Accordion Revival

PIANO ACCORDION OWNER'S MANUAL AND BUYER'S GUIDE

            PIANO ACCORDION OWNER'S MANUAL AND BUYER'S GUIDE by George Bachich is the accordion book you've been waiting for. It clearly explains how accordions work, what goes wrong, problems to watch out for when buying an accordion, how to quickly identify reed configurations, tone chambers and mute chambers, how to diagnose and locate air leaks, how to safely open and inspect your accordion, and how to recognize when reed valves need to be changed. It explains how to identify and evaluate musette tuning, reed quality, handmade reeds, and how to decide which accordion is right for you.

            Points made in this 164 page soft cover book are amply illustrated with over 40 color photographs. The glossary alone comprises a quick course on how accordions are constructed and how they function. This book contains useful new information for everyone, beginner to life-long accordionist.

            PIANO ACCORDION OWNER'S MANUAL AND BUYER'S GUIDE fills a void in the available accordion literature. For a convenient single source of all you need to know about acoustic piano accordions, order this book, either by mail from the author, George Bachich, Accordion Revival, P.O. Box 3238, Napa, CA 94558, or order online. The price is $25 plus shipping and handling:
   $5 to U.S. addresses,
   $10 to Canadian addresses, or
   $16 to all other countries.

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          Hi. I'm George Bachich. I have been playing accordion for eleven years, and repairing them for nine years. Each year at the Cotati Accordion Festival I perform "accordion autopsies", dissecting an old accordion and explaining to anyone who will listen how accordions work and what goes wrong with them. My website, AccordionRevival.com, is dedicated to helping everyone learn to repair accordions. My goal is to save old accordions and I stand ready to personally assist anyone wanting to learn about accordion repair. I wrote Piano Accordion Owner's Manual and Buyer's Guide to help accordionists learn more about their instrument.

          I'm happy to say that Piano Accordion Owner’s Manual and Buyer’s Guide has now been shipped to 23 countries.
As of this writing (January 2014) I have filled orders from  Australia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the USA. I am happy to see that Piano Accordion Owner’s Manual and Buyer’s Guide has such wide appeal. This wide distribution has taught me that the USA is only a minor part of the accordion scene, and that the need for a book like this is world-wide.

          Most of my readers in non-English speaking countries are apparently reading it in English, but some have told me they are working out translations of their own, using Google Translate and other resources. If you are one of those, feel free to ask at the time of your purchase that I also send you the digital text file, to make your translation easier.  I do not offer the book in eBook or other digital formats; I only offer it in print. But at the time of your purchase, I am happy to also send you the digital text file at no additional charge, along with permission to use it for your personal purposes, although not for any commercial purpose.




What readers are saying about PIANO ACCORDION OWNER'S MANUAL AND BUYER'S GUIDE:

“….delightful and informative book.”  - C.H., Oakland, CA

 

“I just finished your new book. Amazing! What a concise and accurate explanation of piano accordions, once I picked it up I couldn't put it down till I finished. I would call it a 'must read' for accordionists, dealers, and accordion lovers.”  - S.F., San Francisco, CA



“You did a really good job on your book; I particularly enjoyed – and learned much from – the sections on handmade reeds and musette tuning.”  - E.S., Modesto, CA

 

“The book is great! …this is such an important  contribution to the knowledge base. It is going to be THE source for so many people.  S.C., Petaluma, CA


"...clear writing style and well chosen photographs......a very good reference work for accordionists". - W.Y., Largs, Scotland


“I have found this book a pleasure to read, and it is indeed an excellent reference guide to buying and maintaining the accordion, a book long overdue” “R.I.C, Sutherland, Scotland”



“If only I had been able to read this book about 3 years ago, I would have made some better decisions.“  - K.M., Indianapolis, IN.


Use the links below to jump to excerpts from the book:

Summary
Contents
List of Illustrations
Glossary
Chapter 10. Weight
Chapter 11. Reed Quality
Chapter 28. Proper Care
Order Form, Piano Accordion Owner's Manual and Buyer's Guide


Questions? Comments? Contact me via email.

 Piano Accordion Owner’s Manual & Buyer’s Guide 

Packed with accordion knowledge and sound advice.

A valuable reference for any accordion player.

Clearly explains:

  • How accordions work and the options available.
  • Problems to watch out for, costly traps to avoid.
  • How to quickly identify reed configurations, tone chambers, mute chambers, switches, reed quality, and more.
  • Musette tuning, and how to recognize it.
  • Handmade reeds  - why they are often better and how to identify them.
  • Finding the right accordion - where to look, how to choose, how much to pay.
  • How to safely open and inspect any accordion.
  • How to sift through the junk to find the real gems
  • How to recognize real value and judge what to pay for it.

