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Old 07-28-2023, 12:51 PM
Brent Hahn Brent Hahn is offline
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Default Tuning when playing with an accordion

Did a session yesterday, playing both Tele and acoustic, where the Peterson said I was good, but the accordion indicated otherwise. So I earball-tuned to the accordion (in which each note has two slightly detuned reeds, so it's a subjective thing). Anyway... oh my. What a difference. So much better. Suggest you try it.
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Old 07-28-2023, 01:25 PM
darkwave darkwave is offline
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I started reading you post with the nagging thought "don't accordions have out-of-tune reeds by design?" and then you stated it. Seems like it would be a frustrating pursuit?

We had an accordion in my electric band, but I don't remember there being tuning issues. His was a newer accordion, and I probably wasn't listening close enough!

;-)
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Old 07-28-2023, 01:30 PM
Brent Hahn Brent Hahn is offline
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Quote:
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Seems like it would be a frustrating pursuit?
Quite the opposite. It worked out great.
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Old 07-28-2023, 02:02 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Have your accordion player switch to the dry reed bank, they are tuned to standard. Additional registers or banks of reeds are tuned unison or octave, and may or may not be tuned to varying degrees of musette tuning. Those are the "out of tune" reeds your ear is focusing on. Musette or Demi reed tuning is done intentionally to provide the rich tone that the accordion is capable of. Higher amounts of Musette tuning are usually referred to as a "wet tuned" accordion.

If you are playing with someone who hasn't had a proper tuning of their accordion then it may be beneficial to tune to their dry reed bank and then see how far you need to offset your tuning to be in tune with them. That usually involves simply setting your electronic tuner to 438 or 439. Most tuners allow you to do just that specifically to tune to instruments that are slightly outside of standard pitch.

Having an accordion tuned is an expensive proposition, so unless it's just a few reeds that need touching up it's a LOT easier to simply tune your guitar to your playing partner's instrument.
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Old 07-28-2023, 03:30 PM
frankmcr frankmcr is offline
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Accordion tuning varies depending on the type of music they're intended for. Cajun accordions are tuned very "dry", with strict unisons. Accordions for other styles are tuned "wet" to varying degrees, with reeds tuned slightly apart for a tremolo effect.

Seems like the OP gets it, much easier to adjust the tuning on a guitar than on a squeezebox.
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Old 07-28-2023, 05:00 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frankmcr View Post
Accordion tuning varies depending on the type of music they're intended for. Cajun accordions are tuned very "dry", with strict unisons. Accordions for other styles are tuned "wet" to varying degrees, with reeds tuned slightly apart for a tremolo effect.

Seems like the OP gets it, much easier to adjust the tuning on a guitar than on a squeezebox.
I have heard quite a few Cajun players who have wet tuned boxes. Some popular players like Jo-El Sonnier play wet tuned accordions regularly.

I'm a bit of a nut... here are three boxes that I built:

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Old 07-28-2023, 05:55 PM
Sasquatchian Sasquatchian is offline
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I can speak from experience here. My GF is one of the top two or three accordion players here in L.A. She plays in all sorts of bands from Irish to Country to Zydeco to Brazilian to Classical and Jazz and we have something like 29 accordions between the house and my photo studio (where we have a small home recording setup).

Accordions sold in the U.S. are usually nominally tuned to A440, but that's not one hundred percent. Many European - German and Italian accordions are tuned to A442 or even A443. That is usually so the instrument will cut through a larger group more but it's also because in areas where they are used in orchestral settings in Europe primarily, the orchestral concertmaster's will sometimes spec one or two cents sharp.

With "wet" tunings, exemplified by what you might typically hear in French or Italian, but also in Zydeco (think Clifton) the root note is tuned to standard pitch based on A440 and the second and third notes might be ten cents sharp and fifteen cents flat to create that wavering wet sound that we all know and love. Those numbers are just for examples as the actual tuning depends on what sound you're going for.

Since I record her a LOT - over fifty remote sessions since the pandemic started - for movies, tv shows, commercials, video games, etc. and with one exception, the backing tracks have all been in A440 standard tuning, there have never been any issues with the accordion not blending with the backing tracks.

There is, however a phenomenon with accordions and their metal reeds, which are very similar to harmonica reeds (Hohner accordions/Hohner harmonicas) where just through playing and the tempering of the steel that the instruments will slowly go sharp over the years and need to be re-tuned. Re-tuning a full sized accordion with roughly 350 reeds can run $700 or $800 or more but tuning lasts a long time. In fact, one of the really rare instruments she has is a Guilieti bass accordion - with the low note being the same E2 as a standard electric or string bass - where, over time the reeds where between 25 and 30 cents sharp depending on the note. It was more or less in tune with itself but you couldn't play it on a session. That one ran about $350 to tune as there were only reeds on one side.

