Probably the most common questions I get asked about accordions is either what an instrument is worth, or how much will it cost to repair it? The problem is that these questions tend to be asked following the discovery of an old accordion that’s been hidden in a long lost relative’s attic somewhere, or they have fallen into the trap and bought one of the many over-priced so called ‘Rare Antique’ – and pretty much always claimed to to be in perfect tune and condition accordions on Ebay! To be fair, of course there are some genuine sellers out there, and the good news is that most things can be repaired, but it’s wise to exercise some caution when buying these older instruments blind as some of these repairs are very time consuming and in turn can be very expensive with the result that this can significantly outweigh the real worth of the instrument.
So what is it worth? Well to some degree it’s worth what you are prepared to pay. For instance If you have an emotional attachment to the instrument because it belonged to a loved one, then the monetary value could be un-important to you. But on the other hand, if you’re just trying to buy a starter instrument to learn on quite honestly, most dealers can sell you a brand new Chinese made instrument for a few hundred pounds that will be in tune and carry a manufacturers guarantee so it’s sensible to do some research.
One thing that will influence your repair bills is the approximate age of the instrument. Some of the older pre-war boxes have been round since the 1930’s and as such can be worn out before you start! So depending on what your requirements are the age is worth some consideration. The pre-war accordion is fairly distinctive as the shape tends to be very square in appearance and they can also be very decorative with lots of sparkly diamante stones but don’t be fooled, just because it’s pretty to look at doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good accordion! The other distinctive things are that the tend to only have one coupler or switch, usually on the right hand keyboard edge that can be a push or slide operated. The value of one of these older accordions depending on it’s condition would be between £50 – £150, although some of the more prestige makes such as Ranco, Dallape can demand a higher value.
Post war, the look of the accordion started to change with rounder shaped design with extra couplers on both the treble and bass ends of the accordion and of course as the instruments become younger, they can start to command higher prices – again depending on the condition. The one thing to look out for is that as with all things, you get what you pay for, and there are a lot of cheaper made eastern European and Chinese made instruments of poor quality out there, so try to establish what you are buying beforehand, get advice that way you will hopefully avoid any major catastrophes and end up paying way over the odds.
OK, so what are the pitfalls? Well the things to look out for are how and where has the instrument been stored? A pristine instrument that was left un-played on a wardrobe for 20 years in a central heated house can suffer just as much as leaving it in a damp cold loft. The internal components are made of wood and steel so if stored in a damp environment the steel reeds can become rusty and rendered scrap, the wooden keys can swell and become distorted and the bellows can be affected by mildew and mold. If stored on a wardrobe for a long period the opposite but with similar catastrophic results can occur. The woods and leather valves can dry out so keys can split the celluloid coating (plastics) can come away from the keys and the accordions body work. The leathers can curl and no longer operate correctly – all very expensive and sometimes impractical to correct
Why is it so expensive to repair? At the heart of the accordion is it’s reeds, this is what makes the sound and on a full sized 120 bass accordion with 4 sets of treble reeds and 5 sets of bass reeds there are somewhere in the region of 400 individual steel reeds. Each reed has a leather valve fitted to it and each reed is mounted on a reed block and secured with a special wax, so if you have accordion that requires a full overhaul, every single reed needs to be stripped from the accordion and cleaned, each leather valve must be checked and replaced where necessary and then each reed is re-attached to its reed block with new wax before it can then be tuned. It can take an experienced tuner up to a week to carry out this work and that does not take account of any other work that might be required such as replacing felt pallets, repairs to keys and bass buttons, so you can see how easy it is for the costs to mount up and how important it is to take care when buying an older instrument. It is true that a practically minded person could of course carry out some of the basic repair work himself but tuning is best left to the experienced craftsman.
What follows are some pictures of a typical tired accordion – an example taken from Ebay, although on this occasion the seller was very clear that the accordion was only suitable for spare parts.
Jammed or missing Bass buttons, If the entire button and its linkage is missing it can be difficult to find a compatible replacement. The bass mechanism is quite an intricate assembly so this can sometimes take time to correct.
Chipped piano keys can be replaced, the more serious problem is if there is damage to the main wooden part of the key i.e. warped, split or just worn out.
Repairing damage to the Bellows is not insurmountable, as there is some repair work that can be carried out. However, if the fabric of the bellows is torn or cut, new bellows will be needed and these are not an off the shelf item
More Bellows damage
If you are not too concerned about the aesthetics of the instrument, some of these items can of course be ignored, but the unseen internal components are a little more crucial to the accordions playability so be careful. Try where at all possible to listen to the accordion first – ask the seller to send an MP3 recording if possible, it could save you lots of grief and money later on. Ask for some history, Has it been kept in the loft of a beach hut. Just because it was in good condition when granny played it in 1960 cannot guarantee how well it has survived a long storage in the airing cupboard.