Picking (not squeezing) a beginner accordion
December 8, 2010 5:17 AM   Subscribe

More Giftfilter: where neither the giver nor receiver is a musician, and what one should look for in a piano accordion.

So I'm caught in the annual dilemma of what to get for the girlfriend for Xmas. My usual inspirations and fallbacks have been exhausted by previous occasions, but an idea came to me: she's often stopped to admire piano accordions in shop windows, thought out loud about learning it, gone so far as to check out the price. Preliminary research shows that I can get what seems to be a decent accordion either used or starter / mass produced brand Scarlatti, Delicia) for an acceptable price. But:

What do I look for? What further choices do I have to make? What are the suggestions for a beginner instrument? And what's the magic ingredient behind the wide range in prices?

Bonus points for answers that accommodate background detail: I'm in the UK south-east. Neither of us has had music lessons beyond school and neither was a particular savant at them. (I'm looking for local lessons that I can throw into the package.) A squeezebox is not an alternative.
posted by outlier to Shopping (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't tell you anything about accordions, but since no one has answered yet I would suggest joining and asking at a couple online forums like this one and post your question there. If there are enough users, then there ought to be plenty of replies. If the question is asked enough, there might be a FAQ. And if accordions are like banjos, then the majority opinion on "what's a good first instrument" will be pretty much correct.
posted by K.P. at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Consider rental at first, if that's possible. In any case, she would probably want one with a stradella bass system (I think this the most common, especially if you're buying used), meaning that the bass keys are laid out in the circle of fifths. Make sure that the bellows is tight. An accordion whose bellows leaks air is frustrating to play. Check for sticky keys or notes that don't sound.
posted by Maximian at 7:20 AM on December 8, 2010

Best answer: My girlfriend-at-the-time gave me an accordion our first Christmas together. She gave it to me on Christmas Eve, before going to spend the holiday with her family. I spent Christmas Day alone in my basement apartment, noodling with the accordion and conducting a little private Belgian beer-tasting. It was an absolutely out-of-the-blue gift that just blew me away; she was as excited to watch me open it as I was stunned and delighted to discover it, and it was the best Christmas ever. Ever since, I can't think of Christmas without thinking about accordions - and my accordion in particular - and accordions make me feel all Christmas-y.

Neither of us were (or are) musicians; she found a local music shop that specialized in accordions and explained the situation and let them recommend an instrument. It was a used one in good condition, much cheaper than a new one would have been. I'd say talk to the folks in the music shop about what the differentiations are and explain what you're doing; I'd think they could help you pick out the right instrument. I believe a lot of the price variation has to do with bells and whistles - electric pickups, things like that - though I'm not certain. One thing you'll want to bear in mind is the size of the thing - if your girlfriend isn't very tall, a large accordion might be difficult to play, especially sitting down. Mine is a pretty good-sized 120-bass piano accordion, and it's nearly too big for me (I'm 5'8"), though not quite. You can get 120-bass instruments in smaller sizes, and adjusting the straps will help with the fit as well.

If your girlfriend has had basic music lessons and has a decent sense of rhythm, it should be fairly easy to learn with a decent teacher and regular practice. The basics come pretty quickly. If she's familiar with reading the treble clef, that'll go a long way. You might want to throw in a simple accordion book - something like the Palmer-Hughes course would be good. I would think whoever is selling you the instrument should be able to help you find lessons, and/or whoever's teaching the lessons should have some instrument suggestions. I guess all my advice basically boils down to talking to the folks selling you the accordion - this is one of those things you probably don't want to buy over the internet.

We had been together for about four months when my girlfriend gave me my accordion. I had already realized she was a pretty special woman, but when I opened that gift, and she explained how she had gone about arranging it - finding the specialty shop, driving down there and talking to the proprietor, carving out the time to drive to Burnsville in the snow, during exams in the middle of her second year of medical school - that took my appreciation of her, and of my own luck in finding her, to a whole new level. That accordion kinda sealed the deal on the whole relationship, actually. We're about to spend our twelfth Christmas together - our seventh as a married couple and our second as parents. If it hadn't been for that accordion... well, I hope I still would have been smart enough to hang on to her, but we probably wouldn't have had Minnesota's hardest-rockin' polka band at our wedding.
posted by nickmark at 8:53 AM on December 8, 2010 [11 favorites]

Having looked into purchasing an accordion for myself, I can tell you that there are lots of things that can go wrong with them and they are expensive to fix. I think your best path is to find a reputable shop/instructor and ask them to recommend something. Otherwise, at least make sure you test every key and every button before you buy to test for problems with the reeds. Used will generally be much cheaper, and if the accordion has been properly cared for, it will last 20-30 (I think) years between major maintenance.

I found some good accordion purchasing advice via google, so that's definitely worth a shot if you haven't tried.

Do you know what style of music your girlfriend might like to play? There are a couple of different accordion tunings that are better for different styles (musette, etc.), so it's something to consider.
posted by momus_window at 9:04 AM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all. I've found a few shops that deal in used accordions so, as per advice, I'm going to go and have a talk with them.

As for what she might choose to play on it, I imagine she might go for a lighter, bouncy style, more French than Austria, but that is a thing for the future.
posted by outlier at 9:57 AM on December 8, 2010

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