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Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Mon Jan 04, 2021 6:53 pm
by douglas felsenthal
Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

You may know me as the engineer of the group. I get comments from folks on how afraid they are to work on their accordions. The answer is don’t be. If you have a working understanding of basic tools or crafts and a careful attitude to handle things gently. There is nothing to be worried about.

I started this journey with Ronen about 9 months ago. I started with a 58 year old Titano Stroller. A 3/5 reed unit. It had been sitting for a long time. Mostly, it played nicely except for a couple of small things. I then went out an bought a Titano – same vintage – Musette unit. This was mainly, to fix my original one and I didn’t want to be without practice if it took me longer than expected. Sometimes, everything takes me longer than expected.

Titano Standard – circa 1962

Well over the holidays I got time to dive in. What I found was amazing. See pictures.

The original problem was that my piccolo reeds didn’t play on the last several keys. Note the keys marked in blue above. This was not a huge deal, how often to you use the last 4 keys in such a treble tone. But, I’m a perfectionist and away I went.

The first thing that I did was to mark the keys that didn’t work with some pieces of painters tape. This is so we can identify the silent keys once we have opened things up.

Second, I unscrewed the two small thumbs screws on the top of bottom of the RH grill. Then gently pulling forward, top first, removed the grill. Almost all accordions are the same. You may have to wiggle the plastic shell from underneath the register buttons a little. A little pull and it just pops off.


If you haven’t played your accordion without the grille, try this now. There is a pleasant tone change in this configuration. The Titano has a tone chamber, there is a big tone change. I found it pleasant. You may also.

RH Chamber open

At this point you can inspect the cleanliness and mechanism of the RH keys. This 58 year old unit was amazingly clean. It has never been cracked open in all this time.

RH reed chamber

Next let’s inspect the reeds on the upper register and see if we can find something. To do so, you need to pull the bellows pins on the RH side. Use your fingers if strong or a plastic pry tool. There are also commercial pliers on the market for this purpose as well. On my unit, the pins were not in tight at all. Just worked them out with my fingers, getting my finger nails underneath. A little twisting motion can help if the pins are in a little tighter. I was amazed at out easy mine came out. Remember, this instrument has not been open in 58 years.

Reed Block #1

Reed Block #1 different angle – offending reeds – right end two

Bottom side of reed block

After pin removal, there are three along the front and the back – six pins in all. I laid the accordion on its back. Then I gently pulled on the RH keyboard and bellow in opposite directions. The bellow popped right off using hardly any pressure at all. I was amazed at what I found.

The reed banks were visible and looked like they were brand new. No direct, dust and the varnish of the reed blocks looked like it was done yesterday.

Notice that reed blocks are all marked. The upper tones are on blocks one and two. At the outside edge of each block there is a hold down tab. On the outside of the tab there is a small screw. Loosen the ones corresponding to which reed block you want to move. Once loose the tab swings out of the way. Gently pull up on the reed block from the hold-down end and the block pulls out. It almost falls out at this point.

Now inspect the reeds and wax sealant around each reed. Also general look at the leather covers on some of the reeds. Make sure they are not stiff or cracked. These are easily replaced.

The reeds,

You will note that each reed has two parts. One part for bellows pulling in and one part for bellow pulling out. The reeds are metal. The vibrating part is very thin metal about .002” thick. The base is also steel. What can happen in the case of none sounding reeds is the vibrating tab and base plate can corrode together. Then they don’t move.

Here’s where the key marking comes in handy. With the reed blocks outs, push on the offending keys. You will see the holes that open up on each non-working key. Note the reed hole number for each. Now armed with this information carefully inspect that reed in the block. Example, if it is the first hole in the reed block, then inspect the corresponding hole in the reed block.

I found that I had a slightly corroded reed on each of the bad keys. I then got a .002” feeler gauge, trimmed it to somewhat of a point with a metal strong shop scissors so I had a sharper point. On the reed facing up, you can gently slip the feeler gauge between reed base and reed. You will quickly find the sticking point. On the other reed, the one on the inside of the block it is a little different process. Instead of reaching inside to try and unstick the reed, small space and all, I pushed the inside reed slight down from the outside just till I could see it was loose.

Feeler Gauge used

Now you can test with a gentle, clean stream of air. I use canned duster which worked fine. If you get the reed loose it will whistle at its tone. Work this back and forth until you have things running smoothly. Don’t use too much air pressure.

Canned Air Used

What I did then was grab my electronic contact cleaner and sprayed the reed inside and out. This will leave a little bit of silicon on the metal surfaces and retard further corrosion. After wards spray with the canned air to get everything nice and dry. Don’t use anything that would attack the wax sealing the reeds to the block.