The Piano Accordion Owner’s Manual & Buyer’s Guide contains all you need to know before buying a used accordion. It is a 164 page 5 ½” X 8 ½” soft cover book containing 28 well organized chapters covering every aspect of owning and buying piano accordions. Its 45 full color photos clearly illustrate the points made in the text. Just reading the glossary can help make you a better informed accordion buyer and owner. The table of contents, the list of illustrations, the glossary, and three sample chapters are posted below.
 
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 Contents:

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1)     Recognizing a bargain

2)     Understanding the options

3)     Bass buttons and treble keys

4)     Reed configurations

5)     Musette tuning

6)     Tone chambers

7)     Mute chambers

8)     Number of switches and reeds

9)     Size

10)   Weight

11)   Reed quality

12)   Keyboard action

13)   Exterior ornamentation

14)   Air leaks

15)   Opening the accordion

16)   Likely repairs

17)   Brand names

18)   Chinese accordions

19)   Sound quality

20)   What should I buy?

21)   Where should I look?

22)   How can I determine its condition?

23)   How picky should I be?

24)   How much should I pay?

25)   Calculating the number of reeds

26)   Identifying handmade reeds

27)   Intricacies of musette tuning

28)   Proper Care

List of illustrations

Glossary

Accordion condition inspection report


 List of illustrations:

  • Piatanesi 1933 World’s Fair Model
  • Lo Duca Soloist Console
  • Full size 41-key 120-bass accordion (Giulietti Super)
  • Stradella bass button layout (120 bass)
  • 140 bass accordion
  • Converter bass
  • 96/39 accordion
  • 12-bass accordion
  • The switch assembly hides the tone chamber
  • With the switches removed the tone chamber can be seen
  • Inside view of accordion with tone chamber
  • Accordion with no tone chamber
  • Inside view with no tone chamber
  • The mute chamber hidden under this treble grill
  • Mute chamber slides open
  • Mute chamber slides closed
  • Mute chamber doors closed
  • Mute chamber doors open
  • Unambiguous treble switches
  • Ambiguous switch labels
  • One row of bassoon reeds
  • One row of clarinet reeds
  • One row of piccolo reeds
  • Valve removed to allow counting ports
  • Palm master switch
  • Switch slides open
  • Switch slides closed
  • Ladies’-size and full-size, side by side
  • Treble keys
  • Ornate accordion detail
  • Wood splinter under bass valve
  • Bass reed blocks
  • Can you spot the bad leathers/missing reeds?
  • Bad leathers curl back
  • Good leathers lie flat
  • Marginal leathers curl slightly
  • Treble Reed blocks
  • Bass buttons/pistons
  • Stradella bass machine
  • Binci reed and standard reed
  • Binci handmade reed base with uncut blue edge
  • Machine made reed base with cut edge
  • Close-up of Binci hand filed reed tip
  • Close-up of machine ground reed tip
  • Binci reed

 Glossary:     ©George Bachich 2012

2/4      An accordion with 2 sets of treble reeds and 4 sets of bass reeds.

3/4      An accordion with 3 sets of treble reeds and 4 sets of bass reeds.

3/5      An accordion with 3 sets of treble reeds and 5 sets of bass reeds.

4/5      An accordion with 4 sets of treble reeds and 5 sets of bass reeds.

5/5      An accordion with 5 sets of reeds on each side.

A440 accordion      An accordion in which the lowest A in the clarinet reed set and the second from lowest A in the bassoon set are tuned to 440 Hz.

A442 accordion      An accordion in which the lowest A in the clarinet reed set and the second from lowest A in the bassoon set are tuned to 442 Hz.

Axle rod      The brass or steel rod on which the treble keys hinge, also commonly called a spindle. The axle rod is as long as the keyboard, and usually about 1.5 mm in diameter. It can usually be accessed from the bottom of the treble keyboard after removing a small metal cover. Full size accordions usually have one axle rod for the black keys and another for the white keys, while many smaller models have all the keys on one axle. Accordions with individually removable keys do not have removable axle rods.

Bass button      One of usually 120 buttons mounted on pistons that activate levers that open valves for each note on the bass side of the accordion.

Bass cabinet      The (usually celluloid covered) wooden case work on the left side of the bellows (from the reference point of the player) to which the bass machine and bass reed blocks are mounted.

Bass cover      A removable wood or metal cover plate over the bass machine.

Bass keyboard      The array of bass buttons on the left side of the accordion that play bass notes and chords.

Bass machine      An assembly of buttons, pistons, levers, bell cranks, cams, and cam followers that act together to open selected bass valves to play the desired individual notes and chords when bass buttons are pushed. Most bass machines must be disassembled piece by piece to gain access to the bass valves, but some accordions have bass machines that can be removed as an assembly, allowing much faster and easier access to the valves.

Bass piston      A metal rod 4 to 6 inches long with a plastic button on top and with 1 to 4 pins protruding from one side which engage levers on bell cranks that open bass note valves when the button is pressed. Note buttons have pistons with just 1 pin for opening just 1 valve, while chord buttons have pistons with 3 or 4 pins to simultaneously open 3 or 4 note valves.

