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Accordions are versatile instruments that have a place in a range of musical genres, from folk to jazz to rock. They might be fairly uncommon instruments to learn, but they're interesting and fulfilling to play, especially if you're a fan of bands that tend to feature accordions.
If you're a first time accordion buyer, you might be wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. As with any musical instrument, you'll come across a range of terminology that's likely to leave you baffled. But, don't worry — we at BestReviews are here to talk you through the jargon, and teach you all you need to know to buy the right accordion for your musical endeavors.
In order to craft our thorough, unbiased reviews, we test products in our labs and in real-world situations, consult experts, and gather feedback from existing customers who have extensive first-hand knowledge of the items in question. Read on for our full guide to accordions. Then, when you're ready to buy, consult the product matrix at the top of the page for our five favorites.
Here we examine the four most common types of accordion: piano, diatonic, chromatic, and concertina.
Piano accordions are a newer invention than button accordions, but have overtaken the traditional kind in popularity. Instead of having buttons, they're played using piano-style keyboards.
Pros: Easy to learn if you're already proficient at piano or keyboard, tend to be more affordable than button accordions; since they're so popular you may have a wider selection to choose from.
Cons: Tend to be quite bulky, and they have fewer treble notes than button accordions.
Price: Around $150 to $1,000 — although smaller-scale kids' models can be found for around $50.
Due to the way the notes are arranged, you generally need to make larger leaps and stretches between far apart notes on a piano accordian than you would between the same notes on a button accordion.
Concertinas are smaller, hexagonal accordions. Anglo concertinas are diatonic, and English concertinas are chromatic.
Pros: Small and lightweight compared to other types of accordion, with both diatonic and chromatic options available.
Cons: Fewer notes than other accordion varieties. You typically can't play chords with a single button.
Price: $150 to $500.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
HOHNER Panther 3-Row Diatonic
For Adult Beginners
The Hohner Panther 3-Row Diatonic Accordion is intended for adults and mature adolescents who can comfortably operate a nine-pound instrument for a lengthy period of time. It's keyed to play songs in G, C, F, and their relative minors. As such, it's a great accordion for adult beginners.
Diatonic accordions are a variety of button accordion which use a diatonic scale. Each button produces a different pitch, depending on whether the bellows are being pushed in or pulled out.
Pros: Generally easier to learn compared to chromatic models, since there are fewer notes. They’re also more compact than most other types of accordions.
Cons: Less versatile than chromatic accordions, the diatonic scale mostly contains natural notes, and leaves out flats and sharps.
Price: $300 to $3,000.
Diatonic accordions have bass and chord buttons on the left hand, and treble buttons on the right hand. Each row of treble buttons plays in one key only, so you can tell how many keys a diatonic accordion plays in by counting the rows of treble buttons.
Chromatic accordions are button accordions, like diatonic models, but they use a chromatic scale. All the keys are a semitone apart, so all notes are covered, including flats and sharps.
Pros: Wider range of notes compared to other accordions, yet still relatively compact (though this depends on the number of buttons). It’s easier to play complex pieces since the buttons are close together.
Cons: May take longer to learn than a piano accordion due to unfamiliar keyboard, and they’re fairly expensive.
Price: $500 for a basic model, up to $10,000 for an extremely high-end instrument.
Chromatic accordions are unisonic, meaning they play the same note whether you're pushing the bellows in or pulling them out.
Typically, the left hand of an accordion plays bass notes and the right hand plays treble. On the bass side, many accordions use the stradella system, which allows you to play full chords by pressing a single button.
Free bass accordions, however, have single bass notes, so you can create chords yourself by pressing a number of notes at the same time. The benefit of the free bass system is that you can play any inversion of any chord, rather than just standard chords. The downside is that it's harder to play.
Free bass accordions aren't necessary for most players, especially not beginners, but are ideal if you want to play complex classical pieces.
The more keys or buttons you have on an accordion, the wider amount of notes you can play, and the more versatile your accordion is.
An accordion can have anywhere between 22 and 45 treble keys, and 8 and 185 bass keys. The most common amount of keys for a "full" accordion is 41 treble keys and 120 bass keys, but most players will do just fine with fewer than that.
For learning, we recommend a 26/48 model — that is, an accordion with 26 treble keys and 48 bass keys.
The number of keys on an accordion is expressed as two numbers either side of forward slash — for instance, 41/120. The first is the number of treble keys and the second is the number of bass keys.
Some accordions are fairly ornate, whereas others have a more plain design. Everyone has different things that they're looking for in an accordion, so the design might be quite important to some buyers and not much of a concern to others.
Basic accordions usually aren't heavily adorned, but may have some metal detailing or a design on the bellows, plus you can find them in a range of colors.
High-end accordions are often handcrafted, and have intricate inlays and metalwork.
Pay attention to which keys your chosen instrument can play in. You'll be annoyed if your accordion only plays in C and F, but most of your favorite songs are in G.
A tone chamber is built in to some accordions to mellow the sound of the reeds, giving a smoother, richer tone.
Accordions that feature tone chambers tend to cost more than those without, so most first time buyers would go for a standard, non-chambered accordion.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
D'Luca Kids Piano Accordion, 17 Keys
A Smaller Instrument
The D'Luca Kids Piano Accordion is not as large as a full-fledged accordion, but the manufacturer calls it a "real instrument" instead of a toy. Players use an actual keyboard to create melodies; there are 17 keys in all, both black and white. Eight bass chord buttons are available, allowing the player to perform in a number of different tonalities.
Consider the size and weight of your chosen accordion. You might want a model with the full 120 bass notes, but if it's going to be too big and heavy for you to handle, you'd be better off with a smaller model.
Most players find that sitting down is the most comfortable playing position, but you can also play standing up if you have a good strap.
If you're a new player, look for a good instructional DVD, or take lessons in person. It's much easier to learn correct finger placement when you can see it, rather than reading it in a book.
The term "voices" refers to the number of sets of reeds in an accordion. Most have at least two voices, but can have up to five.
Some accordions have built-in microphones, which are useful if you intend to perform. That said, you can amplify an accordion using an external mic, so it's not essential.
Wet tuning is sometime known as "musette" tuning.
Q. What's the difference between wet and dry tuning on an accordion?
A. Wet tuning is when you have two reeds that are tuned slightly off pitch from one another, to create a minor "wobble" or vibrato sound. This type of tuning is popular in folk and certain world music. Dry tuning is when you have two reeds that are tuned the same, giving you a cleaner sound. Jazz and classical music generally sound better played with dry tuning.
Q. Can kids play a full-size accordion?
A. Most children won't have the strength or reach to play a full-size accordion. But the good news is, you can find a wide range of smaller accordions designed with younger players in mind. If you're on a budget, you might even consider a kid’s model for an adult player, just to get a taste for the instrument before saving for a better one.
Q. How should I store my accordion when not in use?
A. An accordion is a fairly costly item, especially if you opt for a high-end model, so you should learn how to properly store yours to avoid damage. Store your accordion upright on the bass side to avoid warping of the reeds. Always keep it in a dry place and at a medium temperature — too warm (for instance next to a radiator or in direct sunlight) and it could warp or the wax on the reeds could melt, too cold and it could crack.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.