I’ve been looking to buy a piano accordion. Why? I just love the sound, they’re an intriguing and mysterious instrument to most people and I have a growing habit of buying interesting instruments then failing to learn to play them. Still, a lot of the fun is in the chase, and I’m maximising my enjoyment of this one!

To that end, I’ve been devouring information about piano accordions online, though I’m still yet to actually touch one! Hopefully I’ll manage that later this week with a visit to a London music shop, but for now, here’s my ultra-condensed guide to what I think I need to know about accordions in order to make an informed purchasing decision. We’ll see if I was actually right.

  • Piano accordions can have different numbers of piano keys (right-hand) and bass buttons (left-hand). The ‘full’ set is 41 piano keys and 120 bass buttons.

  • The bass buttons (in a 120 bass at least) are laid out in 6 rows, with top two rows being single note counter-bass and bass, the the remaining four playing chords rooted on their associated bass note. So the left hand can play individual notes and chords. This is known as a Stradella bass system.

  • A free bass system just has lots of individual notes, so you must form chords manually with multiple presses at once. This is considered by some to be a more purist approach and allows greater musical flexibility, especially for the classical scene.

  • Some ‘converter’ accordions can switch between Stradella and free bass. I’d like one of those (I want the moon on a stick) but I get the impression they’re not so common and probably not cheap.

  • Speaking of cheap, though you can get small accordions (e.g. with only as few as eight bass buttons) for less than £100, it looks like you need to spend £400 or more to get a 120 bass accordion from a cheap Chinese manufacturer. £1500 will buy a half-decent Italian model, but the options just get more expensive from there.

  • Accordions are heavy – think 8Kg or more. They come with shoulder straps as a rule.

  • There is more than one way to tune an accordion, giving quite different types of sound. Tuning is a job for an expert (requires tweaking metal reeds) and probably done every five years or more, so best buy one that’s tuned well to start with!

  • It doesn’t matter how hard you press the piano keys or buttons – volume is controlled by your pressure on the bellows. Apparently this can be hard for a pianist to get to grips with, being more akin to bowing a cello.

I repeat: this is just what I think is true – I stand to be corrected, and will post an update as the story unfolds.

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