Bass pipes       The bell cranks that open the bass valves. Each pipe is a solid metal rod about 12 inches long which has one cam lever to lift its particular note valve open and several other levers to engage pins on the various bass button pistons that use that note. When such a button is pressed, each of the pins on the piston engages one of the levers on the pipe, forcing the pipe to rotate, which in turn causes the cam lever to open the valve. In a Stradella bass machine there are two pipes for each bass note on the accordion, one in the chord set and one in the note set, and thus a total of 24 pipes in an accordion which has all the bass notes, i.e., all 12 notes in the chromatic scale.

Bass strap      A 2- to 3-inch wide (usually padded) leather strap on the left side of the accordion used to operate the bellows and to keep the player’s arm in position and within easy reach of the bass buttons.

Bass switches      Push-buttons or rockers that operate the bass register slides to control the air flow to each complete set of bass reeds. Bass switches enable the selection of various combinations of bass reed sets.

Bass valve      A wood or metal pallet, usually with felt padding and a leather seal that closes ports for an individual bass note. The bass valve is opened (lifted off its port) by the action of levers and cams when certain bass buttons are pressed.

Bassoon reeds      The lowest frequency set of treble reeds on the accordion. On a standard accordion this is a set of 41 reeds incorporating all the notes of the chromatic scale from piano F2 to A5.

Bps      Beats per second.

Bellows      A manually operated air pump, constructed mainly of pleated cardboard, which supplies air to the reeds. Pressure on the bellows controls the volume of the sound.

Bellows pin      A short steel nail-like pin that holds the accordion cabinets to the bellows. To inspect the reeds and leathers, the accordion is opened by removing the bellows pins on one side of the bellows and separating the cabinet from the bellows. On each side of the bellows there are usually three pins on the back and three or four in the front, and sometimes one on the top and one on the bottom.

Bellows strap      A leather or metal strap that holds the bellows closed.

Bellows tape      Vinyl faced cloth tape glued over the folds in the bellows to help strengthen the folds, protect them from abrasion, and enhance the appearance.

Castelfidardo      A small city in the Marche region of eastern Italy known for its accordion factories, which produced the vast majority of the accordions found in the United States today. Accordions are still manufactured in Castelfidardo, but on a much smaller scale than fifty years ago.

Clarinet reeds      A set of reeds one octave higher than the bassoon reeds. On a standard accordion this set includes all 41 notes on the chromatic scale from piano F3 to A6.

Choking      Balking. The refusal by a reed to begin vibrating at the sudden onset of air flow, typically caused by inadequate clearance of the reed tongue tip above the plane of the reed plate.

Converter bass      A bass machine that can be switched back and forth between the Stradella and free bass systems.

Dry tuning      No tremolo. All reeds tuned to concert pitch.

Duraluminum      A hard aluminum alloy used in the manufacture of the best reed plates generally used only in handmade reeds.

Foundation plate       The flat wood or metal plate that separates the reed blocks on one side from the valves on the other, and which contains ports under each valve, (and aligned with individual reed chambers in the reed blocks) through which air is allowed to flow when both the register slide and the valve are open. In most accordions the register slides are mounted on the foundation plate under the reed blocks. On the treble foundation plate, one port for each of the treble reed sets is located under each valve. Thus, the number of reed sets can be determined by counting the ports under any treble valve (except in tone chambered accordions, where each key has a second valve in the tone chamber, with one or two of the ports located under that valve).

Free bass      A bass machine in which each bass button operates only one note in only one octave, and in which the buttons are arranged in chromatic scale order through up to five octaves.

Glissando      Sliding a finger up or down the keyboard to sound a series of notes in rapid succession.

Grille      The metal or plastic cover over the treble valves, often incorporating openings for air and sound, which openings are normally covered from the inside by a decorative grille cloth.

Hand fitted reeds      The second highest grade of reeds, with some of the features of handmade reeds, most notably tight clearances between the tongue and the vent.

Handmade reeds      The highest grade of reeds, made from the best materials and incorporating design features that tend to make them more responsive to less bellows pressure, while also remaining more stable frequency-wise under higher bellows  pressure. Handmade reeds are the hallmark of the best quality accordions preferred by professional musicians. Fewer than one percent of accordions have handmade reeds.

Hertz      Cycles per second.

Individually removable keys       Treble keys that can be removed without first removing the axle rod. This allows removing any single key without having first to remove all other keys between that key and the end of the axle rod. Many accordions with individually removable keys have a small tool for removing or replacing key springs mounted under the treble grille.

Keyboard      The part of the accordion to which the treble keys are mounted. The term often also includes those keys.

Key rod      The metal extension on the back of each treble key which extends out over the valve port, and to which the pallet is fixed with either plastic or wax.

