David Beer, the Self-Proclaimed “Squeezebox Surgeon,” Is One of the Last Accordion Repairmen in the Northwest

“When Cirque du Soleil came through, I got a call from somebody working for them who said their accordionist needed their accordion tuned. It felt good to help keep the show going.”

Squeezebox Surgeon (Courtesy David Beer)

Love it or hate it, the accordion has been a part of the global music scene for the better part of two centuries. And it’s because the instrument still has a regular presence in multiple musical genres—rock, folk, Tejano, jazz, classical and beyond—that David Beer has been able to build a career as the self-proclaimed “Squeezebox Surgeon.”

“I have always kind of loved accordions since I was younger,” he says, speaking from his repair shop in Southeast Portland. “I started to really like them a lot in my 20s. Even though I was going to punk shows in Minneapolis, I was also going to church basements and watching polka bands.”

A former pastry chef and chocolatier, Beer has played the accordion off and on for the past 40 years, taking lessons from the late Luigi Rangan and 3 Leg Torso’s Courtney Von Drehle after relocating to Portland in 1999. But when it was time to finally get out of the kitchen, he decided to learn how to fix his favorite instrument—first, at Wisconsin’s World of Accordions Museum and later in an intensive program at the Accordion Craft Academy in Castelfidardo, Italy.

Since setting up shop, Beer has become the only person in Oregon—and one of two in the Northwest—who can do this specialized work.

“There was another guy, Chuck Berger, who was around for a lot of years,” says Beer. “He died about two or three years ago, which is sad, but it also helped with my business a little bit, too.”

His workload has steadily increased, with locals dropping their accordions off for cleaning and tune-ups and musicians from as far as New York shipping their instruments across the country for repairs like patching air leaks and replacing cracked seals.

“When Cirque du Soleil came through [recently], I got a call from somebody working for them who said their accordionist needed their accordion tuned,” Beer remembers, “which, normally for me, I would rather take a month to do it to make sure the tuning stays stable. But she needed it done in two weeks before they got here. It was tight, but it felt good to help keep the show going.”

Pivoting from baking to accordion repair does track logically as both jobs require strict attention to detail to achieve a successful result. But it still doesn’t explain what it was about this instrument that inspired Beer to make such a radical career change.

“It’s one of those sounds that I feel inside,” he says. “It’s a wind instrument, so you get a lot of expressiveness. I like that it’s portable. You don’t need other people to play with, but it also plays well with other people. Especially after going to Italy, I realized that in every other country but the U.S., the accordion is one of the primary instruments. It’s weird that it’s not like that here. The guitar kind of killed that, but it feels like it’s coming back.”

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