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Many people think that instruments from any particular name brand are alike.  In fact, each company produces a whole range of different models with different features and quality.  When most people start to learn about the accordion, there are many specifications they do not understand.  Here is a quick description of each feature.

TYPES OF ACCORDIONS

There are several types of accordions:

Piano accordions are the most popular types of accordionsThey have between 25 and 45 piano style treble keys on the right hand and usually a bass-chord keyboard on the left.  This bass-chord pattern is the most popular system.  The proper name for this system is the stradella system.  The typical complete stradella system has 120 bass buttons.  This system approaches the power of a piano, but is much more portable.  Piano accordions come in various sizes with the number of piano keys proportionate to the number of bass buttons.  See the section on size for a description of the number of piano keys and the number of bass buttons.
A chromatic accordion is an instrument that has 3 to 5 rows of treble buttons laid out in increments of 1/2 steps.  This system has numerous advantages over the piano style system (which is also chromatic).  These are not as popular as the piano keyboard style.
A diatonic button accordion is an accordion that has bass and chord buttons on the left side and from one to three rows of buttons on the right side.  Each treble row has a key-scale.  Thus, a three-row diatonic button accordion would play in three keys while a one-row diatonic would only be in one key.  For each row on the right side, there are typically four bass buttons on the left side. Each group of four bass buttons plays with one row of treble buttons.  Diatonic button accordions do not play every note in every key.  A diatonic button accordion plays different notes for each button depending on the bellow direction.  The diatonic system means that adjacent notes are harmonious.  Staying within any one row is like holding a chord on a guitar and plucking any notes in that chord.  These are great for folk music.  They are easy to learn if you are someone who is not too deliberate.  You just push buttons and swing the bellows for music to come out.  Some diatonic accordions are chromatic, but this is somewhat less common.
The bassetti system refers to the left hand of an accordion.  This system can be added to a chromatic accordion or a piano accordion.  This is sometimes called a Free Bass Accordion.  The bassetti system is usually the same as a chromatic system in its layout.  This gives you another full range keyboard on the left side of the accordion.  Now you can play any inversion of any chord.  This is supposedly therefore  a more "legitimate" orchestral instrument.  Most people do not use the free bass systems for all but the most difficult pieces.  Some of the older free bass accordions have their bassetti laid out in fifths.  The most popular use of the bassetti or free bass systems is in addition to the stradella (bass-chord) layout.  Either there are three extra rows of buttons closer to the bellows or the stradella buttons can be made to convert.  There are pros and cons for each way of adding bassetti to the stradella accordion.
Electronic accordions have much more than microphones.  These instruments allow you to play an organ, synthesizer or sampler along with the accordion.  These instruments have the same range of quality found in any accordion.  Each key is wired up to a multiplexer or computer to add  an electronic sound to the accordion reed sound. 
MIDI accordions should still have reeds.  The accordion reeds become your lead instrument.  The true MIDI accordions have a specific wiring, specific voltages, and specific connectors with a uniform digital output that allows them to be tied into a wide variety of organs, keyboards, and computers from different companies.  MIDI instruments from any manufacturer can therefore be connected to work together.  The MIDI signal is not the sound, but an interface.  MIDI  says nothing about the quality of the reeds, quality of sound, variety, or ease of use of the electronic sound source.  To learn more about MIDI, purchase our Basics of MIDI Tape.
Reedless accordions are an old story.  The Hohner Electrovox and Farfisa Transicord were the original reedless accordions.  These instruments had up to date electronics for their time.  History has shown that because these accordions lacked a real accordion (timeless) they soon became dated.  It is common knowledge that at first the  Accorgan and then the Cordovox took over as the electronic model.  Today, some reedless accordions are useful if they are significantly lighter than the corresponding real accordion.  Of course, some full blown MIDI accordions are lighter than some reedless accordions.  Some players buy a MIDI accordion and remove some or all the reeds.  This allows these players to return those reeds to the accordion for more of a "combo" effect when these players become bored with the elecronics alone. 

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NEW VS. REBUILT

At Accordion-O-Rama, you can get a very fine instrument whether it is new or rebuilt.  New is nice, but the rebuilt models generally offer the best value.  This is not the same as used ones.  Our team of specialists really go over the instruments.  If you discuss your purchase with the expert sales staff at Accordion-O-Rama, you can be sure to get an instrument that will suit your specifications and a realistic budget. Accordion-O-Rama has a repair staff.  Our mechanic, tuner, and electronic specialists really go over the accordions.  Some fine instruments are completely dismantled and re-assembled to look, play, and sound like new.  Most music stores are not set up to do this.  Thus, a rebuilt accordion from Accordion-O-Rama is usually a better price than a new accordion, but more expensive than some old thing that was lying around in a basement for many years and then dusted off.  If you buy a rebuilt accordion from Accordion-O-Rama, you can be sure it will give you fine service because you do get a guarantee.