Cleaner used

I then put the reed bocks back in and tightened the tab.

LH side:

Once I was in there, I inspected the LH side along with the bellows. You can see from the pictures the bellows was very clean on this unit. If the bellows are dirty, stretch them out and use a small battery powered vacuum brush cleanout any debris.

LH reed blocks – note how clean

LH Reed Blocks – note loose leather about mid screen – this should be replaced

Taking off the LH bellows is exactly the same as the RH. There are six little bellows pins holding onto things.

On this unit, everything was still nice except for three leathers which had curled up. I took the offending reed blocks out. Used a sharp Xacto knife to undo the glue at the base end. Remember, the leathers are only connected at the base-end. Purchased some new leather reed kits and glued back on.

Then re-installed the reed blocks. Always make sure the reed blocks get back into the same location. They are numbered for this. A good memory or lots of pictures help this out a lot. Also, I only work on one reed block at a time which lowers the confusion.

Re-assemble the bellows in reverse order and test. Handle the pins carefully, we don’t want them to get loose. Hand pressure should work just fine.

There you go, nothing to be afraid of. I now have two working accordions to enjoy. One with musette, one dry tuned, and either can have the cover removed for a fresh tangy sound.

Let me know if you want to discuss anything further.


Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Tue Jan 05, 2021 3:11 pm
by Tom F
Interesting, great work and description, Doug, thanks! Thats a very nice accordion, too.

Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:07 pm
by Coral_M
Thank you Douglas. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to tackle the reeds myself yet, maybe I will, but I've been thinking of taking the grille off to fit a new mesh. Going to do it now you've encouraged me.

Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:11 pm
by douglas felsenthal

When you get the grille off, play it that way and tell me that it has a new a pleasing sound. I'd like a 2nd opinion.


Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Sun Jan 10, 2021 3:55 am
by Ronen from Accordion Love
Douglas, this was such a fun read. It makes it seem almost doable for us mere mortals ☺️
When you say you "purchased some new leather reed kits and glued back on", do you have a source for these? Are they one size fits all, or do they come in different sizes?

Thanks again for documenting your process! An invaluable thread!! 🙏👏

Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Sun Jan 10, 2021 5:27 pm
by douglas felsenthal
Too All,

Leather material comes in groups sizes. I cut them with a razor blade from the closest stock size. Just use the original for measurement. These can be found on ebay and various other suppliers. I tend to use La Malle aux Accordeons in Montpilier France, I also tend to use leather instead of the other synthetic substitutes on the market. The trick is to be consistent.

The purpose of the leathers is to mello down the metaillic reed oscillation, keep out unwanted impurities from the reed surfaces and absorb moisture so that you reduce corrosion around the reed surface.

Douglas :ugeek:

Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 9:38 pm
by Jeff T
What kind of glue do you recommend for replacement leathers? I have a few offensive ones and was thinking about just doing all of them with one of those ebay kits. I was speaking with someone on a Sunday stream who was using silicone, just curious what others are using as well.

Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:10 pm
by douglas felsenthal
I use a specialized accordion glue I get from Ernest Deffner BMI Music. It's been working super for me. They also have leathers - stiffenerrs - and dots. If you are going to do a bunch you probably need it all. The one thing I would have against silicone is weight. You are in a very sensitive part of the accordion around the reeds and adding additional weight from the glue may not be a great thing.


Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2021 10:17 pm
by douglas felsenthal

I forgot, what type and model of instrument do you have?


Re: Don’t be Afraid to Look Inside

Posted: Fri Jan 22, 2021 10:27 pm
by XLRA10
Hello! I just bought a new accordion, and I could use some help troubleshooting.

I recently purchased an Elettra Accordion, and noticed there were some issues with the reeds. Specifically on the Tenor side of the instrument. The specs of my accordion are: 120 Bass, 2 Bass registers, 41 Key, 2 Tenor Register (Bassoon & Clarinet). When playing the instrument, I've noticed that some reeds don't play when either pushing or pulling the bellows. With older, not-so-well-maintained accordions, I understand this is a common issue. But, on the other hand, some of the lower bassoon reeds produce this "buzzing" sound when played. I was told this might be due to the reed block coming loose.

So, I was wondering if I can get any pointers on how to manually fix this, or how much to expect to pay for a professional fix if needed. Thank you for any feedback!

Finally, I have a video here that shows me playing the accordion, so you can listen to the issues yourself. ( I was playing in the Master register to speed up the process a bit )