The accordion player probably needs to be aware of exactly how their box is tuned if they're playing with others and consider multiple instruments to accommodate. To bad you can't tune an accordion like you can a guitar. I kid her about that all the time.
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Old 07-28-2023, 06:13 PM
frankmcr frankmcr is offline
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Hmpff. Jo-El is certainly a fine player. I listened to "Tear Stained Latter" to check out his recent stuff and the box on that sounds wet for sure, more like a piano accordion sound almost than what I've always thought of as the Cajun button box sound. I think I prefer more of a Nathan Abshire sound (unless I'm misremembering that too.)

Nice looking instruments!
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Old 07-28-2023, 07:15 PM
Rudy4 Rudy4 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sasquatchian View Post
I can speak from experience here. My GF is one of the top two or three accordion players here in L.A. She plays in all sorts of bands from Irish to Country to Zydeco to Brazilian to Classical and Jazz and we have something like 29 accordions between the house and my photo studio (where we have a small home recording setup).

Accordions sold in the U.S. are usually nominally tuned to A440, but that's not one hundred percent. Many European - German and Italian accordions are tuned to A442 or even A443. That is usually so the instrument will cut through a larger group more but it's also because in areas where they are used in orchestral settings in Europe primarily, the orchestral concertmaster's will sometimes spec one or two cents sharp.

With "wet" tunings, exemplified by what you might typically hear in French or Italian, but also in Zydeco (think Clifton) the root note is tuned to standard pitch based on A440 and the second and third notes might be ten cents sharp and fifteen cents flat to create that wavering wet sound that we all know and love. Those numbers are just for examples as the actual tuning depends on what sound you're going for.

Since I record her a LOT - over fifty remote sessions since the pandemic started - for movies, tv shows, commercials, video games, etc. and with one exception, the backing tracks have all been in A440 standard tuning, there have never been any issues with the accordion not blending with the backing tracks.

There is, however a phenomenon with accordions and their metal reeds, which are very similar to harmonica reeds (Hohner accordions/Hohner harmonicas) where just through playing and the tempering of the steel that the instruments will slowly go sharp over the years and need to be re-tuned. Re-tuning a full sized accordion with roughly 350 reeds can run $700 or $800 or more but tuning lasts a long time. In fact, one of the really rare instruments she has is a Guilieti bass accordion - with the low note being the same E2 as a standard electric or string bass - where, over time the reeds where between 25 and 30 cents sharp depending on the note. It was more or less in tune with itself but you couldn't play it on a session. That one ran about $350 to tune as there were only reeds on one side.

The accordion player probably needs to be aware of exactly how their box is tuned if they're playing with others and consider multiple instruments to accommodate. To bad you can't tune an accordion like you can a guitar. I kid her about that all the time.
All totally solid information! Thanks for that.

I was taught reed tuning by Larry Miller of Bon Tee Accordions. Your numbers on wet tuning are spot on. Larry can tune a Cajun box in 20 minutes, and that includes the 80 reeds on the treble side and the bass reeds on the left side as well.

All the cajun box builders I'm familiar with also use just tuning, which lowers the third note of the scale by 14 cents.
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Old 07-28-2023, 08:32 PM
Sasquatchian Sasquatchian is offline
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Thanks. I wasn't absolutely sure about those numbers but was more interested in the concept. I think that a full sized 120 bass piano accordion with about 350 or so reeds takes all day to tune if not longer. More complicated to take them apart and a lot more parts.

Our accordion repair person, Dario, who is an hour away in Riverside, uses a file and a Dremel tool for tuning - the file to take metal off the end of the tang to sharpen the note and the Dremel to "scratch" the fulcrum of where the tang vibrates from to slow down the vibrations and flatten the note.

Out of all those accordions we have, there are mostly piano style, one Hohner Corona diatonic button like the ones that Flaco plays, a Hohner Gola chromatic button that is similar to what the European jazz players play, but none of those small Cajun boxes that sound so nasty.

Before I met Gee, I just thought and accordion was an accordion, but now I know better.
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  #11  
Old 07-28-2023, 09:39 PM
frankmcr frankmcr is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sasquatchian View Post
file to take metal off the end of the tang to sharpen the note and the Dremel to "scratch" the fulcrum of where the tang vibrates from to slow down the vibrations and flatten the note.

.
That's exactly how you tune/retune a harmonica. Did it myself, back when. Accordions, probably would take longer >
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Old 07-29-2023, 10:23 AM
darkwave darkwave is offline
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Thanks to all for the helpful insight here. I mentioned playing with an accordion in my band - the fact is that he quit a couple months ago and I’ve been having a hell of a time finding a replacement. I came REALLY close to picking up one myself just to fill space on demos until we found a new player, but the tuning and reed quirks scared me off, so this is all cool to learn.




