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A few helpful hints

The size of the keyboard generally dictates the number of bass buttons that can be fitted in an instrument. Common keyboard sizes are 26, 30, 34, 37, or 41 notes, which is generally regarded as "full size" All accordions have more narrow keys (20mm) than standard pianos, and some accordions have still smaller keys (15 - 19 mm) which are suited to smaller hands, these are sometimes called compact models.

Choose an instrument carefully with regard to what music you may want to play both in the short term and forseeable future. It's always a trade off between specification, portability, and price. I wouldn't recommend accordions with less than 26keys/48bass as you will probably run up against it's limitations very quickly.

The following table shows how the number of right hand keys / left hand bass buttons restrict the type of music you may want to play. The number shown (%) indicates the percentage of tunes PLAYABLE in a selection of popular music albums.

It's meant to be a guide, not a definitive assessment of all publications and music genres.

Title of
26 keys b-c
30 keys g-c
34 keys g-e

48 bass

60/72 bass

80/96 bass

Hardcore English




Karen Tweed's Irish Choice




The Compleat Klezmer




Musette Vol 1 (Beuscher)







So the above table shows, for example, that if you want to play klezmer on a 48 bass/26 key instrument, you'd be restricted by the right hand keys much more than the bass.

I haven't included 37/120 models or larger as you can handle pretty much anything with them.

A 26/48 model is great for learning and if you get a decent one you'll probably want to keep it for portability even if you upgrade at a later stage. A 34/72 is a great compromise between portability and versatility.

Bear in mind that with a 60 or 72 bass accordion, whilst all common chords are represented, it's not necessarily easy to play in all keys as, for example, Fsharp is at one end of the button board, but Csharp (Dflat) is right at the other end.

Voices or number of reeds

Another choice you're faced with is the number of sets of reeds in an instrument. Very few models have just one set, most have at least two in the right hand. To get the vibrato sound often associated with accordions one set of reeds is tuned a few Hz higher than the concert pitch set. To get a more pronounced vibrato a third set of reeds is often tuned a few Hz lower. Many three voice models have the third set tuned an octave lower instead to give a thicker, darker, sound. Four sets of reeds make all the above possible or the fourth set can be tuned an octave higher than the concert pitch, this is usually called a piccolo reed. Terminology like "oboe" "bassoon" "violin" etc on the stops is rather unhelpful - you just need to get your head around what pitch reeds you are using and which are detuned in what direction.

If you have to have everything there are 5 voice models which weigh around 12kg.

On the bass side usually four sets of 12 reeds are used to cover the range of notes and chords. Another set of reeds tuned an octave above/below give the possibility of a few changes of tone colour.

Note that the number of reeds on LHS is not related to the number of bass buttons.


As if that's not enough there are a variety of ways a pair of reeds can be tuned ranging from "dry" - where the reeds are tuned as close as possible to "wet" where they are tuned as far apart as is bearable. If you are ordering an instrument it's as well to get it tuned the way you want. See this link to hear different tunings:

click to go to page about tunings

For another perspective (though I share his views) click here to see Captain Accordion's advice.

Hi Les

Thanks very much for seeing me yesterday. I would just like to say that I am over the moon about my new accordion, I played it so much yesterday that today I have a very sore neck and shoulder!

Anyway thank you very much for all your help.

Best wishes


Hi Leslie,
Just a quick note to say that the accordion arrived in perfect condition and I love it.
Thank you

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click here to see my youtube channel: lots of tunes and accordions!

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