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Why are accordions relatively so cheap?


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I played piano accordion when younger, and found myself dreaming of playing again last night. Out of interest, I looked at prices of instruments and found something interesting. A 120 bass piano accordion with hundreds of reed pairs, and all that complexity, is not that much difference in price from an anglo concertina with only 30 reed pairs! How could that be?

 

Why should it be so much more difficult and expensive to make a concertina? On my Rochelle-2, I can only get the notes on the right hand to play at the same time as the notes on the left hand at full volume, whereas, on an accordion, you can play all the notes of a seventh chord in the bass quite quietly, all the reeds speak with the same sort of air pressure. So, why on my concertina do I need so much more air pressure in the right hand than the left?

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More than one issue here. If the notes on one end of a concertina need (significantly) more pressure to sound than the notes on the other end that says something about either their inherent quality or how they have been set up.

There are no doubt several factors influencing the respective cost per reed of accordions and concertinas, but I would expect one of them to be that an accordion has many identical parts suitable for mass production, and another the complex shape of a concertina's reed pan if assembled in the traditional way from lots of separate bits of wood. Although some makers nowadays use manufacturing methods that didn't exist a hundred years ago, that doesn't seem to reduce the prices much.

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2 hours ago, Richard Mellish said:

... if assembled in the traditional way..

 

Yeah, but he’s talking about a Rochelle 2, which is mass-produced in China with accordion reeds (on a flat reed pan). I don’t have an answer. There are certainly a lot more used PAs available than concertinas of any description, but I don’t know that that would necessarily drive down the price of a new one.

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The only kind of new 120-bass piano accordion you can buy for the price of a Rochelle 2 is going to be a very poor quality and inferior kind of instrument. Decent new piano accordions cost thousands of pounds, and professional-quality ones cost tens of thousands...

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9 hours ago, David Barnert said:

 

Yeah, but he’s talking about a Rochelle 2, which is mass-produced in China with accordion reeds (on a flat reed pan). I don’t have an answer. There are certainly a lot more used PAs available than concertinas of any description, but I don’t know that that would necessarily drive down the price of a new one.

I took the original question about notes sounding to be specific to his Rochelle 2 but the question about cost to be about concertinas in general. Do even the cheapest Chinese concertinas cost a lot more per reed than accordions? For both kinds of instrument, there's a certain amount of materials and work in the ends and bellows, regardless of the number of reeds.

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22 hours ago, Stephen Chambers said:

The only kind of new 120-bass piano accordion you can buy for the price of a Rochelle 2 is going to be a very poor quality and inferior kind of instrument. Decent new piano accordions cost thousands of pounds, and professional-quality ones cost tens of thousands...

Initially I was looking at basic 120 bass accordions for around 2,000 quid which is the same sort of price as an intermediate 30 button concertina. But, with less basses, although still far more reeds than a concertina, you can get an accordion for the same sort of price as a Rochelle-2 and not have the inconsistent reed responses.

Then, if you look towards the upper end, for 5,000+ you can get a reasonable 120 bass PA or a decent 30 button concertina. Yes, accordions do go higher, but then so do concertinas.

When you consider the accordion has 4+ reed banks for the bass and maybe another 4 reed banks x 41 keys for the treble, and quite a lot of mechanism, that still seems a lot of instrument compared to a concertina.

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1 hour ago, Martin Essery said:

Initially I was looking at basic 120 bass accordions for around 2,000 quid which is the same sort of price as an intermediate 30 button concertina. But, with less basses, although still far more reeds than a concertina, you can get an accordion for the same sort of price as a Rochelle-2 and not have the inconsistent reed responses.

 

Let me introduce myself - recently retired, I started making and repairing musical instruments 54 years ago. In that time I've repaired/tuned/bought/sold a large quantity of concertinas, run music shops, attended music trade fairs on two continents, dealt with concertina makers in England, Germany and the USA, also with accordion manufacturers in Germany and Italy, and I know a lot about the workings of the musical instrument trade around the world.

 

In my experience you won't find a decent new 120-bass piano accordion, built wholly in Europe by a reputable manufacturer, for less than £3,000 - and for that price you can get a new A1 model 30-key Anglo, handmade and of traditional English-style construction, from Jürgen Suttner in Germany!

 

The only new piano accordions you can buy for the £499 price of a Rochelle 2 are cheap Chinese products with 48 (or less) basses, and I wouldn't recommend going near any of them with the proverbial bargepole... 

 

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Then, if you look towards the upper end, for 5,000+ you can get a reasonable 120 bass PA or a decent 30 button concertina. Yes, accordions do go higher, but then so do concertinas.

 

£4,250 (€5,000) will buy you Jürgen Suttner's top-of-the range TC 31-key Anglo.

