboard and the very best quality handmade (a mano) reeds and special genuine reed leathers. The Zero Sette is a very good accordion that can be compared to other first class accordions, but the Petosa is simply a class of itself and can’t be compared to any other brands.” -Mr. Alessio Gerundini President of Zero Sette Accordion Co.