LM      An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds and 1 set of clarinet reeds.

LMH      An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds, 1 set of clarinet reeds, and 1 set of piccolo reeds.

LMM      An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds and 2 sets of clarinet reeds.

LMMH                  An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds, 2 sets of clarinet reeds, and 1 set of piccolo reeds.

LMMM      An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds and 3 sets of clarinet reeds.

LMMMH      An accordion with 1 set of bassoon reeds, 3 sets of clarinet reeds, and 1 set of piccolo reeds.

MM      An accordion with 2 sets of clarinet reeds.

MMM      An accordion with 3 sets of clarinet reeds.

Musette reeds      A second and/or third set of clarinet reeds tuned slightly off pitch to create a tremolo effect.

Musette tuning      A tremolo effect achieved by playing two or three reeds for the same note, each of which is tuned to a very slightly different frequency.

Mute      To soften or mellow the sound.

Mute chamber      An enclosure under the treble grille that mutes the sound of the treble reeds. Hinged doors or sliding doors can typically be opened to unmute the reeds.

Pallet      The wood or metal foot on the treble key rod or bass valve which lifts off the port when a key or button is pressed, allowing air to flow over the reed behind it. The pallet is fitted with a leather seal, often with a felt cushion between the leather valve face and the pallet. The pallet is connected to the key rod or valve lever with reed wax, or sometimes with a plastic sleeve fixed to the pallet which fits snugly over the key rod.

Piccolo reeds      The highest frequency set of reeds available on a standard accordion, one octave higher than the clarinet set, and incorporating all the notes of the chromatic scale from F4 to A7.

Ports      The round or square openings in the foundation plate which allow air flow to be directed over the single reed aligned with each port. A valve opens its ports when the key or button for that particular note is pressed.

Reed      An assembly comprised of 1 reed plate, 2 reed tongues, 2 rivets, and usually 2 reed leathers.

Reed blocks      The interior wooden racks that hold the reeds in place over their respective ports and valves. Usually, each full set of treble reeds (41 in most accordions) is split across two reed blocks, one mounted closer to the treble keyboard to house the black key notes in that set, and another mounted farther away to house the white key notes, although space limitations in some designs require two or three of the white key notes to be located in the black key reed block. In some older designs, the register slides are mounted in the reed blocks, while in later designs they are mounted in the foundation plate to which the reed block is mounted. On the bass side, each reed block holds one full set of 12 bass reeds on each side of the block, so each bass reed block can contain up to two complete sets of reeds. Each reed block is divided into small chambers, with one chamber per reed, each chamber being proportional in size to the reed that is mounted to it.

Reed plate      An aluminum (or duraluminum) plate with two long narrow slots in it and with rivet holes for the attachment of two reed tongues, each free to vibrate in one of the slots in response to air flow.

Reed tongue      A spring steel blade riveted to a reed plate. The reed tongue vibrates at a certain frequency when air is forced to flow through the reed.

Reed vent      The slot in the reed plate.

Reed wax      A mixture of mostly beeswax, but also containing some rosin and a bit of linseed oil, which is used to anchor and seal the reed plates to the reed blocks. It is also often used to fasten the pallets to the treble key rods and to the bass valve levers.

Register slides      Thin flat strips of steel or brass approximately 1/2 inch wide x as long as the reed blocks, i.e., 13 to 17 inches long, containing a series of square holes, one hole for each note in the reed block, i.e., one for each valve port. In response to switch movement, the slides slide end-wise to align all the holes with their ports to enable air flow through that set of reeds, or alternatively to close off the ports to disallow air flow through that set of reeds.

Spindle      Treble key axle rod

Stradella bass      The most common type of bass machine, in which the buttons for root notes and their chord families are arranged according to the circle of fifths, and in which each individual note button plays that note in up to five octaves at once, depending on bass switch settings.

Tone chamber      A resonant box of wood or metal to which one or two reed blocks are mounted for the purpose of enhancing the sound emanating from those reeds. On tone chamber accordions, a second set of treble valves operates inside the tone chamber to control those reeds mounted to the chamber. Thus, on tone chamber accordions there are two treble valves attached to each treble key.

Treble cabinet      The (usually celluloid covered) wooden case work on the right hand side of the bellows (from the reference point of the player), to which the treble keyboard, the treble reed blocks, and one side of the bellows are attached.

Treble key      One of usually 41 piano-like keys on the treble side of the accordion.

Treble keyboard       The (usually 41) piano style treble keys and the wooden platform that supports them. The keyboard assembly also includes metal axle rods that run through the keys and the platform, as well as felt cushions under the keys.

Treble switches      Buttons or levers that operate the treble register slides to control the air flow to each complete set of treble reeds. Often, one switch moves two or more register slides simultaneously to enable the selection of various combinations of reed sets.