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Are you talking new or used?  Back in the 50s in the USA people were convinced that the piano accordion was going to be what the guitar eventually became, the instrument that every cool teen would want. With the Lawrence Welk show encouraging parents every Sunday night, they bought in and got the kids accordion lessons. Fast forward 50 years and those piano accordions have been tossed in dumpsters, given to the Salvation Army and Goodwill, but somehow still seem to pop up in Granny's attic to get listed on eBay.  While the characters may differ in South Wales, trajectory may have been the similar. 

 

And piano accordions have gone on to establish themselves in musical traditions in South America, Mexico and the Southwestern US in a way that remains popular today.  European traditional music in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Poland spring to mind as well.  That is actually are large number of players world wide.  So you get the economy of scale in a factory setting.  While the current explosion of Irish Trad adds thousands of players into the mix, the numbers just aren't there. Currently, most Anglo concertinas beyond beginners are still made in small shops of a few  craftspeople or just one.  Add to that all the little fiddly bits crammed into that tiny space and you've got something that is very labor intensive. 

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The price comparison between concertina and accordion is more a matter of economics IMO, but the construction and cost of the instrument itself is rather secondary. Unlike concertinas, accordions (especially piano accordions, that's one of the most commonly used squeeze box of course) have a stable demand from all over the world, so the accordion production lines are always constantly active. However, the supply and demand relationship of concertina is seems more volatile and mostly from few parts of the world, so cheap concertinas can be way overpriced due to the occasional orders and small batch production.

 

I'm guessing that the prices of those antique and handmade concertinas have also raised expectations of consumers for the price of all kinds of concertina. Another thought that is maybe one day the number of Anglo Concertina players increases, say few times more, and the price of those Rochelle-2-like concertina will be much lower. But I doubt will that happen.

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By the way, I think the transportation and rebranding are also have something to do. There are some 30b entrance level Anglos sold with brand "Blazefine" in China, it's very similar to Wren and the original Rochelle with a poorer external, and the price is about US$200 or £165.

Edited by LazyNetter
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20 hours ago, Stephen Chambers said:

 

Let me introduce myself - recently retired, I started making and repairing musical instruments 54 years ago. In that time I've repaired/tuned/bought/sold a large quantity of concertinas, run music shops, attended music trade fairs on two continents, dealt with concertina makers in England, Germany and the USA, also with accordion manufacturers in Germany and Italy, and I know a lot about the workings of the musical instrument trade around the world.

 

In my experience you won't find a decent new 120-bass piano accordion, built wholly in Europe by a reputable manufacturer, for less than £3,000 - and for that price you can get a new A1 model 30-key Anglo, handmade and of traditional English-style construction, from Jürgen Suttner in Germany!

 

The only new piano accordions you can buy for the £499 price of a Rochelle 2 are cheap Chinese products with 48 (or less) basses, and I wouldn't recommend going near any of them with the proverbial bargepole... 

 

 

£4,250 (€5,000) will buy you Jürgen Suttner's top-of-the range TC 31-key Anglo.

I respect your experience. Maybe I should have shared the examples I was looing at.
These are the sorts of things I had in mind. How many reed pairs in the bass plus treble, even on the smaller one, compared to 30 for aconcerina?
https://theaccordionshop.co.uk/accordions/hohner-bravo-iii-120-bass-accordion-2/
https://theaccordionshop.co.uk/accordions/hohner-xs-15-bass-accordion/
https://theaccordionshop.co.uk/accordions/chanson-30-bass-accordion/
or for the priceof the most basic Suttner - https://theaccordionshop.co.uk/accordions/excelsior-72-bass-accordion/
And there are many more available pre-used.

My main point was that you seem to get a lot more instrument, certainly a lot more reeds, for the money with an accordion. And as a comparrison of quality of reeds, even on a cheap Chinese accordion, say the 15 bass Hohner, if played at medium volume, all the notes of a major chord would sound, whereas that is not so if such a chord were played on the same priced Rochell-2. Or to put it the other way around, seeing what can be achieved with an accordion, why is the Rochelle-2 not better at that price bracket? I am upgrading as soon as I can afford it. I can play single note melodies, but the harmonic style is virtually impossible asI run out of what littlebellowsthere are too quickly.

 

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I am NOT an accordion player. I did work in a music store that was owned by an old school Italian family. The owner was an accordion player and had grown up in the 60s when accordion ( as mentioned above) were actually cool.

 

it was always supply and demand. I had no idea what I was looking at as far as brands at the time or quality. And had little to no interest. But, he would buy just about every one that would come in for Pennies.  And say this is a $5000.00 accordion. I bought it for $75. Because I grew up with that family.

 

there was just no interest and no perceived value. And unfortunately, not many sales. But we had rooms full of accordions.