Quote:
Originally Posted by Sasquatchian View Post
I can speak from experience here. My GF is one of the top two or three accordion players here in L.A. She plays in all sorts of bands from Irish to Country to Zydeco to Brazilian to Classical and Jazz and we have something like 29 accordions between the house and my photo studio (where we have a small home recording setup).

Accordions sold in the U.S. are usually nominally tuned to A440, but that's not one hundred percent. Many European - German and Italian accordions are tuned to A442 or even A443. That is usually so the instrument will cut through a larger group more but it's also because in areas where they are used in orchestral settings in Europe primarily, the orchestral concertmaster's will sometimes spec one or two cents sharp.

With "wet" tunings, exemplified by what you might typically hear in French or Italian, but also in Zydeco (think Clifton) the root note is tuned to standard pitch based on A440 and the second and third notes might be ten cents sharp and fifteen cents flat to create that wavering wet sound that we all know and love. Those numbers are just for examples as the actual tuning depends on what sound you're going for.

Since I record her a LOT - over fifty remote sessions since the pandemic started - for movies, tv shows, commercials, video games, etc. and with one exception, the backing tracks have all been in A440 standard tuning, there have never been any issues with the accordion not blending with the backing tracks.

There is, however a phenomenon with accordions and their metal reeds, which are very similar to harmonica reeds (Hohner accordions/Hohner harmonicas) where just through playing and the tempering of the steel that the instruments will slowly go sharp over the years and need to be re-tuned. Re-tuning a full sized accordion with roughly 350 reeds can run $700 or $800 or more but tuning lasts a long time. In fact, one of the really rare instruments she has is a Guilieti bass accordion - with the low note being the same E2 as a standard electric or string bass - where, over time the reeds where between 25 and 30 cents sharp depending on the note. It was more or less in tune with itself but you couldn't play it on a session. That one ran about $350 to tune as there were only reeds on one side.

The accordion player probably needs to be aware of exactly how their box is tuned if they're playing with others and consider multiple instruments to accommodate. To bad you can't tune an accordion like you can a guitar. I kid her about that all the time.
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- Douglas C.

1998 Larrivée C-09
1977 Gibson MK-35
2020 Breedlove Wildwood Concertina
2003 Guild JF30-12
Kremona Verea VA Crossover Nylon
2005 Rogue Biscuit Resonator
1960's Harmony Patrician Archtop
2008 Eastman AR810-7 Archtop
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  #13  
Old 07-29-2023, 10:49 AM
Sasquatchian Sasquatchian is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by darkwave View Post
Thanks to all for the helpful insight here. I mentioned playing with an accordion in my band - the fact is that he quit a couple months ago and I’ve been having a hell of a time finding a replacement. I came REALLY close to picking up one myself just to fill space on demos until we found a new player, but the tuning and reed quirks scared me off, so this is all cool to learn.
Good accordion players are really hard to find. What we see mostly here in L.A., and this seems to be almost universal, are keyboard players to pick up the accordion and assume that they can play it just because it has something that looks like a piano on it.

What really sets apart the players are how they use the bellows and all too often that's just painfully apparent, and whether or not the player is comfortable or even able to use the left hand. Of course, in certain types of music the left hand is never used - like conjunto and related Tex-Mex types and often those players will remove the bass reed blocks to make the instrument lighter.

Gee gave me one accordion lesson right after I met her and it only took that one lesson for me to stick with guitar - ha. It's basically two separated instruments connected by a common air source - the bellows - where you can't see what you're doing and it's ALL by feel. Of course, there is a dimple in one of the left hand buttons to tell you where you're at but that was not enough for me.

Like many instruments, it's one thing to play it and quite another to play well.
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  #14  
Old 07-29-2023, 12:24 PM
Brent Hahn Brent Hahn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sasquatchian View Post
Since I record her a LOT - over fifty remote sessions since the pandemic started - for movies, tv shows, commercials, video games, etc. and with one exception, the backing tracks have all been in A440 standard tuning, there have never been any issues with the accordion not blending with the backing tracks.
My day job (or part of it, anyway) is engineer, and it used to be common to stretch a budget by blending an accordion in with a skimpy string section. The standard practice was to either track them all at once (preferred) or do the accordion and then the strings. But never the other way around.
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Old 07-29-2023, 02:48 PM
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Just had to weigh in on accordions..

Taj Mahal said that, upon hearing cajun deployment of the free-reeds, it was the first time he heard an accordion playing music that was interesting to him.

I had to find music that was interesting to play - in order to persevere with accordions. The standard repertoire from the heyday of accordions (pop, swing, light 'jazz'..) wasn't it. For me, it was blues, New Orleans, Professor Longhair to get with piano accordion - and sevdah, klezmer, balkan music. Then I found forro and that's ALL I need. (...and this chair, and...)

I love to play button accordions - truth be told I started pressing saxophone key buttons before even guitar strings...buttons are just fun.
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