Treble valve      A wood or metal pallet, usually with felt padding and a leather seal that closes two to four ports for an individual note (the number of ports depends on the number of treble reed sets in the accordion and whether some of those reed sets are mounted to a tone chamber). The pallet and its felt and leather seal are attached to a treble key rod and are lifted off the port when that treble key is pressed.

Tremolo beat      The slow harmonic frequency generated by two reeds vibrating at nearly the same pitch. The frequency of the tremolo beat is equal to the number of hertz of difference between the two primary frequencies. Thus, if two reeds are tuned n Hertz apart, they will generate a tremolo beat of n beats per second when played together.

Ventilli      Thin flexible plastic reed valves.

Voicing      The adjustment of the clearance of the tip of the reed tongue above the plane of the reed plate to the optimum clearance for rapid response to air flow without choking.

 Chapter 10. Weight     ©George Bachich 2012

            Smaller accordions tend to weigh less, so you might want a smaller accordion just for its lighter weight, especially if you play standing up. Standard full-size 4/5 accordions usually weigh between 22 and 28 pounds, while ladies'-size 3/4 accordions generally weigh between 16 and 20 pounds. The weight difference can be significant if you play standing or strolling for long periods. If you always sit down to play, the accordion rests on your lap, making instrument weight much less of an issue.

            Naturally, 2-reed accordions tend to be lighter than 3-reed accordions, which in turn tend to be lighter than 4-reed accordions. However, this is not always the case, so you should actually compare the weights.

            The really old accordions tend to be lighter than more recent models. However, the later models were made heavier for good reason. Some of the older ones were so light and flimsy that they did not hold up well, and tended to warp and flex, sometimes causing air leaks around the valves that are difficult to seal.

            The really old ones (prior to 1940) also have very deep key action and nearly square edges on the keys, making them difficult to play. They require extensive keyboard modifications to make them easier to play and to give them a more modern feel. Nevertheless, once these modifications are made, playing one of these antiques can be very satisfying for people who appreciate old instruments, and they offer the additional advantage of lighter weight.

            When comparing accordion weights, be sure to understand whether strap weight is being included. A standard set of wide padded shoulder straps weighs about 1 1/4 pounds and can skew your comparisons. Finally, notice that balance can be as important as weight. An accordion that hangs comfortably can feel lighter and actually be less of a strain on your back than a lighter one that does not feel so well balanced. The bottom line is that rather than just weighing it, you have to try the accordion on and play it standing up for a while to see how heavy it feels compared to others.

            We all want an accordion that weighs under 15 pounds, but we have to compromise in order to get other features we want. 12-bass accordions weigh under 15 pounds, but offer limited utility. Some 48 to 96 bass accordions now being manufactured (mostly 2-reed) fall within or close to that weight limit, but offer limited switching options, smaller keyboards (fewer keys), and unknown durability. Some people like the sound they produce, and some don't. If light weight is important to you, then one of these accordions might be the right choice.

            Light weight always comes at a price. Lighter cabinet construction using lighter and thinner wood impacts tonal qualities, rigidity, and durability. Fewer buttons, keys, and reed sets adversely impact flexibility in the type of music you can play, as well as the tonal options available. Narrower keys can make it difficult for people with wide fingers to play. Designers of the smallest accordions generally tune them very wet to get more sound out of a smaller box. Although they may sound bright and cheery, this excessively wet tuning can eventually get on your nerves.

            Every design is a compromise. Finding the right compromise for you is a very personal decision. This guide will help you understand the options and trade-offs available, to enable you to make the right decision.

 

 Chapter 11. Reed Quality      ©George Bachich 2012

             Reeds are the heart of any accordion, and “handmade reeds” (“voce a mano” in Italian) are the hallmark of the very best accordions. They generally respond better at lower bellows pressure (playing softly), tolerate higher pressures (louder volume) with less frequency distortion, and produce a better, fuller sound. However, handmade reeds are relatively expensive, and accordions with handmade reeds command significantly higher prices.

            There is much confusion about handmade reeds. Some people think they may not really be handmade at all, that the name is just a label used to denote the higher manufacturing standards applied to the highest quality reeds. Some feel that since today’s handmade reeds are partly made by machine, they are therefore not really handmade in the old tradition, and should be called hand fitted. Some people point out that handmade reeds are not necessarily any better than other reeds because the quality obviously depends on the skill of the hands that make them.

             Many accordion players do not hear or feel a significant difference between some handmade reeds and the next grade down (hand fitted reeds, or “voce tipo a mano” in Italian). Some even say the best hand fitted reeds might even be better than some handmade reeds, and this is probably true.

            However, in some cases the difference is undeniable. The reed response on the accordion I tried out at the Beltuna factory in Castelfidardo was astounding. It was unequivocally better than on any other accordion I have ever played, including my Giulietti Super, which also has handmade reeds.