 

around here, Mass/ RI. You still see a lot in pawn shops for next to nothing. 
 

this was pre internet. And before the shared embarrassment support groups that accordions now have.

Edited by seanc
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Local demand can factor in as well.  I live in Ontario, Canada for most of the year, where very few folks play diatonic button accordion.  People know I have an interest, and often give me instruments, or I pick them up cheaply at yard sales, pawn shops etc.  I take them with me to Newfoundland where I spend my summers, and put them on consignment at O'Brien's Music in St. John's.  There is a real accordion culture here, and the profit I make usually pays for my gas and ferry passage.  Plus unwanted accordions find a good home.

 

To the OP's point, even in the sellers' market here in Newfoundland, you can get a very nice, very playable used 1 or 2 row "cordeen" (as they call them here) for $700-800.

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2 hours ago, Martin Essery said:

 

I'd recommend the Excelsior 72-bass, but none of the others - only it's actually £495 more expensive than the basic Suttner, which is of comparable quality.

 

But previously you were talking about 120-bass, and an Excelsior one of those is £1,250 more expensive than Suttner's top model.

 

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And there are many more available pre-used.

 

The second-hand piano accordion market is a whole other ballgame, very much affected by declining interest in the instruments and an over-abundance of outmoded models that cost more to service than they are worth.

 

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... even on a cheap Chinese accordion, say the 15 bass Hohner, if played at medium volume, all the notes of a major chord would sound, whereas that is not so if such a chord were played on the same priced Rochell-2. Or to put it the other way around, seeing what can be achieved with an accordion, why is the Rochelle-2 not better at that price bracket? I am upgrading as soon as I can afford it. I can play single note melodies, but the harmonic style is virtually impossible asI run out of what littlebellowsthere are too quickly.

 

I used to sell a lot of the original Rochelle model because I considered them to be the best starter model on the market, but I have yet to see a Rochelle 2 - however, I've seen nothing but praise in consumer reviews of them.

 

Possibly there is something wrong with the instrument, or perhaps with your technique - bellows control/use of the wind key is hugely important on a diatonic instrument.

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I think we're all a little misled by the vast number of old accordions available for much much less money than good concertinas.  As Stephen Chambers notes, high quality new accordions are pretty expensive, often selling for significantly more than even a prime Jeffries Anglo.  A quick look at the Liberty Bellows Web site reveals a number of instruments in the $6000-12000 range, and that's not even a shop that specializes in professional grade instruments.

 

Remember that for many years, until the 70s or so,  accordions were mass produced in sizable factories (and often sold door to door, or though ads in popular magazines, or through the accordion studios in just about every town).  

 

A few years back I visited Castelfidardo in Italy and learned that in its heyday as accordion capital of the world, there were many thousands employed in the factories there, and that was just one town.  There were hundreds of manufacturers in Europe and the US, churning out mountains of instruments

 

lot  of those instruments survived and turn up on Ebay, Craigslist, and in stores.  Many are playable - but nowhere near the quality - in sound or playability - of high quality modern instruments. 

 

I'm no expert, but for the good accordion players I know, there's very little interest in vintage instruments for that reason.  Many of the best concertinists I know seek out fine Jeffries, Wheatstones or Crabbs; I don't know any top accordionists who play vintage instruments.  

 

And there are many manufacturers still mass producing low and mid range accordions.  Most of them cost more than a modern entry level concertina, many for more than a good hybrid like the Morse or Edgley.

 

 

 

 

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One aspect, that hasn’t been mentioned here, is the difference in reed construction itself. Accordion reeds are suitable for modern manufacturing techniques. Because all shoe edges, including tongue slots are perpendicular to the shoe face, they can be made with electroabrasion, laser cutting or simple CNC. Traditional concertina reeds, with nearly all edges tapeted. require a lot more work per note. And there’s the rivet vs screws mount on top of that. Harmonikas.cz offer their DIX reeds in three shapes and the difference in price between a rectangular, double, accordion style reed vs a dovetailed with screws is two fold. 
 

Now, for other aspects of construction differences, irregular lever lengths and lever routing challenges, labour intensive button and bellows design and acoustic difficulties of flat mounted reeds vs reed blocks result in concertinas being much harder to not only build (per reed) but also to design. 

And while it is true, that if you compare the same quality level instruments they might end up close in price, when it comes to duets vs accordions, you get a LOT more „bang for a buck” with accordions - more range, registers, free bass converter, etc. You can get a fully competent CBA for the price of a very limited Wakker H-1, and pretty professional CBA for the price of H-2, the largest Hayden available. Now, a „hybrid” 64 button Hayden could cost about half of H-2, but it would still be overpriced for it’s musical capabilities when compared to equally priced accordion. 
 

What you gain with concertinas is portability and little else really.

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