What should I buy for my first accordion?
When looking for a first accordion to begin learning to play on, there are a multitude of different makes and models available, as well as a huge range of different prices, sizes and weights. This wide choice can often be somewhat confusing. In this guide, we’ve attempted to answer a few of the most common questions that people tend to ask us, such as pricing, size, tuning and more.
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. For example, you can often get an excellent quality guitar for around £500, but for the same amount, you would normally only be looking at an entry-level accordion.
This is partly due to the fact that all accordions, even the most basic models, are still fully built by hand, and due to the extremely complex nature of the production process, contain literally thousands of different components that must be painstakingly fitted. It is not unusual for a top quality accordion to take well over six months to produce.
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 £500!
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.
With this in mind, most people who take to it do usually find themselves wanting to upgrade within a year or so. A new Chinese accordion is still one of the cheapest ways to get into playing. Just as long as you’re not expecting to get an accordion for life!
However, for just a few hundred pounds more, 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 from the likes of Weltmeister, Delica, and the highly respected West German Hohner company. Occasionally older Italian accordions dating from the mid twentieth century will crop up as well.
The next step up in terms of budget, in the region of £1,000 to £2,000, brings into play quite a few varied choices of accordion. One of the most popular options would be a pre-owned mid range Italian accordion from one of the major manufacturers. New, or nearly new accordions from the German Weltmeister and Hohner companies will also fall into this price bracket.
Another very popular option within this price range would be a new E Soprani accordion. These solidly constructed instruments are designed and produced in Italy by the world famous Paolo Soprani factory of Castalfidardo. Although significantly more mass produced than their larger, and much more expensive, big brothers, the E Soprani range offers excellent tone and build quality and represents exceptional value for money.
Both of the price brackets above would be more than adequate for beginners and intermediate players. However, more advanced players may still find themselves wanting to upgrade to a more professional standard accordion after a few years.
Once again moving on up the ladder, the next step will be virtually always be made up of Italian instruments. For anywhere between £2,500 and £5,000 you would be looking at a brand new mid range Italian accordion, or a pre-owned high-end instrument.
A large selection of our stock falls in to this category, and some instruments will even be fitted with hand made reeds! If looking at the pre-owned accordions, you can get some excellent deals on hand crafted double cassotto 120 bass instruments, many also fitted with hand made reeds.
This level of accordion will usually be more than adequate for most players, and many people never find a need to progress beyond this type of instrument.
The final price bracket of roughly £5,000 – £6,000 upwards is exclusively composed of top quality professional standard instruments, built in Italy and fitted with the best of everything. The sky is really the limit here in terms of pricing, and it’s not uncommon to see new top end accordions with values of well over £10,000, and sometimes close to £20,000. This is the section for professional players, or indeed, the amateur who simply wants the best!
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!
There is some truth in the fact that larger people in the early stages of playing can occasionally find the larger instruments a little bit imposing due to the larger 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.
The reason for this is that the core section of buttons that would first be used when learning, are in the exact same position on both accordions. It is just that the larger instrument would have additional buttons on both ends, which can be completely ignored during the early stages of playing until the student is advanced enough to require the use of them.
In terms of weight, it is important to remember that an accordion should always be played sitting down. In the correct playing position, the instrument should rest comfortably on the legs of the player, and not hang from the straps. This will allow the weight to be borne evenly by the legs, and reduces the load carried by the straps significantly.
The shoulder straps are really only there to hold the instrument in position, and should never be used to bear the weight of the instrument. Also, despite popular belief, back straps are not really necessary if the accordion is in the right position, and most well respected teachers will strongly advise against using one. In reality, they can actually increase the load on a player’s back and shoulders.
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, or 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, with the notable exception of the Hohner Mignon which is a “real” accordion.
12 bass – Normally 26 treble keys. Also very much a children’s accordion, mainly targeted at the under tens. 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 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 of chords and normally have major, minor, sevenths and diminished buttons. 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 Harmona Rubin and the Paolo Soprani Professionale, 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 deleted. Due to the lack of diminished chords, 60 bass accordions are often a bit lighter in terms of weight than their 72 bass counterparts, and therefore are popular with players who need to move around whilst playing, for example Morris musicians, and players who only play relatively simple music not requiring diminished chords.
72 bass – This is a mid size accordion, and one of the most popular sizes in the UK. 34 keys is the norm, although 26 and 30 key “hybrid” models are increasingly being produced by 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 nearly always feature 37 treble keys, and, with the exemption of a few small factories, are very rarely made nowadays as a mainstream model. These instruments often have a three voice tuning, although four voice examples aren’t unheard of.
96 bass – Another hugely popular size in the UK, 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 tunings.
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 tunings 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, normally 132. 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”. These instruments were produced by various Italian factories from the late 1940’s up until the early 1970’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. Unfortunately, these aren’t produced new any more, but pre-owned examples do often turn up for sale from time to time.
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 utilises a selection of stops to bring in different pipes to change the tone.
Each note is fitted with two reeds, one for the outward motion of the bellows and one for when they are traveling inwards. 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 tunings, the two most common of which are usually known as “Musette” and “Double Octave”.
Musette tuning is designed mainly for the French and Scottish 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 also 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 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 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 01344 873717 (Sunningdale), 01706 658283 (Rochdale), or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
All text copyright SB 2017. All videos copyright Electronic Accordions Limited 2017
London Road (A30)
Sunningdale (Near Ascot)
Berkshire, SL5 0DJ
Telephone: 01344 873717