All About the Instrument
Some things you may like to have explained about the accordion ....

e-mail to info@accordions.co.uk

T

he accordion is a much loved instrument, by professionals and amateurs alike.  Here at Allodi Accordions, we specialise in the traditional instrument, so although the accordion has moved successfully into midi and electronics, we have tended to stick to the typical pieces, committed to the restoration and maintenance of the established brands and models, or just an instrument that you have loved, played and cared for and don't want to lose.
am assuming that many people visiting our website will be doing so in order to find a suitable instrument to buy.  I have compiled a selection of most frequently asked questions, which will give you a factual knowledge and help clear up some common misunderstandings that people have about the terms used to describe the accordion.  If you require further information or do not understand any explanation offered in this page, please do not hesitate to e-mail or telephone me to discuss your specific query; or better still, come along to the shop.  
What is meant by voices or sets of reeds?
Many people confuse voices with couplers (see below). nonctto.jpg (27938 bytes) For example the picture below shows a 4 voice or 4 sets of reeds accordion.  However this does not mean that it has 4 different sounds; it means that it has 4 blocks of reeds inside, so when you play any note, depending on what coupler or register is depressed, a maximum of 4 actual reeds will be heard.  Accordions will have from 2 sets to 5 sets of reeds in general. There are many combinations available today but usually 48 bass instruments will be 2 voice, 72 and 80 bass 3 voice, 96 & 120 will be 3 or 4 voice. 5 voice is not so popular as it is rather bulky. The trend has been to get as many sets of reeds into the smallest accordions - the best selling models for quite some time have been 72  & 96 bass with 4 sets of reeds. There is always a compromise as the amount of notes on the treble keyboard is less on a 72 bass (34 piano keys) than on a standard 96 bass (37 piano keys).    
What are couplers or registers?
These are the switches usually in front of the keyboard on the grill which operate slides under the reed blocks which will engage or disengage the various reeds by cutting off the air supply giving you combinations of sounds. The dots which are  normally shown on the couplers tell you which sets of reeds are playing. Sometimes one or two couplers may be repeated at either end for convenience depending where you are on the keyboard. A wrist or palm coupler is quite often found along the edge of the keys; this will usually take you back to the master setting meaning all the sets of reeds are open. 
Usually on instruments over 48 bass there are some bass couplers which are found between the bellows and the bass buttons; these only affect the left hand reeds and are generally used to balance the sound between the bass and treble.   

What is meant by "Musette"?

Musette refers to a type of tuning, usually associated with French or Scottish sounds.   The true musette tuning is when you have 3 middle reeds, (also called  8 ' or clarinet reeds); one in tune, one tuned flat and one tuned sharp thus causing the notes to vibrate against each other.  When these 3 reeds sound simultaneously, this is what we refer to as musette.  Depending on how far sharp and flat the  reeds are tuned will vary the speed of musette; in other words, the further sharp and flat, the stronger the musette.  

Be warned - just because the word "musette" is written on a coupler, it does not necessarily mean that it is authentic musette tuning.The manufacturers in these instances are letting you know that this is the nearest to the musette sound that you will achieve with this particular instrument and this is why it is better to look at the dots on the coupler instead of the words;  3 in a row in the middle segment means you have the necessary 3 clarinet reeds.  I have dealt with many customers that had bought accordions elsewhere which they believed to be musette tuned because they had been given incorrect information by the seller. Unfortunately to add extra confusion I have come across the odd accordion with incorrect coupler markings of names and dots from the factories! 
     Right hand image is an imitation musette coupler on a double-octave tuned accordion .........

What is meant by "cassotto" or "tone chamber"?
Cassotto is an Italian word meaning 'box';  it is also  referred to as "tone chamber". The reeds that are placed in this chamber have a far more mellow and rich tone. As you can see from the photograph below, the accordion is constructed differently to standard models, and in any make would be regarded as the top of the range.
The instrument becomes slightly heavier (about 2lbs on average).These models always cost more as the construction is more complicated with 2 sets of pallets being required to cover the sets of reeds. It is possible to have your cassotto accordion either with musette  or  double octave tuning; in most people's opinion a musette tuned instrument is better with no cassotto as the idea of the musette sound is that it should be  bright and sparkling  and the cassotto mellows one of the three  8' reeds. However it has a beautifully rich sound of its own and is a popular choice especially in the 96 bass specification. Occasionally on a five sets of reeds cassotto accordion you may find that the piccolo (4') reed is placed in the chamber instead of the clarinet (8') reed so that the musette sound is left pure.

