How redesigning the bandoneon will make the instrument more accessible to tango lovers

World Today

The tango is in the midst of a resurgence across Argentina and Uruguay, a popularity it hasn’t seen in more than 50 years. But there’s a problem: the instrument at the heart of tango music is in short supply and extremely expensive. CCTV’s Joel Richards reported this story from Buenos Aires.

How redesigning the bandoneon will make the instrument more accessible to tango lovers

The tango is in the midst of a resurgence across Argentina and Uruguay, a popularity it hasn't seen in more than 50 years. But there's a problem: the instrument at the heart of tango music is in short supply and extremely expensive. CCTV's Joel Richards reported this story from Buenos Aires.

It is the soundtrack of Buenos Aires: the distinctive tones of the bandoneon harken back to the golden age of tango in the 1940’s and 50’s. While the tango is enjoying a revival, its instrument, the bandoneon, is in short supply.

But this year there was a breakthrough. A new design will make the bandoneon more accessible and affordable. It is named after the famous bandoneon player, Anibal Troilo, who was the Diego Maradona of tango.

At the University of Lanus, south of Buenos Aires, a team of designers produced a new bandoneon, named after Troilo’s nickname, Pichuco.

“Troilo is the man who made a generation in the 1940’s dance. All tango dancers danced to Troilo’s orchestra, and today most milonga’s will have a tango from that orchestra,” bandoneonista Julio Coviello said. (A milonga is a place where tango is danced.)

Coviello gave his expert advice to engineers who then got together to design a bandoneon for a new generation of musicians. Vintage German bandoneons are hard to come by and can cost upwards of $4,000 — unaffordable for most Argentines.

“We didn’t want to make the most amazing bandoneon, or the Ferrari of the bandoneons, we wanted a bandoneon that reaches the largest number of people possible,” Pablo Pereira, director of the Pichuco Project, said.

By slimming down the design, the Pichuco team produced a modern and lighter version.

Historically the bandoneon was a specialized, artisan instrument. The new prototype was designed using 3-D printing technology.

“Everything we worked on — from the sound, the working of the mechanism — was done instantly, we could test quickly if what we were doing was real, that was a great thing, saving months of work,” designer Alejandro Humber said.

The Pichuco is expected to be produced soon and will be available at schools across Argentina. The hope is to inspire a new generation of 21st century musicians, so the tango and its music lives on.