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SIZE
120 Bass or not.

The stradella system in most piano accordions is what gives the accordion its power.  The piano keys play the melody.  The left hand plays two parts of the song: one section for bass and another for chords. This is like a rock group with a lead, rhythm, and bass guitar rolled into one instrument.  The stradella system ranges from 8 or 12 bass up to 120 or 140 bass.  There are special systems that go even beyond this.  The most typical complete system has 120 bass and 41 treble keys.  This is balanced left to right hand.  The number of bass buttons and the number of treble keys allows you roughly equal range on both sides of the accordion.  As you reduce the number of bass buttons in certain logical steps, the number of treble keys is also reduced.

The lowest number of bass buttons commonly found is in the 12 bass accordion.  This usually has 25 treble keys.  These instruments do not have enough bass buttons to play very much of anything. We recommend these to children where the child can earn his/her way up to a better instrument.
Accordion-O-Rama usually recommends adults or teens start with the 48 bass accordion.  This amount of bass buttons is balanced with 26 treble keys.  You theoretically can find any possible bass note on the left hand, but it is really meant to play in the keys of C, G or F.  These are extremely light in weight, easy to handle, and can play the bulk of accordion music.  When you get to the point where you would want to trade-up, these are models you would want to keep.  The attraction is the extreme light weight and portability.  Experienced musicians can find enough substitutions, or roots, to play anything.
60 or 72 bass accordions are the next common configuration.  These have 34 keys to be balanced.  They share the same overall size frame.  Since the 60 bass is missing the diminished chord row or the outer bass row and would have virtually the same size/weight as the 72, it would be a shame to only get 60 bass.  These are for intermediate players. You can just about play anything with the 34 keys.  This has enough range for a casual player to never need to go beyond.
80 and 96 bass accordions are virtually complete.  These are normally made with 37 keys.  Most songs don’t require you to go to the very top notes.  With 37 keys, most players don’t notice they are only playing a 96 bass.  There are enough redundant buttons to allow you to play in very high positions without making big jumps.  The 80 bass is missing the diminished chords on the extreme distal end of the left hand chord section.  As long as you have the overall size of the frame determined by the 37 keys, why not have the diminished chords of the 96 bass accordion.  All the reeds have to be there anyway.  We recommend the 96 bass for people who want to just trim the weight slightly.  If you never played a 120 bass, you will never miss a thing.  G to G on the right is enough.  This is the first size model that is normally available with the full set of 4 treble reed sets and sometimes even a tone chamber.
The standard 120 bass has 41 treble keys that runs from F to A.  When an instrument has 41 treble keys and 120 bass, it is not necessarily a full size instrument.  We have small 120 bass models with a 16", 41 key keyboard.  Other models have the 41 keys measuring to a 19 1/4" keyboard. The overall pattern of the 120 bass stradella system means the left hand buttonboard has 2 sections.  The 2 rows nearest the bellows play single deep bass notes.  The outer rows play major, minor, seventh, and diminished chords.  The root notes for these chords are determined by their relative position to the C bass note which is always marked (sometimes other markers are added as well).  The system used to lay out these bass notes and their chords is called the circle of fifths. A fifth is a harmonious interval.  This means each adjacent bass will harmonize.  People play simple tunes by playing one bass button up, one bass button downward, or one bass button over (a third).  This is the reason for the redundancy in the left hand.
Most people don’t even know that there are models with 140 or 185 bass with a balanced treble key range of 41 to 45 treble key ranges.  The 140 bass models have either an extra row of bass buttons on the bass row or an augmented chord row on the outside of the diminished chord row. The 185 bass accordions have the full 120 bass and then a set of 3 rows of bassetti.

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REEDS

Another common feature is the number of reeds.  This is usually stated as a fraction.  The higher the numbers, the more reeds the instrument has.  Again there is a balance.  As the number of treble reeds increases, so does the number of bass reeds.

2/4 reeds means that, at most, 2 treble reeds can play simultaneously for each treble key and 4 bass reeds can play for each bass note.
3/5 reeds means that 3 treble reeds can be played for each treble key and 5 bass reeds can be made to play for each bass button.
Other combinations follow the same pattern.

