If you don't have a music store in your area that deals in accordions, you can always try a pawn or antique shop, though you probably won't get much for it at those places. With a little effort, putting it up for auction on eBay is probably the best possibility, and one that we've had success with ourselves.
Check out other listings for sale to find accordions similar to yours, to help determine what you might want to start the bidding or fixed price at. Include several pictures of the accordion and as detailed a description as you can about its features and playing condition. In our experience, the more detailed description we provide, the more bids we get -- even when we note that repairs are needed. There are lots of accordion collectors and people who do their own repairs who look for good deals on eBay. They'll know what they're looking for and will bid on the accordion appropriately. Set a low starting bid and see where it goes; you might be surprised! You also may get a fair amount of interest from international bidders. Shipping accordions internationally can be fraught with difficulty -- so if you don't want to bother with that, specify US bidders only on your listing.
Checking out the condition of a used accordion:
Except for the section about registers, this advice also applies to button accordions and concertinas that have no switches. Have a notepad and a pencil handy, so you can take notes as you go along, especially when you get around to checking out the reeds.
- Check the condition of the carrying case. Look for broken or missing hardware. A musty smelling case or bellows is an indication that the instrument may have been improperly cared for and stored, probably in a damp basement. Not only is this smell difficult to get rid of, but it's possible that mold has caused damage to the wood and leathers on the interior, and the reeds may be rusted.
- Check the body of the accordion, looking for chips missing from the corners, cracks in the celluloid or wood, scratch marks indicating abuse, etc. Check the condition of all the leather straps, particularly the ends that go through the metal holding brackets on the accordion, top and bottom. If the straps are very worn, it's safer to remove them entirely than to risk their breaking while you are wearing the accordion.
- Check for missing or broken hardware -- bellows clips, bass feet, strap hardware, register switches, etc.
- Check the bellows all around, look for signs of wear, especially on the folds at the bottom and facing the chest of the player (belt buckle wear). Check the bellows corners, look for metal corners that are missing or coming loose. Depress the air release button and open the bellows, looking for dirt, dust, and lint deep between the folds, and also in the inside corners. The air release button on a piano accordion is found poking through the bass cover at the left hand side, towards the top of the accordion when held in playing position.
- Check the Compression: Unhook the bellows clips (usually, 2 metal or leather straps that hold the bellows closed, top and bottom of accordion. On some button accordions, these are on the front and back). Hold the instrument, or strap it on, and pull gently on the bellows without depressing any buttons or keys. There should be a very strong resistance. With a concertina, it is safer to hold the instrument by one end and allow gravity to open the bellows, which should happen very slowly. If it is easy to open the bellows, or if you hear or feel air hissing out anywhere, you have a problem with leaks. There will not be enough compression to drive the reeds properly. It may be the bellows themselves, or the gaskets, or a loose reedblock, or something else internal, such as your air release button being stuck or the valve pad not seating properly. Obviously, if you also hear notes sounding and you are not depressing a key or button, the instrument needs repair.
Look at the keyboard edge on, particularly the white keys. What you're looking for are keys that are out of level. A properly levelled keyboard is unusual in a very old instrument, unless it has been well cared for. If you rest a ruler flat across the tops of the white keys, it may make it easier to see the ones that are off level. If the keys are only very slightly out of level, it may still be playable, but in most cases, the irregularity will impede performance.
Very old keyboards may have crazing, cracking or chips missing from the keytops, so that you can see the wood beneath. While this may not necessarily hamper every player, they do reduce the value of the accordion.
Strap on the instrument so that you can play it and check the reeds. Put your arms through the shoulder straps (one strap goes over each shoulder) so that the piano keys are to your right and you bear the weight of the accordion on your shoulders, and slip your left hand through the bass strap so that your wrist is between the strap and the left side of the accordion (take off your wristwatch first). If it is a button accordion, the side with the most buttons is usually the right hand side.
- Your goal is to listen to one treble reed at a time, if you have a separate register for each voice. Often the single-reed registers (switches, couplers, stops) will have a single dot on them, like this one below, which denotes the "clarinet" reed.
- Some 2-voice accordions have no registers at all, because they only make one sound: 2 reeds together (either musette or octave tuning). That makes your job a little harder, because you have to listen very carefully for problems as you play each note. If one note sounds much thinner than all the rest, it is probably because one of the two reeds that should be speaking are silent.
- If there are registers on the treble side, you can start by activating the lowest voice first (usually the "bassoon" register, if your accordion has at least 3 treble registers). For register identification, see Treble Voices - How to Tell What the Switches Do. An abbreviated chart is given below. This is a typical bassoon register marking:
- Let some air into the bellows with the air button on the left hand side, which should be near your left thumb.
- Now play the lowest note on the treble side by itself, first by pushing in on the bellows, then by pulling out. Try this at different pressures. Listen for any funny sounds, squeaks, buzzes, spitting, hesitation or sourness. Listen also for the relative tuning of the push and pull notes - they should sound precisely the same. If you hear a problem, write down the note name and number of the key (for example, F-1, if this is a 41 key accordion, or C-1, if it is a typical 12 bass accordion with 25 keys) and which bellows direction has the problem. If you don't know the note name, just give its number.
- Proceed all the way up the keyboard in this manner, until you have checked every treble note on this register in both bellows directions, both white and black keys.
- Now find the register that plays the middle voice (often called "clarinet"), and do the same thing as you did with the bassoon register. It may look like this:
- Then repeat with the high register ("piccolo"), if you have one. You can expect to hear some problems on the higher notes in the piccolo register, on an old accordion. It may look like this:
- After you've checked out all the individual treble reeds, activate each of the switches above the keyboard to see that all the different registers are working. Besides the 2-reed musette shown above, you might have any of these (with other possible nomenclature):
musette master musette master
Now set the bass switch (on the left hand side of the instrument) to the "master" setting, if you have bass couplers, and do the same thing with each button: hold down a single button, pull out with the bellows, push in, listen for problems. There probably won't be any, but there may be some sticking buttons, that don't pop right back up after they are pushed. It's also very common to have a bass note that sounds all the time. Obviously, this is not right and will need to be repaired, not to mention that it will make it impossible for you to verify any of the treble notes or check on bellows compression.
You're all done checking it out as far as its physical condition goes, but if you're a player, you'll want to play it for awhile to listen for the intonation, overall tone, volume, dynamic range, balance between the left and right sides, and especially the action.
Do the keys spring up smartly at the end of the notes, can you do rapid staccato triplets or is the action too mushy, are they quiet or is there a lot of clicking, is the action too high or too low for your style, is the key width comfortable for you, are the black keys too thin, are the white keys too short, etc.
If there is another person with you who can play it, sit a few feet away and listen to them. Often an accordion sounds quite different when you're playing it yourself.