On Old Accordions
Like your grandfather’s jokes, accordions do not age particularly well. The reed plates are glued in place with a beeswax and rosin mixture, which hardens and starts to disintegrate after 30 – 50 years. The leather reed valves become dry and curled and must be replaced within a similar time frame. After being re-waxed and re-leathered, the entire accordion will have to be tuned by precisely filing and scratching hundreds of steel reeds. If an accordion has been stored in a moist environment like a cellar, it’s probable that the reeds will be rusty and that the bellows will be mildewy. Often, insects will have taken up residence in a neglected accordion and eaten the felt in the pallet pads and under the keyboard. In the South, I see accordions that have been devoured from within by wood-eating bugs. All in all, buying an old accordion – especially over the internet – is a risky business, and one can usually tell very little from the external appearance. Unlike your grandfather’s jokes, a dilapidated accordion can usually be restored to much of its former glory with many hours of skilled labor. People are often surprised to learn how much it will cost to fix their ancient accordion. Consider that a full size accordion with 4 sets of reeds in the treble and 5 in the bass contains 448 reeds, each of which may need attention. An accordion with 3 reeds in the treble contains 366 reeds, and that is to say nothing of the thousands of other individual parts of this complex instrument. Everything must be done by hand, and there is no shortcut. The accordion you bought on eBay or at a garage sale for $100 may need hundreds or even thousands of dollars of work in order to be worth playing. In fact, most second-hand accordions in music shops that do not specialize in accordions are no better.
On New Accordions
If you decide to buy a new accordion, you generally have a choice between a cheap one from China or an expensive one from Italy.
Cheap Chinese accordions often have Italian-sounding names, but if it does not prominently say “Made in Italy” it is most likely Chinese. Not to malign the Chinese or their products, but these accordions are mass-produced with inferior materials and craftsmanship. Hohner accordions, incidentally, are now made in China, and the quality has become quite bad, though they are still priced as if this were not the case. If you decide to buy a Chinese accordion, buy an honest-to-goodness one and not one pretending to be a Hohner at twice the price. If you are fairly serious and have the money, there are many excellent accordions still being made in Castelfidardo, Italy, long the center of the industry. Expect to pay at least $4000 for a new instrument of quality. For a new, professional, full-size accordion, expect to pay $8,000 – $15,000.
I like to buy old accordions, restore them, and release them back into the wild. While I prefer to examine them first, I will sometimes buy them online, assuming the risk so you don’t have to. Since I know what to look for, I usually do okay with this, but I also sometimes end up making a couple hundred dollars profit on something that needed 80+ hours of meticulous work to be sell-able. As an accordionist first and accordion technician second, my standard is that I will not sell anything that I wouldn’t enjoy playing myself. Therefore, everything I sell is in full, working mechanical order and in tune. My prices start at around $500 for a 2/4 reed student model. I frequently get calls from people looking for an accordion for $200 or less, and I have to explain that it’s not possible for me to sell anything that cheaply while still doing the work necessary to maintain this standard. As I keep my overhead low by working from home, doing all the work myself, and generally not being greedy, I am able to set my prices considerably lower than “proper” accordion shops. The reason my inventory is usually so small is that I am doing this work alone, and must, no pun intended, squeeze in restoring accordions to sell in between doing repairs for clients and being a musician.