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Buying an Accordion

Buying an Accordion

The following page is directed to people who have never bought an accordion before or are still very new in this and considering an upgrade.

What should I buy for my first accordion?

When looking for a first accordion to begin learning, there are a many options of different makes and models available, as well as a huge range of different prices, sizes and weights.  This wide choice can often be very confusing. Hopefully after you  have read bellow we have succeed to answer the most common questions that people tend to ask.

Here’s a short videos with some practical advice.


 

Price

One of the things that many people find most important when looking for their first accordion is price.  Compared to many other musical instruments, accordions can at first seem extremely expensive.

This is partly due to the fact that all accordions, even the most basic models, are still fully built by hand, containing literally thousands of different components. It is not unusual for a top quality accordion to take well over six months to produce. However, if an accordion is looked after and it is of good quality it is very stable instrument and it won’t need any service for many years – it is kind of a long term investment, which also gives it a good resale value if one needs an upgrade or simply would like to stop and move on to something else.

If you are a beginner but do not own an accordion, have in mind that many accordion teachers would have stock of approved second hand instruments for rental. They will also be able to give you a good advise what to buy and from where to buy. In that scenario you probably wouldn’t need to read bellow.

If looking for a relatively cheap starter instrument, many people often go for the entry level Chinese student models, which will nearly always be the most affordable option. One of the main advantages of going down this route is that you can get a brand new accordion for less than ZAR10,000!

Although an accordion built in China will be ideal for starting off with, and certainly isn’t going to fall apart overnight, both the tone and build quality will, however, be noticeably lower than in a European built accordion.

However, for just a little bit more or (even less sometime), you could get a pre-owned accordion built in Germany or the Czech Republic, or even occasionally an older style Italian instrument, all of which would usually be significantly better built and would boast a richer, more versatile tone. In this price bracket, you can find many instruments like Weltmeister, Delica or Hohner. Occasionally older Italian accordions dating from the mid twentieth century like Scandalli, Settimio Soprani, Paolo Soprani, Frontalini, Excelsior etc could also fall in this category.
We certainly try to select instrument of this category to have in our stock.

Size

Another major consideration to bear in mind when purchasing an accordion, is size. Sadly, no accordion is a truly lightweight or compact instrument, but there is, however, a wide range of sizes and weights, so most people will be able to find something that is comfortable to play.

In terms of which size is best to start on when choosing an accordion, there is a common misconception that small accordions are for beginners. This is most certainly not true. Small accordions are for small people (meaning children)!

There is some truth in the fact that if you go for bigger size accordion, in the early stages of playing you can occasionally find the larger instruments a little bit imposing due to the bigger number of keys and buttons. However,  the vast majority of players will adjust to these extremely quickly, and in reality, playing on the left hand side of a small 48 bass accordion, for example, will feel no different to playing a 120 bass accordion.

In terms of weight, it is important to remember that an accordion should mostly be played sitting down. In the correct playing position, the instrument should rest comfortably on the left leg of the player and supported with the right leg, and not hang from the straps. This will allow the weight to be spread evenly by the legs and the shoulders, and reduces the load carried by the straps significantly.

With this in mind, it is always better to go for an accordion that fits you best physically, as opposed to choosing an instrument with a smaller number of bass buttons and/or treble keys. Although this seems less daunting, it may become uncomfortable to play for long periods and could cause postural problems.

Another misconception is that the number of bass buttons denotes the size of the accordion. This is false, although if the truth be told, it was normally the case during the heyday of the accordion in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Nowadays however, the physical size of an accordion is often measured by the number of treble keys, rather than the amount of bass buttons. With the current market trends tending to lean toward smaller and more compact accordions, many of the larger manufactures are now producing “compact” models.

For example, whereas traditionally a 72 bass accordion would always have had 34 treble keys, there are now various examples of compact 72 bass instruments with 30 or sometimes even 26 treble keys, making them much more akin to the dimensions of a more traditional 48 bass.

As well as reducing the size of the instrument, cutting down on the number of keys will, of course, also allow for a significant reduction in the weight of the accordion, making these special compact models ideal for the smaller player who requires an extended range of bass notes, but simply can’t handle the size and/or weight of a larger instrument.

Today, there are a large variety of bass sizes available. We have listed the most common ones below, along with the various treble key ranges that are available.

8 bass – Either 17 or 22 treble keys. A very small child’s accordion. These are really too small for anybody over the age of five years old, and are usually only sold as children’s toys.

12 bass – Normally 26 treble keys. Also very much a children’s accordion, mainly targeted at the under 7 years old. These instruments have no minor buttons and are very limited in their range.

24 bass and 32 bass – These are also really aimed at children, although they do have a larger range than their smaller cousins. These are the smallest accordions to introduce minor chords, and some higher spec models occasionally feature seventh chords. The treble range is usually 26 keys.

48 or 40 bass – The smallest “adult size” accordion, but only if you’re a very small adult! These accordions are the smallest size to feature the full range chords and normally have major, minor, sevenths and diminished buttons (not in the 40 bass size). Most 48 bass accordions feature 26 keys, although extended keyboard models with 30 keys are also available from some manufactures, as well as much larger 34 key versions, although these will lose out on the diminished row.

60 bass – These accordions are not generally made any more, with the exception of the Weltmeister Rubin and Kristall, although pre-owned examples are often available. 60 bass accordions usually feature either 30 or 34 keys, and have nearly the same bass range as a 72 bass instrument, with the exception of the diminished row which is omitted. Due to the lack of diminished chords, 60 bass accordions are often a bit lighter in terms of weight than their 72 bass counterparts.