4 sets of reeds Double Cassotto accordion
Cttoxsec.jpg (26443 bytes)
Click photo
for full size
view of a
cassotto cross
section

Standard 4 sets of reeds accordion

nonctto.jpg (27938 bytes)

What is meant by "double & single cassotto"? 
Double Cassotto means that you have 2 sets of reeds in the chamber, usually the  bassoon reed (16' ) and the' in tune' clarinet reed (8'). A single cassotto accordion has only one set in the chamber (the 16'). Strange as it may sound, the single cassotto accordion has a  bigger body than the double cassotto because of the way the reed blocks need to be placed inside. 
What is meant by "double octave" tuning?
Double octave tuning is the other option of tuning to musette.  For this style of tuning, the 'flat' middle reed in the musette tuned accordions is replaced by a piccolo reed (4' or octavina reed).   Therefore on a standard four sets of reeds instrument there will be one bassoon reed (16'), two clarinet reeds, (8') and one piccolo reed (4').   If an accordion has only three sets of reeds it will normally have one 16' and two 8' reeds.  Occasionally instruments come into stock with the more unusual 16', 8' and 4' format, however this is not a popular specification today as there is no second 8' reed to give the vibration or tremolo sound.
How much does the average accordion weigh?
Many people put too much emphasis on the physical weight of an accordion rather than the ease and comfort of playing it; if you have a very good quality instrument the reeds will respond far quicker and easier thus requiring less effort to play than one of lesser quality.  This can often be misunderstood to seem that the accordion is actually heavier but if you have opened and closed the bellows twice as much on a cheaper instrument because the reeds need more air to play you will naturally tire quicker.  However, with the choice of specifications available today it is a good idea not to buy an instrument with more keyboard length than you really need; many folk players for example never need more than a 72 bass as the majority of the music is usually played in the keys of G,D & A.  (A lot of English folk players use a two row melodeon set in the keys of D and G but obviously this is a generalisation).  I have compiled a few examples of average weights for a cross section of instruments which will give you a rough guide if this is something that is relevant to your selection.
Table of average accordion weights
48 Bass - 2 sets of reeds - approximately 5-6 kilos (11-13lbs)
72 Bass - 3 sets of reeds - approximately 7-8.5 kilos (15-18lbs)
72 Bass - 4 sets of reeds - approximately 8-9 kilos (17-20Ibs)
96 Bass - 4 sets of reeds  -approximately 9-10 kilos (20-22Ibs)**
120 Bass - 3 sets of reeds  -approximately 9-10 kilos (20-22Ibs)
120 Bass - 4 sets of reeds - approximately  10.5-11 kilos (23-24.5Ibs)
120 Bass Cassotto - 4 sets of reeds - approximately 11-13 kilos (24.5-28.5Ibs)
** click here to view an accordion that is the exception to this rule!
 

What is a melodeon?
HohnerKajun.jpg (16563 bytes)It is a small diatonic instrument usually with buttons on both sides in either a one, two or three row format on the right hand and used mainly by folk and traditional players.  There is an enormous variety of specifications made in different keys for different countries.  Some melodeons have stops (couplers) on the top of the instrument which are simple devices for closing off any sets of reeds.  The one row melodeon only allows you to play in that one key that the instrument is tuned to. The Cajun musicians generally use a 1 row with 4 sets of reeds. They sometimes come with two bass levers or also with four bass buttons.  A different note plays depending on whether the bellows is pushed or pulled.  The rows are set to major keys - for example D/G melodeons used by the English folk players usually have two rows of buttons on the right hand, the outer row is in the key of D major and the inner row in G major and generally they are played "down" the rows.  Two row models normally have 8 bass buttons.   The Irish and Scottish melodeons are now usually tuned in B/C. These instruments are generally played "across" the rows, enabling the player to play in various keys depending on the bass buttons they have - the standard tuning on the bass for the B/C models is F/C, G/C, E/A and D/G (major chords).  Other tunings sometimes seen are C/C#, C#/D and D/D# (any tunings are available upon request, however instruments can also be altered to anything desired by replacing or  retuning the existing reeds). A system still made today that was very popular in the forties and fifties is the "Club" system. This usually has 2 rows, commonly in C/F or B flat /E flat ; the half row would consist of accidental notes to make the instrument more versatile. 

PSEliIII.jpg (15833 bytes)Some 3 row instruments are regarded as diatonic but may have a standard stradella bass system such as the Shand Morino or Paolo Soprani Elite 111; the usual tuning for these models is B/C/C#.  Some three rows however have diatonic bass - 12 is normal but this can vary in number depending on which country it is being made for.

What is a concertina?
EngCont.jpg (9710 bytes)Concertinas are small, usually hexagonal instruments. They fall into two categories: The English and the Anglo-Chromatic system.   
Pictured left is an instrument with the English system.  This has more buttons and plays the same note regardless of the direction of the bellows. 
AngConc.jpg (10098 bytes)
Picture right is the Anglo-Chromatic model and this has fewer buttons but plays a different note when pushing or pulling the bellows. As a rule they are generally less expensive.  The cheaper end of the market is the Chinese model and it starts at approximately 100.
What is a bandoneon?
Bandeon.jpg (23020 bytes)Basically a large concertina. There are different systems and sizes and as with concertinas some models play a different note when pushing or pulling the bellows and some play the same. The models that I personally have sold in the past have mostly been the different note version playing a 16' and 8' reed together. The Victoria 'Serie Vallesi' bandoneon is one of the best models made today in Italy; this has zinc reeds (which are heavier) but have a wonderful sound.