            The lesson here is that quality varies, even among handmade reeds. To evaluate the quality and condition of any accordion, you must play it and compare it to other accordions. You cannot rely on unsupported claims of high quality, and you cannot infer superior quality solely from brand names or from claims that an accordion has handmade reeds.

            To evaluate the reeds, check for response at very low bellows pressure and for frequency stability at very high bellows pressure. The lowest notes in the bassoon set are the most sensitive to both of these tests. Squeeze or pull the bellows very gently and see if the note will play. The softer you can play these notes and the less air they use, the better the quality.

            Also see how loudly the reeds will play without going flat. Better frequency stability at higher bellows pressure indicates better quality reeds. This may be due to the harder duraluminum reed plate allowing a tighter rivet connection between the reed tongue and the reed plate.

            Test several reeds, though, because reed response is also highly dependent on reed voicing (the adjustment of the elevation of the tip of the reed tongue above the plane of the reed plate), as well as on the condition of the leathers. If some of the lowest frequency reeds seem highly responsive and some don’t, it could be because some of them are not properly voiced or because their leathers are bad. If any of them choke (refuse to sound or delay sounding under sudden high bellows pressure), they will need to be properly voiced before you can meaningfully test them.

            The advantages of handmade reeds are most apparent at the low end of the keyboard because it is here that machine made reeds reveal their greatest weaknesses. The lowest notes emanate from the largest reeds, which have greater mass, requiring more air to get them moving. Due to their larger size, they also have a greater distance around the perimeter of the reed tongue, and thus more space for air to leak between the reed tongue and the vent rather than driving it.  These two factors, 1) more air required to drive the reed and 2) less of the available air being put to work driving it, compound to make the lowest note reeds the least responsive on our keyboards. That's why you need more bellows pressure to play the lowest notes in the bassoon reed set. It is here that handmade reeds are most needed and where they have the greatest advantage.

            Comparing a Binci handmade reed to a machine made reed at the lowest F in the bassoon reed set reveals striking differences in thickness and contour that allow the Binci reed to be lighter than the machine made reed. The machine made reed is of nearly uniform thickness along its length, while the Binci reed is very thin near the fixed end and steps up in thickness twice as we approach the free end. This design puts the center of gravity closer to the tip than it would be on a similar length reed tongue of nearly constant thickness, thus allowing the Binci reed to be significantly thinner near the fixed end, and therefore lighter, while still vibrating at the assigned frequency.

            The clearance between the reed tongue and the vent is smaller on the Binci reed, reducing the air loss around the tongue and putting more of the available air to work driving the reed. Perhaps due to its lower mass, as well as to less leakage, the Binci reed is also properly voiced using a noticeably smaller elevation of the tip of the reed tongue above the reed plate. This probably further reduces the air loss around the reed tongue, thereby helping to make the Binci reed more responsive.

            I also compared the Binci handmade reeds to the handmade reeds in my Giulietti Super, and the Binci reed appears to have advantages, primarily in lighter weight, lending further credence to the notion that not all handmade reeds are equal. While it is probably true that some hand fitted reeds are better than some handmade reeds, I doubt that there are hand fitted reeds that can match the responsiveness of the Binci handmade reeds. If there are, I would like to see them.

            For a more complete explanation of how handmade reeds can be so much better, and very clear instructions on how to recognize them, supported by close-up color photographs comparing handmade reeds to machine made reeds, see the technical discussion in Chapter 26.

 

 Chapter 28. Proper Care     ©George Bachich 2012

Now that you have found your accordion, how can you take proper care of it? There are some things you should know.

1. Reed wax melts at 140 degrees, so if you leave your accordion in your car parked in the hot summer sun, you can expect the wax to melt, allowing some reeds to sag out of place, making the accordion unplayable until costly repairs are made. Don’t let your accordion get too hot.

2. Moisture condenses on cold metal parts, so if you move your accordion from a really cold place into a warm room and begin playing it, you can expect moisture to condense on the reeds, causing damage. For instance if you were recently playing it outdoors on a cold winter day and you subsequently move into a warm room full of moisture breathing people and start playing it, you will be drawing warm moist air over cold metal reeds. If the temperature of the reeds is below the dew point of the air, moisture will condense on the cold reeds, causing corrosion that will put the reeds out of tune and perhaps damage them irreparably. If your accordion is really cold, bring it inside and leave it closed tightly in its case (sealed away from moisture) for several hours (as long as it takes for it to warm up nearly to room temperature), before you play it.

3. Salt air is corrosive to reeds and other metal parts, so if you play your accordion at the beach or on your saltwater boat, you can expect the reeds and other metal parts to corrode. Never play your accordion in a salt air environment unless you consider the accordion expendable.

