Edward Jay's Accordion Know-How

If I know how, I'll show you how.

The procedure for tuning an accordion

The pitch of a reed is determined by (amongst other factors) pressure, which is a function of the enclosed space in which the reed is vibrating. Therefore a reed may conceivably sound one pitch outside the instrument, but entirely another when replaced back inside.

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules as to exactly how the pitch of a reed will be affected by the change of enclosure – if you try and map the relationship, you will certainly find it’s not linear. For example, depending on the pressure pathways inside the instrument, some notes may sound flatter, and some sharper.

What this means is that, for a perfectly tuned instrument, every reed must be replaced back inside the instrument and tested after every cycle is performed.

So, for each cycle, the reed must be tested, the instrument separated, the reed block removed, the reed located and reed filed, the instrument put back together, and reed tested once more. If done succinctly, each complete cycle may take between 1-2 mins.

Now say we require say on average 5 cycles to bring the reed within a reasonable margin of the desired pitch, then the total time required might as much as 10 mins per reed. In a standard accordion, there are about 450 reeds. So at the very least, this could take over 70 hours! So be prepared to spend a few days!

The procedure in detail

1. Prepare a clear surface for the accordion and remove the two back straps.

2. Remove all pins and screws from the casing and store in a safe container.

3. Remove the cover.

NB. In the accordion shown, the cover is attached to the main body of the instrument by a microphone wire which must first be unclipped.

4. Using the couplers, it is only possible to isolate the clarinet reed (8′) and the bassoon reed (16′). So in order to isolate and tune any reed in, for example, the tremolo register, it will be necessary to manipulate the rods in the coupler mechanism manually.

5. Once the correct register has been isolated, hold down the desired key and carefully open the bellows by lifting the keyboard.

Remember: The bellows are not currently secured with pins, so it is prudent to hold the bellows in place with your free hand (not shown – my free hand was holding the camera)

7. Open up the instrument and lay it down with the reed blocks exposed.

Note: Here there is another microphone wire inside the bellows that requires unclipping, be be careful when separating the instrument.

8. Try to locate/work out the reed you were just playing with the key earlier.

Tip: simply ‘ping’ a few with the blade tool. You should be able to hear which one you were just playing.

9. Once you have located the reed you wish to alter, remove the reed block (you may have to loosen a couple of screws first to unlock the slider)

10. You may now directly file the reed on the reed block  unhindered.

NB. I have written in much more detail on this subject on the next page.

11. Once you have made a (small) change to the reed, reinsert the block into the instrument.

12. Finally, reassemble, and test the reed against the tuner.

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