I've bought so many accordions over the last 20 years
In this guide, I wanted to share my learnings with you on how to buy an accordion so that you will find the perfect accordion for yourself. The marketplaces may change - who knows whether there will be a Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist in 15 years - but how you appraise an accordion will stay the same.
You can jump to a section below or read the entire guide to understand the factors to consider when buying a new or used accordion.
I’ve placed information panels like this one throughout the guide to summarize a point or to give an insight into a common myth or misconception.
Before You Buy Your First Accordion
Types of accordions, size, and style
Before you go out and buy an accordion, there are several factors influencing how to buy an accordion. Since every player is in a different situation and requires different needs, I’ve summarized some of the most common factors to consider below.
What type of accordion can you afford?New accordions can be expensive (they start at around $1200 USD and go up from there). Luckily, there is a large and healthy used accordion market. As of 2023, you can find working used accordions starting from $200 USD, depending on your location. See this section for a sample of used listings from my own area.
Where to buy an accordion and how to buy an accordionDepending on where you live in the world, you may be able to find certain types of accordions easier than in other parts of the world. For example, in North America, it’s far easier to find a piano accordion than a chromatic accordion. For that reason, also, piano accordions are cheaper than chromatic accordions.
On the other hand, in Eastern Europe, you can find inexpensive chromatic accordions, while piano accordions are harder to come by (and thereby more expensive).
Your size and physical ability to play the accordionYou wear your accordion on your shoulders. It hangs down from straps. For that reason, a correctly sized accordion is one that you’ll pick up and play. An incorrectly sized accordion will cause back, neck, and shoulder strain.
Your physical size and physical ability will determine what size accordion is best for you. Sure, you can play a 120 bass accordion if you are 4”5, but it will be a lot easier on your neck, back, and shoulders if you find an accordion that fits you correctly (think 80 or 72 bass).
I go into more detail about the limitations of 12 bass accordions in another article, but in general, I recommend starting out with an accordion that has at least 48 bass buttons.
Lastly, when looking for accordions, pay close attention to the accordion’s weight. Not all accordions weigh the same. Some digital accordions are heavy, as well. Check with the seller before buying.
The type of performance you’ll be doingIf you are playing for yourself and just starting out, a used old accordion may be right for you while you explore the instrument. If you are performing in a group setting, though, you may want to buy a more reliable instrument. If you are performing on stage in front of many people, you may want to consider how to amplify your instrument (for example, by having an internal microphone system).
Used accordions vs. New accordionsYou can find plenty of used accordions on marketplace sites. However, just like buying anything used, you may get into more trouble than you know. Therefore, I’ve recorded multiple videos (below) with suggestions about what to look for when buying a used accordion.
Digital Accordion vs. Acoustic Accordion
Digital accordions can be a lot of fun!
They allow you to practice with headphones; they allow for easy amplification; they allow you to replicate lots of different accordion and non-accordion sounds, and they let you play with embedded backing tracks. They are also highly customizable.
However, digital accordions are expensive. They also tend to be heavy. Some students also say they lack a certain emotion from an acoustic instrument's physical vibration. Some students also find the level of customizability a deterrent - yet another thing to learn while also learning to play the accordion.
My experience with a digital accordion was really pleasant. I played my first digital accordion 15 years into my accordion journey. I really enjoyed my time with it. I didn’t find it lacking emotion. My main obstacle was the price - they were much more expensive than an acoustic accordion.
However, digital accordions may be the only possible option for those who live with noise constraints.
Do I need to buy a specific type of accordion to play a specific type of music?
Unless you know you will only play a specific musical genre, I recommend that beginner players start with a piano or chromatic button accordion. Piano or chromatic accordions can play any type of music. It’s like buying a chef’s knife - it can do any of the tasks around the kitchen.
While certain types of accordions are used for specific musical genres - think Bandoneon for Argentinian Tango, or B/C diatonic accordions for Irish music - the piano accordion is versatile and can play any musical style.
