Friday, April 12, 2013

Valley native leading the way in modernizing the accordion business.‏

Juan Villarreal, Gilberto Reyes Jr. and Paulino Bernal.

There are many influential people in the world of Tejano, conjunto and norteño music. But one of the most interesting individuals to point to is Weslaco's Gilberto Reyes Jr. Born in Harlingen, Reyes quickly fell in love with conjunto and norteño music. Some of his fondest childhood memories include him attending Vera's Palladium in Weslaco to experience the live performances of Esteban Jordan and Los Alegres de Terán. When asked what initially drew Reyes to this music, he's quick to inform you how much of a role his grandfather, Pablo Reyes, has played in his love of music. 

What makes Reyes an influential figure is his role at Hohner, one of the leading and oldest musical instrument manufacturers in the world — established in 1857 in Trossingen, Germany. As the product manager of Hohner USA, Reyes deals with marketing, market research, product development, and identifying new distribution channels in North American and Latin American countries. He has made his mark by changing their business structure over the past five years and introducing popular new products. Reyes took this role of product manager (Hohner had no such role before Reyes was hired) and made the most of it.

"I started with not just accordions but with the whole parts department," said Gilberto Reyes Jr. in a phone interview from his Hohner office at Glen Allen, VA. "First thing that I did was restructure the whole parts department." 

Reyes would go on to hire new employees to handle the parts department to make it run smoothly. By doing this, Reyes says it created much-needed structure for Hohner's production. His next mission was to bring more variety and flavor to Hohner accordions. 

"I thought instead of just having the regular black, red, white accordions we needed something a little bit more exciting." 

He embarked on several projects to do just that. One of them was creating the "Signature Series", his way of honoring legendary accordionists and giving back to the community. 

"We started with Steve Jordan. We had already done a signature series (for Jordan) back in '88 but we wanted to do a relaunch on that. So I recreated a new one, a different color. Of course Flaco Jimenez (was the next one in the series) and we also wanted to include somebody else from a different genre. Which (ended up being) Jorge Hernandez of Los Tigres Del Norte."

By working closely with Los Tigres Del Norte on that project, Reyes noticed that band-member Eduardo Hernandez (Jorge's brother) preferred Italian-made boxes. Reyes says a "light went off" in his head at that moment. A significant percentage of norteño and conjunto accordionists prefer the aesthetics of an Italian-made box. This realization led Reyes to doing a full presentation for Hohner to get behind the idea of marketing Italian-made boxes. He hoped that this would lead to capitalizing on a distinct demographic and increasing Hohner's bottom line. 

"I took a trip to Frankfurt and I met Mr. Anacleto Gabbanelli there. We decided to see if we could work something up. We went to visit his factory in Italy and before you know it, we started making these premium Anacleto accordions." 

The Anacleto's stand out in Hohner's product line as having a flashier appearance and hand-made reeds (as opposed to factory-made reeds from the German-made and Chinese-made Hohner boxes). There has been a lot of positive feedback online about the high-level of craftsmanship found on these models. 

Those are just a few of the projects and improvements that Reyes has brought to Hohner in his brief time there. When asked about what the future holds for him, Reyes said that he's always looking for bright new ideas to incorporate into production. He also plans on continuing the "Hohner Lifetime Achievement Award" that he started in 2012. The first recipients of that honor were Flaco Jimenez, Paulino Bernal, Juan Villarreal and Anacleto Gabbanelli. If Reyes' first five years are any indication, accordion aficionados have a lot to look forward to in the near future. 

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