4. Moisture is the enemy of wood and leather, so always keep your accordion in a dry place, and never play it in the rain or fog. Never wash your accordion or keyboard in a manner that might allow any liquid to run or drip into it or under the keys, and never spray any liquid on it. The plastic exterior of your accordion and the buttons and keys can be cleaned with a soft cloth slightly dampened in piano key cleaner. If that does not work, dampen the cloth in rubbing alcohol. Never use acetone, lacquer thinner, or other harsh chemicals, as they will attack and dull the plastic finish.

5. Bass straps are anchored to the accordion with light duty rivets not intended to support the weight of the accordion, so never lift your accordion by the bass strap, or the rivets may fail, causing you to drop the accordion and damage it. It’s okay to lift it by the shoulder straps and carry it suitcase-fashion as long as you are careful not to let a strap get under the edge of a key and bend it up.

6. Your accordion should be kept out of its case in a warm dry room, on a bookshelf or table, and unless it has a tone chamber, it should be resting on its feet (the four feet on the bass plate) with a dust cover over it. In this position all the reed leathers are aligned vertically and are thus less likely to sag away from their reed plates. Nearly as good, from the leathers’ point of view, is to keep it in playing position, which at least puts the strong axis of the leathers (the width, rather than the thickness) in opposition to gravity, making them unlikely to sag.  The worst position is lying flat with the tops of the keys upward (or downward), because this puts half the leathers in the position where gravity is most likely to cause them to sag away from their reed plates, and they definitely will.

 If your accordion has a tone chamber, it is best to store it in playing position, as resting it on its feet would put half the leathers in the tone chamber in the position most likely to cause sagging. This may be why Giulietti used to put a handle on one end of its hard cases in addition to the one between the latches. Standing the case on its end puts the accordion into playing position.

 Keeping your accordion out of its case will contribute to its health and longevity if it encourages you to pick it up and play it more often. However, when you transport your accordion, it should be in its case for better protection against bumps and scratches.

 7. Accordion case latches are notorious for coming unlatched at inopportune times, so always carry your hard case with the lid toward your leg so if it pops open the lid will hit your leg, rather than your accordion hitting the pavement.

8. When you transport your accordion by car, the best position is with the case handle up, as this has the accordion resting on its feet, well positioned to tolerate any bumps. However, if you think it might tip over going around a curve or during a sudden start or stop, then it is better to place it with the case lid down, so the treble keys and, most importantly, the bass buttons face downward. This is so that if you hit a big bump the bass buttons won’t all submerge. If the buttons are facing upward and you hit a big bump, the buttons can submerge into their holes and not come back up, requiring a costly repair.

9. Disuse encourages decay. Storing an accordion for long periods subjects it to possible damage from mildew, moths, and corrosion, and allows leathers to sag and curl back from the reed plates. Accordions should be played regularly. Regularly flushing the inside of the accordion with fresh air by playing it discourages mildew, moths, and corrosion. Playing also flexes the leathers and helps keep them soft and flat against the reed plates.

10. Shoulder strap adjustment is essential to proper playing technique and your health and comfort. The left shoulder strap should be several inches shorter than the right. Both straps should be adjusted so the accordion sits well to the left of center, putting the black treble keys directly below your chin and the top of the accordion about four inches below your chin. In standing position with your right hand on the keyboard, your right wrist straight, your right elbow slightly raised and straight out to your side, and your right shoulder relaxed (not raised and not pulled to the rear), the finger tips of your right hand should just reach the inboard ends of the black keys. If you find yourself playing with your right shoulder pulled back or raised, or with your right elbow down and/or rearward, or with your right wrist bent, then your accordion is probably too far to the right. If you experience fatigue or pain in your right wrist, elbow, or shoulder, your accordion is probably too far to the right. If you position your accordion properly, you will experience less fatigue and be more likely to play often, which will help keep your accordion in good condition.

11. Not all bellows pins are the same size. They may vary in diameter by 1/1000 inch or more, which can make a difference in how they fit, so when you take them out, keep them in order so they will go back into the same holes. If you inadvertently mix them up, make sure you don’t force any of them until you are sure you have the best fit. Forcing the largest pin into the smallest hole may enlarge it, while leaving you with a smaller pin fitting too loosely in the largest hole.

12. Accordions are fragile. If you must ship your accordion, pack it carefully. First immobilize the bass buttons by removing the bass cover and inserting strips of folded cardboard under the bottoms of the pistons to prevent them from moving downward and possibly submerging the buttons. Be sure to advise the recipient on how to remove the cardboard. Wrap the accordion in bubble wrap and put it in its case. Wrap the case in bubble wrap and put it in a tight fitting box. Tape the box well and label it “Fragile musical instrument. Do not drop.” If traveling by airline, never check your accordion as baggage. To protect it from damage, put it in a soft case (or no case so people will see and respect its fragility) and make it your carry-on.

