There are risks in shipping an accordion, especially for older instruments. Not only should it be insured for full value, but it must also be packed correctly. This also applies to concertinas, pictured here:
All squeezeboxes: pack it securely with lots of padding within its case so that it cannot shift around in transit . Don't use packing peanuts unless you first wrap the accordion in bubblewrap - the peanuts can get inside through the grille, or get stuck under keys, buttons or flappers. Then pack the case inside a larger sturdy cardboard box, with ample padding between the case and the outside carton to immobilize the case as well. We recommend a minimum of 2" of padded space between the box and the case all around, to absorb shock. Make sure that the instrument can't shift around at all inside either its case or the outer carton!
Crumpled up newspaper, no matter how much is used, is poor packing material and should not be used except with very lightweight items - it tends to compress during shipment and loses its protective ability. Many older accordions are damaged from this type of improper packing, and UPS will not pay a claim when newspaper is used as protection. The most common type of damage is from bass mechanisms being knocked out of alignment. The second most common problem is when one or more reedblocks are jarred loose during shipment. This often happens when the carton is dropped. Reeds can be jarred loose from their wax, or corners of the body can be crushed, or the celluloid casing or the wooden parts of the accordion can get cracked. All these problems occur mainly when there is insufficient packing material of the proper type. Bubble wrap, foam, and packing peanuts are best. .
Shipping without a hard case is very risky. You can buy cases here. If it doesn't have a case, pack it inside 2 boxes as described above. Remember to leave at least a 2" padding between the inside and outside boxes. The instrument must be well cushioned all around, and must not be able to move around during shipping.
Another very important step on older piano accordions or chromatic button accordions with 48 or more left hand bass buttons is to make sure that the basses are properly secured, otherwise they are likely to dive underneath the bass keyboard when the package is jostled or dropped. This is especially important on 120 bass accordions (the full complement of left hand bass buttons). There are 2 ways to do this:
1. For accordions with 48 or fewer basses only -- do not use this as the only method for 120 bass accordions! -- place a couple of strips of wide CLEAR packing tape over the bass keyboard so that all of the bass buttons are sticking to the tape. (The person on the receiving end may have to use a plastic-safe citrus based solvent such as "Goo Gone" to remove the adhesive from the buttons). Don't push the buttons down. They should be held in the upright position by the tape. Don't use opaque packing tape - it is more difficult to remove. Masking tape can also be used.
This method of securing the basses is usually good enough for smaller accordions, such as 48 bass or under. If you want to be really safe, use the method below. The tape method is not OK for 72, 80, 96, 111, or 120 bass accordions - it won't be enough protection!
2. Larger accordions: The surefire method is to open up the bass cover of the accordion (the only tool you usually need is a small flathead screwdriver - be careful not to strip the screws) and wedge a long narrow strip of corrugated cardboard at the bottom of the button stop rail, underneath the bass mechanisms so as to prevent the buttons from being depressed, then close up the end again. The part that you open up with the screwdriver is the end that the accordion pictured to the right is sitting on. If you're lucky, your model has a quick-release mechanism instead of screws. The screws can be in different positions, sometimes doing double duty holding the feet onto the bass cover. Shown below is a common configuration.
In order to access the bass cover and screws, you first have to undo the left hand bass strap wheel all the way to free the strap. If your wrist strap doesn't have a wheel adjuster (top of accordion), you will have to unscrew the bass strap in order to access the bass mechanism cover .
Once you have the cover off, you will see that the buttons are all mounted to metal shafts, most of which are connected to others in a complicated meshwork of levers, rods, and pins. It is because of the way they are interconnected that they want to dive under the bassboard when jostled. (drawing is not exact or to scale)
Press down several of the chord buttons (the 4 rows farthest from the bellows). See the bottom of the depressed shafts, where they are now protruding below the bottom rail? That's where you will insert the cardboard, to prevent them from going below that rail. You may need more than 1 piece of cardboard to fill up the space.
Before you close up the end, test your work by seeing if you can push down a group of buttons all at once. If only the upper two rows (bass & counterbass -- the ones closer to the bellows) can be depressed, you're still safe, but if any of the (up to) four remaining chord rows can be pushed in, they aren't sufficiently protected.
On some older accordions it is extremely difficult to get at the places where the cardboard should go. If you can't figure out how to brace all the important rows, secure the ones you can get at, and back them up with the tape method described above. You can provide additional protection by placing a 1/2" thick piece of soft foam spongy padding or bubblewrap (cut to the proper rectangular size) over the front of the entire bass mechanism before putting the cover back on directly over the padding. The padding will press into and cushion the little protruding pins of the mechanism, and help prevent them from moving. This bracing method can also be used for button accordion bass mechanisms, which although they are rarely damaged in shipping, are nonetheless somewhat vulnerable. Warning! Do not use either styrofoam, anything brittle, or old crumbly foam, as little pieces will break off and wreak havoc with the mechanism.
The cardboard bracing or foam padding must be removed at the receiving end before the instrument can be played. Be sure to notify your recipient that you have secured the bass mechanism and provide instructions for removing the bracing, otherwise they may think the instrument is defective. They will also notice, if they play just the treble keyboard before unbracing the basses, that it is difficult to move the bellows and the instrument will play very stiffly until the basses are freed. The cardboard method is sure-fire if done properly: the buttons cannot possibly dive if they can't be depressed. We ship our 120 bass accordions this way.
Of course, if you receive an accordion braced in this manner, you will not be able to play on the left hand until you have removed the bracing. It is very important when reassembling the bass cover to be sure the air release button is poking through its hole. Otherwise, it will be caught underneath the bass cover and you will get little but air rushing through the basses, instead of music. It may take a little patience to get it into its hole, and you need to exercise some care to avoid damaging its mechanism. Sometimes you can poke it gently with a screwdriver to coax it into place as you put the bass cover back on.
Another thing that can be frustrating is to get the adjusting screw at the end of the bass strap to go back into place so that the strap will stay on. It helps to know in which direction to move the adjusting wheel to make it "catch" the screw threads. Place the accordion gently on its front, with the bass buttons pointing down and the bass adjusting wheel on your left. In order to loosen or remove the strap, you had to rotate the wheel upwards (in playing position, this would be towards your body). So to tighten the strap, or to catch the screw with the wheel as you reassemble it, rotate the wheel downwards (in playing position, away from your body).