How long do accordions last?
As with anything, some instruments are going to be better than others.  It will apply that in many respects you get what you pay for.  We sell instruments of all prices, and obviously the cheaper ranges will not be as well made as the more expensive instruments. However there is a three year guarantee on all accordions regardless of where they are made. People often assume that because an instrument is very cheap it  will probably break down every five minutes; this is not true. The main downside to the cheaper makes is that the response of the reeds is not as good so you will find that more effort is required to project the sound.   Generally, people may start with a small, cheaper instrument, to see how they get along and then move upwards when they know if they are going to stick with it, and have achieved a better level of listening to enable them to make a more considered choice.  It is quite possible that your instrument could last your lifetime.  With careful storing and handling, and regular maintenance, your accordion will stay healthier than you!!!

When should I have any maintenance carried out?
If you have any faults on the mechanisms such as bass or keys sticking or couplers jamming then these problems should be repaired as soon as possible as they could cause further damage if not remedied.   NEVER force couplers as you may end up breaking the aluminium slides; oiling the mechanism  will only clog it up and then will require full dismantling to clean it.  badreed.jpg (5871 bytes)Any problems with certain notes not sounding correctly can quite often be repaired while you wait even if the reeds are broken; however if you are hearing lots of "clicks" or buzzing from the reeds you may have problems with the valves which can possibly require a full overhaul.   The reed shown (right) is a side view showing both valves; one valve is flush to the reed plate and this is how it should be, the other side clearly shows a problem which would cause the clicking mentioned above.  Some faults may appear to be very serious, but don't panic; on numerous occasions customers have come to the shop expecting bad news about their repairs only to have it repaired in minutes while they watched.
How do I best look after my accordion?
The accordion is generally a hard wearing instrument if treated correctly.  Try to keep it dust free and in an environment with an even temperature.  As with almost any other instruments, do not place it near a radiator, heating source or direct sunlight.  In extreme cases, an accordion left in the back seat of a car on a very hot, sunny day can cause the wax around the reeds to melt neccessitating a complete renovation.  The worst you can do to an accordion is store it in a damp place. The reeds will get rusty very quickly and the instrument will go badly out of tune.  Even if the accordion looks to be in perfect condition on the outside it will require a full overhaul of the reeds which is expensive;  this procedure involves the removal of the reeds from the wooden reed blocks,
goodreed.jpg (4996 bytes) (there are approx. 220 double-sided reeds & 400 valves in a full size accordion ) laid out on trays, cleaned thoroughly, re-valved, re-waxed back onto the wooden blocks and finally tuned.  The picture you see on the left shows just one side of one reed.  This kind of work (including any general repairs to the mechanisms) would take approximately two weeks and cost between 500-600.  If you store your accordion in its case it is best to wrap the straps behind the accordion rather than pulling them over the keyboard as over the years I have had to repair hundreds of keys that have been forced out of position by the strap buckles catching the edge of the key as the straps are pulled over, as well as having the possibility of scratching the cellulose covering.  

DON'T LEAVE YOUR ACCORDION IN DIRECT SUNLIGHT FOR LONG PERIODS!!!

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IF THE WAX THAT HOLDS ON THE REEDS GETS TOO HOT - - THE WAX  WILL MELT AND THEN YOU REALLY WILL HAVE PROBLEMS!    

Some manufacturers use a different amount of resin in the wax mixture so the effect might not be so bad as the picture opposite - however I don't think it is worth finding out which is the best mix, do you?
 Another common problem that can also occur to your instrument if you leave it in direct sunlight, is that over a period of time, the cellulose will discolour if it is not black.
(The accordion shown came in for repair recently after having been left in a shop window).

THIS CUSTOMER'S IDEA OF A HIGHER ACTION WENT A BIT TOO FAR!!! - HE SHOULD HAVE SPOKEN TO ME BEFORE HE HAD A GO AT IT.

  

Are they difficult to learn to play?
No, not at all. It helps enormously if you can already read music, play piano, or in fact any instrument to any degree. But even so, whether you are having personal tuition or if you follow a good tutor book, for example, the Anzaghi tutor, and practise consistently, your ability and technique will quickly improve. People believe that the co-ordination is very difficult but this is usually because they are trying to play both hands together before they have mastered each hand separately.  In addition, I believe it's good to have your instrument within easy access as this encourages the desire to pick it up and practise regularly instead of the hassle of having to pull it in and out of it's case which can cause damage if you are careless as described in a previous question.

I will try to add to this section on a regular basis, time allowing, (although it hasn't so far).  However, I hope that the content as it stands will still be helpful to those of you who have taken the time to read it.  Then again, if you have a problem that is worrying you regarding your accordion, simply give me a call and we can talk it through.

Emilio Allodi 



Back to the top of the page