Information On Older Accordions
We receive inquiries nearly every day from people searching for information on an older accordion - usually either from a relative's estate, or that they bought from a yard sale, etc. We receive so many inquiries, in fact, that it's not possible to answer each one individually - so we direct inquiries to this article, which we hope will be helpful to those searching for information. There is also this Facebook group you can post in, and you may get some guidance from the accordion community.
You may have found our website after a fruitless internet search trying to find information on your accordion's brand name. Perhaps you're thinking you have a rare and valuable accordion because you can't find out anything about it - unfortunately, that's probably not the case. In the "Golden Age" of accordion manufacturing in Italy (the mid 1900s), there were literally hundreds of accordion companies and brand names making instruments. Though a handful of them are still in operation, most stopped manufacturing decades ago, and there is little historical information available about these companies. Your accordion may even have a serial number, but in most cases there are no records for tracking these numbers.
Some accordions were even manufactured without brand names, so that a retail shop could add their own name later when they offered it for sale. There are also quite a lot of these nameless instruments floating around out there, and there is no way to identify which company originally made them.
When it comes down to placing a value on an older accordion, the brand name often doesn't mean a whole lot anyway, except in a handful of cases. Appraising an accordion's value is not a straightforward process, because they generally do not have "Blue Book values" like many other instruments (such as guitars) do. Below, we offer some information to assist those who may be looking to sell their accordion. If you are within driving distance of our shop in Takoma Park, MD, you may email us photos and any information you know about an accordion you're interested in selling, and we will let you know if we're interested in having you bring in in for sale/trade/consignment consideration. We are especially interested in piano accordions of 48-72 bass sizes that are in good condition. We do not accept accordions for sale or consignment that would need to be shipped to us.
So - how much is your accordion worth? The short answer is, it's worth what someone is willing to pay for it. This could vary widely depending on where -- and by what method -- the accordion is being sold (by an individual on Craigslist or eBay, at a pawn shop or antique store, by a reputable accordion shop, and also by geographic region; the same instrument might fetch a higher price in New York City than it would in rural Arkansas). We always suggest taking a look on eBay (at current and "sold" listings) to see what a similar instrument is going for - and you will likely encounter a very wide price range. The "sold" listings will probably give you the most realistic figures. You can also take a look at our current used accordion listings for sale.
With older accordions, playing condition is the most important factor. Like cars, accordions need to have regular servicing every few years to remain in good condition. When they sit for decades unplayed - even in a case in a climate-controlled environment - the moving parts inside can tend to deteriorate, especially the leather, felt, glue and wax. Not all of these problems may be evident from the exterior condition or even a quick play-test. For an accurate evaluation, you really need to have an accordion repair expert open up the instrument and examine the interior. These folks can often be hard to find these days, so if you scroll further in this article, you'll find a guide to walk even a novice through checking out the condition of an accordion.
Repairs by a trained expert can end up being very costly if a complete overhaul is needed. This is why the potential value or selling price of an accordion is based largely on its playing condition, and what repairs it might need. Most of the used accordions that we sell have had some type of repairs done before they go up for sale.
We also look at the features a particular accordion has. There are numbers of bass buttons: 120 is the most common and considered "full size," although there are different sizes within this designation. An interesting phenomenon is that in recent years, people have been tending to want to trade their larger and heavier 120-bass accordions for smaller, more manageable sizes. So we have found that the selling prices of even professional-model 120-bass accordions have gone down recently, as they are tending to be less desirable.
Another important feature is how many treble reed banks the accordion has. You can determine this by looking at the switches located above the treble keyboard. If there are only 2-4 switches, the accordion probably has two treble reed banks (most commonly a Low and a Middle bank, or LM). The switches will also illustrate with lines or dots how many reed sets there are. Accordions with more switches may have 3-4 treble reed banks, perhaps Low-Middle-High (LMH) or Low-Middle-Middle (LMM), or LMMH. Accordions with two Middle banks are often referred to as having "Musette" tuning. The two middle banks are purposely tuned slightly "off" from each other to create a vibrato-type effect that can be desirable for certain types of music. The more reed banks an accordion has, the more professional a model it usually is - but this also usually means the accordion is larger and heavier, which again, may not be as desirable anymore.
Other desirable features can include:
- "Waterfall" keys with sloped ends, which can be more comfortable to play
- A Palm Master Switch located on the keyboard's outer edge, which allows the player to make a register shift quickly
- An internal electronic pickup (look for a 1/4" input jack)
There are plenty of cosmetic niceties you may find such as pearloid keys, rhinestones, fancy binding or trim, or "deco" style grilles. But depending on the accordion's overall condition, these cosmetic features don't necessarily make it more valuable.
Selling an accordion yourself:
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). 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.