As you increase the number of reeds, you get more variety of sounds and a more powerful sound.  This  also increases the overall weight of the instrument.  The quality of the reeds and the acoustics of the frame are also factors in determining the "power".

Hand made reeds and hand finished reeds perform better than commercial reeds. Both are less made by hand than what you probably expect.  These better reeds have an aluminum plate that the reed is mounted on which is cut more closely to match the reeds movement than a commercial reed.  Hand made reeds are cut from a band of steel.  This band is more consistent in quality and thickness than the large sheet of steel the lesser quality reeds are stamp-cut from.  The final tuning on  the very best reeds is done with more attention to detail and therefore more precision.  These features add significantly to the cost of the overall instrument.  Some modern reed makers offer hand finished reeds that can approach the performance of hand made reeds.

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MUSETTE VS. DRY TUNING

As stated before, the more reeds you get, the greater variety of sounds.  Musette is one typical type of sound.  There are various ways to get musette and there are different amounts of it.  Some accordions are dry tuned.  Others have a little musette while some have a lot of musette.  Others have double musette.  Musette is the typical French sound and has a little sparkle or wavering to it.  Musette is very popular for polkas and waltzes.  Dry tuning is very popular for jazz and classical music.  The best accordions have some of each.  The Accordion-O-Rama "Demo" video tape is useful to let you hear some accordions with musette and other sounds.  At Accordion-O-Rama we can help you find the instrument with the emphasis on the type of sound you want.

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TONE CHAMBER

A tone chamber accordion means the frame of the accordion is made to act like a megaphone.  This works to project the sound out of the frame AND to mellow the reeds.  The meaning of a double, triple, and quadruple tone chamber in terms of their effect are best left to a later time.  It is only best to say that a quadruple tone chamber is not necessarily better than a double or single tone chamber.  If the accordion has a true tone chamber and not some form of imitation, the price goes up.

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RHINESTONES

Rhinestones can be added to any new accordion you purchase.  There are companies that have the machinery that sets these rhinestones into the surface of the accordion.  Different amounts of rhinestones can be added as well as various color schemes.  Some people just have their own name carved into the instrument in rhinestones.  Other people just about glitzed the whole accordion.  This is a personal choice.

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WEIGHT

The weight is primarily determined by the overall size of the accordion.  More reeds usually means more weight.  The weight can be reduced by having more smaller keys or a smaller number of full size keys. Smaller accordions usually have less reeds as well. A tone chamber also adds weight to the accordion.

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ANGLO VS.ENGLISH CONCERTINAS

A concertina is a melody instrument.  It does not have bass chords and melody regions in one instrument.  Concertinas can be Anglo or English.

An Anglo concertina isn’t meant to play chords.  It plays melodies, simple harmonies or small groups of notes.  It can not play all notes.  Anglo concertinas play different notes in each direction and rarely are chromatic.  Even if they are chromatic, you can not always play the right notes at the same time because of the push-pull sides.

An English style concertina is more powerful, can play any song in any key, and can play all chords.  The original and generally the finest concertinas were Wheatstone concertinas that were made in England.

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MICROPHONES

Accordion mics are quite varied.  There are many companies making the actual microphone elements. The overall system is more important than whether company X, Y or Z made the actual element.

The old fashioned silver dollar pick-ups are still good for many small accordions.  These are really transducers.  That means they change sound energy directly into electrical energy.  There is no preparation necessary for playing and you can get a fairly good tone.

Modern condenser mics offer a much more natural tone with much more power and cover the different areas of the accordion much more evenly.  These more sophisticated systems usually require a battery and multiple outputs for total control of the signal.  Accordion-O-Rama usually installs these mics for you because the installation is more difficult.  Nonetheless, Super Mic kits are available.

Your level of playing expertise may influence how fancy an instrument you purchase.  Some professionals don’t buy professional quality instruments and some novices like to have the best.  It is usually cheaper to go for a better instrument right off the bat.  Thus, if the choice is starting off with a beginner’s 12 bass or a moderate 48 bass, Accordion-O-Rama usually starts adults with a 26 key 48 bass instrument because they are useful even if you have a big 120 bass model.  We don’t start people off with the extreme best (unless they want it) because accordions are sophisticated and expensive instruments.  Trading up, down or sideways can cost you a extra money since any honest dealers have to make something on each transaction.  At Accordion-O-Rama, purchasers can actually try a full range of new and rebuilt accordions, as well as the full range of quality and tonal styles.

            

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