72 bass – This is a mid size accordion, and one of the most popular sizes. 34 keys is the norm, although 26 and 30 key “hybrid” models are increasingly being produced by Weltmeister and some of the high end Italian factories for the weight conscious player. 72 bass accordions can feature either two, three or four voices, with the latter option normally being tuned to either musette or double octave.

80 bass –  80 bass accordions are designed along similar lines to the aforementioned 60 bass instruments, in that they have the left hand range of a 96 bass but with no diminished chords. These accordions feature 34 or 37 treble keys. These instruments often have a three voice tuning, although four voice examples aren’t unheard of.

96 bass – Another hugely popular size, 96 bass accordions either have 37 or 34 keys, and are often viewed as a good compromise, as they don’t have the size and weight of a full size 120 bass instrument, but do have enough notes to play fairly complicated advanced pieces which would be lacking in a smaller instrument. There are a vast range of makes and models available, with three and four voice being the most common tuning.

120 bass – A full size accordion, traditionally with 41 treble keys, although nowadays some factories also produce compact versions with 37 keys. A 120 bass instrument is the most versatile size, as it features the full range of treble and bass notes, as well as a larger variety of couplers, with three, four and five voice tuning all available. The downside to this is that 120 bass accordions are rather large and heavy, so may not always be ideal for the smaller player. Occasionally, some of the Italian makers will also produce instruments with more bass buttons. This is achieved by squaring off the ends of the normally diagonal bass layout.

A special note on 120 bass “ladies models” –  An exemption to the rule with 120 bass accordions are the special compact accordions generally referred to as “Ladies Models” or lately called “Compact Model” (which allows some guys to feel OK to play this size). These instruments were produced by various Italian factories from the late 1940’s. They tend to feature the full range of 41 treble keys and 120 bass buttons, but were extremely lightweight and compact, often being not much larger or heavier than a standard size 72 bass, or in extreme cases, even a 48 bass! This was achieved by making both the treble keys and bass buttons extremely small and close together, and fitting them with significantly less voices than normal, usually a two voice setup. Due to the very small spaces between the keys, these instruments aren’t really suitable for those with larger hands, but are, by the same token, ideal for the smaller player who wishes to have the full range of notes, but can’t handle the size and weight of a full size 120. In today’s production when looking for “Compact Model” you would find different sizes – 18mm or 19mm or 19,2mm for the white notes keys. Many Italian factories produce those models as well as Weltmeister factory.

Tuning

Accordions are available in a wide range of different tuning setups which are each designed for playing specific styles of music. Smaller accordions tend to usually have what’s called a two or three voice tuning, whilst larger instruments will normally have three, four or sometimes even five voices.

The term “voices’ refers to the number of metal reeds fitted to the treble side of the instrument. The accordion works much like a harmonica, in that the bellows blow air over these reeds which then vibrate and make the sound. Accordions can be fitted with multiple reeds for each note, both on the left and right hand sides, which are usually tuned slightly differently to provide a tremolo effect, or are at different octaves, or in some cases, both.

These can be turned on and off by switches on the treble and bass sides of the accordion, and are either used individually, or in conjunction with each other to create a wide range of varying tones for different styles of music, much in the same way that a church organ utilizes a selection of stops to bring in different pipes to change the tone.

Each note is fitted with two reeds, one for the opening motion of the bellows and one for when the closing the bellows. This means that, on a typical four voice accordion for example, each note will have eight reeds.

Smaller accordions generally have either a two or three voice tuning. However, larger four voice instruments can be fitted with a wide variety of tuning, the two most common of which are usually known as “Musette” and “Double Octave”.

Musette tuning is designed mainly for the French, Scottish & German styles of playing, and features a fairly wide vibrato effect. This is produced by having three “eight foot” reeds at the same pitch which are tuned slightly differently. One reed is fully in tune, one is slightly flat, and the third is slightly sharp. When played together, this setup creates a vibration in the sound waves, which delivers the tremolo effect.

Musette accordions usually feature a lower octave “sixteen foot” in tune reed, which adds a deeper, richer sound when activated.

Double Octave accordions are more geared towards the classical, jazz, Balkan and Latin American styles of playing. These instruments feature the same low “sixteen foot” reed as musette accordions, as well as the in tune and sharp “eight foot” reeds, which are usually tuned a bit closer together to give a straighter sound than that which is found on musette accordions. These three reeds are then joined by a very high “four foot” reed which is only normally used by itself in classical music, and is more often played in conjunction with other voices.

Some of the largest 120 bass accordions feature a five voice tuning, which means that they are fitted with both musette and double octaves setups. Although these are hugely versatile accordions, they are also extremely heavy and bulky due to their complex internals.

One additional feature sometimes found in accordions, is a single or double Cassotto chamber.  This is, effectively, a wooden box inside the accordion which encases either just the “sixteen foot” reed in the case of a single cassotto, or with a double cassotto, both the “sixteen foot” and the in tune “eight foot” reeds. This system helps to produce an extremely rich and mellow tone, which is much sought after for the playing of jazz, Balkan and classical music. It does add a fair bit of weight to the accordion however, and is normally very expensive to build, so is mostly only found in the larger and higher end instruments.

We hope that this short guide has been useful to you in choosing your first accordion. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us on normal phone call or WhatsApp +27836015751 or via email at info@accordions.co.za

 

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