1565 - Black Excelsior Accordiana LM 120 $795

Spreading the Soulful Sounds of the Accordion to a Wider Audience

Liberty Bellows, an accordion store in downtown Philadelphia, is the brainchild of Mike Bulboff ’02.
Liberty Bellows, an accordion store in downtown Philadelphia, is the brainchild of Mike Bulboff ’02.
Michael Bryant

Mike Bulboff ’02 is on a mission to revive the world’s interest in the soulful melodies and joyous ditties of the accordion. A computer science major and former Wall Street hedge-fund analyst, Bulboff opened Liberty Bellows, a 3,000-square-foot accordion store in downtown Philadelphia, six years ago.

“The accordion was very popular in the 1950s,” explains Bulboff, who is married to Lauren Marlowe ’04. “Then Elvis and the Beatles came along and made it very uncool in the United States.” Around the world, the accordion still sets the mood in everything from samba to rock ’n’ roll, jazz, and Italian folk. Bulboff believes that the popularity of the instrument — sometimes called a portable piano — again is on the rise in the United States.

At Liberty Bellows, Bulboff sells, buys, rents, and repairs new and vintage accordions, from a $50,000 custom-made German model to a $25 toy. He and his staff of six send instruments to collectors and musicians in countries as far away as Brazil and South Korea. “Mostly what we do,” he says, “is global accordion match-making.”

As a teenager, Bulboff taught himself to play his father’s accordion. He brought the instrument to Princeton, where “some of my Butler hallmates were probably not too happy at my practicing sea shanties.” He now plays the fast rhythms of Balkan folk and the sexy chords of tango on a large-bodied Beltuna Alpstar that fits his 6-foot-6-inch frame.

Bulboff is teaching a new generation of accordion aficionados. He runs a summer program for children and presides over an accordion club whose 30 members range in age from 8 to 90. He also brings in international musicians to inspire his students because, he says, “I want the world to know how versatile and beautiful the accordion is.”

Résumé: Founder of Liberty Bellows, an accordion store. Former Wall Street hedge-fund analyst. Computer science major.

Liberty Bellows owner Mike Bulboff ’02 posts video demonstrations for many of the instruments he sells, including this Black Excelsior Accordiana.