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 An A to Z of the Accordion
by Rob Howard






You can buy these books directly from the author, Rob Howard, in the United Kingdom. However, if you are in the U.S., you can save significantly on the freight by buying them from me, while my meager supply lasts. Unfortunately, I no longer have Volume 2 available. I have just one copy each of Volumes 1,  3, and 4, available for $24 per volume plus $5 total shipping and handling cost for either 1, 2, or 3 books to any U.S. address.

An A to Z of the Accordion by Rob Howard
A unique series.
Volumes 1, 2, 3 and 4 offer a combined total of 1,000 accordion related articles and biographies, and 700+ pictures!!!! The perfect present for any accordion enthusiast!!!!

Volume 1: Articles - Be a Better Player; Competing at Accordion Festivals, Composing & Arranging; Improve Your Playing; Playing For Others; Scotland’s Accordion Heritage, etc Biographies – Larry Adler, Chiz Bishop, Jimmy Blair, Gary Blair, Louis Cabrelli, Gerald Crossman, Adrian Dante, Guido & Pietro Deiro, Jack Emblow, Pearl Fawcett, Pietro Frosini, John Kirkpatrick, Martin Lukins, Calum MacLean, Bobby MacLeod, Dermot O’Brien, Jimmy Shand, Seamus Shannon, Sharon Shannon, Toralf Tollefsen, Francis Wright, Rosemary Wright, etc…

Volume 2: Articles - Accordion Lore (Graham Romani), Story of the Accordion Bands; Which Accordion – Button or Piano?; Art of Accompaniment; Bellows Control; British Chromatic Accordion; French Musette Stars; Inside Your Accordion; Ireland’s Accordion Heritage; Looking After Your Accordion; Playing for Scottish Country Dance Classes; Hints On Sight Reading, etc. Biographies: Allodi family, Tom Alexander, Ken Astin, George Barton, Harriet Bartlett, Joe Burke, Paul Chamberlain, Dean Crouch, Bobby Crowe, Matt Cunningham, Shirley Evans, Mick Foster, Conway Graves, Alan Helm, Max Houliston, Jim Johnstone, Lisa-Lee Leslie, Larry Macari, Iain MacLachlan, Roman Mondryk, Andrew Rankine, James Reavey, Paolo Soprani, James Stewart, etc.

Volume 3: Articles - Accordion Festivals Revisited; The Art of Busking; The Art of Conducting; Bal Musette; Cajun & Zydeco; Irish Ceili Bands; Memorising & Aural Training; Morris Dancing; Practising (by Pearl Fawcett, Toralf Tollefsen, Ken Hacking); Roland Virtual Accordion; Scottish Dance Bands; Use Those Couplers!; Vocal Accompaniment (by Jack Emblow), etc Biographies: Joss Baselli (Jo Basile), Julie Best, Ronald Binge, Bill Black, Craig Bradley, Charles Camilleri, John Carmichael, Johnny Coleclugh, Gerry Conlon & Seamus O’Sullivan, Norman English, Graham Geddes, Fred Hanna, Will Hannah, Kramer & Wolmer, Roya MacLean, Nicol McLaren, Milos Milivojevic, Ian Muir, Jenny Neal, Jean-louis Noton, Lindsay Ross, Donald Shaw, Rod Stradling, etc…

Volume 4: Articles - Accordion in Retrospect; Accordion Manufacturing Process; The accordion with other instruments; Diatonic Musings; Double Acts; International Stars (by Gary Blair); The Anglo-Italian Connection; The Jazz Accordionists; Memories of Don Destefano (by Tony Compton); Playing From Piano Music; Getting to grips with the Roland V Accordion; Shand Morino; Tips for Practising and Playing Solos, etc Biographies: Marcel Azzola, Elaine Beecham, Ivan Black, Nigel Black, Raymond Chuchuk, James Coutts, Blair Douglas, Don Destefano, Rico Destefano, Emilio, Richard Galliano, Maireread Green, Derek Hamilton, Ron Hodgson, Maurice Larcange, Bob Liddle, Roy Magna, Norman McKay, Brandon McPhee, Daniel McPhee, Owen Murray, Kenny Nairn, A Tribute to Dermot O’Brien, Máirtín O’Connor, Brendan Power, Bill Powrie, Billy Reid, Donal Ring, Pete Shutler (The Yetties), Will Starr, Emile Vacher, Mika Väyrynen, Romano Viazzani, Douglas Ward, etc…

At present, I do not have Volume 2. After my local accordion club got their pick of my supply, I have only one copy left each of volumes 1, 3, and 4. You can get any of the volumes directly from Rob Howard, of course, but you can avoid the international shipping cost by buying from me, while my meager supply lasts. These are not used. They are new books that Rob Howard sent me in bulk so I could offer them to U.S. readers at a lower cost for shipping.

To avoid the possibility of accepting payment for orders I cannot fill, I am not providing a "Buy Now" button for these books. If you want to buy one or more of of these volumes, use this link to email me your request. I will honor requests in the order received.

George Bachich
January 8, 2014

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