I receive many messages from people asking for suggestions about how to find a good used piano accordion to start studying. If you are not lucky enough to receive an old accordion as a gift from a relative, it can be difficult to understand what to look for especially if you search your first instrument on eBay or Craigslist.
The accordion is an instrument that tends to deteriorate if it’s not played for a long time so even if you happen to find one in perfect aesthetic condition there is no guarantee that it will sound fine. However, a good appearance may still indicate that this is a relatively new or barely used accordion and that any repairs can be done without breaking the bank.
Conversely, an accordion that has too many defects at first sight, will hardly play well unless the seller can assure you that he has played it often and that he has already done some maintenance on the internal components in recent times.
Like many other musical instruments, the accordion often has to undergo maintenance to function properly. Professional accordionists play instruments that cost several thousand dollars but even they have to monitor the condition of some internal parts (leather, glue, wax, cork and felt).
So expect to spend a few hundred dollars in addition to the price for any repair.
If you are thinking of improvising yourself as a repairer, my suggestion is to change your mind as to repair an accordion you need special tools as well as a lot of experience. You would risk making the situation worse.
Piano accordions are classified by several features, the first one we will consider is the number of bass buttons.
There are several sizes, the most common is the 120 bass. There are also 180 bass accordions but they are quite rare. Below 120 bass, the most common size is 80 or 60 bass. The smaller accordions have 48, 24, or 12 bass buttons.
I don’t recommend buying a used piano accordion with less than 80 bass buttons as the reduced range of the keyboard could be a problem and limit the repertoire playable on that accordion.
Number of switches
The number of switches above the keyboard indicates the number of banks of reeds in the accordion. Each register selects a different set of reeds, so the greater the number of switches, the greater the variety of timbres.
Most accordions have between 2 and 4 reed ranks on the keyboard and between 3 and 5 reed ranks for bass.
Some of the best accordions have an element called “cassotto”: a resonant wooden box that gives the accordion a particular sound. Accordions that have cassotto cost more but are undoubtedly the best.
Testing the accordion
Besides everything related to the external parts of the accordion that are easily replaceable or repairable, it’s much more important to test some components of the accordion.
Bellows compression and seal
Check the bellow, search for damaged corners or folds, particularly at the base because of the friction with the belt buckle. The bellow is easy to replace but a new one has a high cost.
If it’s in good shape then you have to unhook the bellows hooks and tilt the left side of the accordion slightly downwards to see if it open without playing any notes.
The opening movement must be quite slow in a good instrument otherwise it means that there are abundant air leaks. If you can, ask the vendor to record a short video.
I do not recommend buying accordions that have keyboard defects. The keys must be leveled correctly otherwise it will be very uncomfortable to play. Leveling a keyboard is an expensive operation, and this defect indicates that the accordion has not been used for decades.
Now we need to proceed to test each note of the accordion. First, you need to locate single voice switchers, they are usually indicated by a single dot symbol.
Select a single voice switcher and starting from the first key of the keyboard, play each note by opening and closing the bellows. There is a reed for both movements so make sure both are working properly. Continue testing all keys, note by note. Again I highly recommend asking the vendor to record a short audio file in case you can’t try the instrument in person.
If all notes work well it is a very good sign of quality. If one or two voices are silent, it is likely that it is an instrument that has not been played for some years but still repairable in most cases. If there’re a lot of mute keys or if most of the notes have poor sound quality, forget it. Probably the leathers that close the reeds are in bad condition and it is not advisable to buy as it’s an expensive repair.
Accordion bass works thanks to a complicated lever mechanism. On an older instrument, it is easy to find some bass buttons not responsive as it should be. Make sure that the bass buttons do not lock after pressing them, if this happens you will need to clean the mechanisms. As in the case of the keyboard, you have to test the sound of each button and evaluate the state of the leathers and reeds.
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Author: Giovanni Lucifero