Tip: Start off with a generic accordion, and specialize once you get to know your instrument.
What to look for when buying a used accordion
Buying a used accordion is a balancing act.
You weigh the risk of buying a previously used instrument versus the benefit of paying a lower price.
All of my accordions (except for one) have been previously played. I’ve played those used accordions in hundreds of events, from large music festivals to weddings and house parties. I think using accordions can be a great bargain as long as you know what to watch out for.
I’ve included a list below of the most common things to look out for when buying a used accordion. All of these factors come into play when negotiating a price.
Until recently, every accordion I’ve played had one or more of the issues below. A key would become stuck; a strap would rip; the bellows would leak. These issues weren’t “deal breakers” for me. I lived with them due to the low price of the instrument. Some of the issues, though, such as mould or an overly-leaky bellows, are a definite “no”!
Bad smell or mouldThe first thing to do when opening an accordion case is to stick your nose in there and take a big whiff. Does it smell mouldy or musty? If so, that’s a strong indication of mould. Close the case, say “thank you,” and look elsewhere. This may be harder to find in online sales.
Stored in a damp locationThe inside of an accordion is full of leather, wood, wax, felt, and metal. When an accordion is kept in a humid place or a place that undergoes large temperature fluctuations, that leather, wood, and metal start to rot, disintegrate, and rust. Double-check that the accordion has been kept in a case, in a temperature-controlled place in the house. Stay away from accordions stored in a humid basement, a hot attic, a barn or a garage.
Condition of accordion strapsMost straps are made of leather. Look for wear-and-tear on the straps, especially where they’ve rubbed against the strap brackets attached to the accordion. I’ve played multiple shows where the straps have given way and ripped during a song. They can be repaired with a zip-tie or a screw, but invest in a good pair of straps ($60 to $150 USD). and your shoulders and neck will thank you.
Leaky accordion bellows & condition of the bellowsPick up the accordion, open the bellow buckles (top and bottom), and pay attention to the bellows. Do they open up quickly or stay in place? If they open up quickly, it means there is a leak in the bellows. Replacing an entire bellows is expensive ($500 USD for a new bellows + the installation cost). What’s the condition of the bellows? Inspect the back & sides. Have they been scratched with zippers and buttons? Is the bellow tape coming apart at the corners? Are the metal corners coming apart? Replacing smaller pieces is doable, but having a bellows that works and isn’t leaky will mean you can start playing right away.
Missing & bent keys on the accordionAre all the keys present and accounted for? Are there any missing keys on the right or left side? Bent keys? Keys that don’t line up correctly? That could mean any number of things. For online sales, pay close attention to the photos.
- Do all the accordion keys make a sound? Do they stick?
While wearing the accordion, run your fingers up and down the right-hand side. Press every key, with the bellows going in and out. Pay close attention to the tuning of each note. Do any notes “wheeze”? Do all the notes make a solid sound? Are any of the notes sticking? If so, try pressing the button down over and over - it may solve a stuck key. Do the same with the left hand - push and pull and see if any keys stick or don’t make a sound.Out-of-tune notes may be an indication of rust and will require a cleaning of the reeds. (i) If you are handy, you may want to look through the website Accordion Revival for instructions on accordion repair. Also, check out Douglas’ guide on taking a look inside your accordion.
Do all of the accordion registers work?
The buttons on the right-hand side (and sometimes the left-hand side of the accordion) change the “voice” or “sound” of the accordion. Each “sound” plays a different set of reeds. Repeat the above step - pressing every key - for each of the registers. Do all the registers make a sound?
Note: Just because a register doesn’t make a sound doesn’t mean the accordion isn’t "good" and playable. I’ve played many accordions where one of the registers is “stuck” or “out of tune”. Simply use another register that has all of its notes working.
I already play the piano. Should I buy a piano accordion?
Yes! A piano background will give you a big head start with the accordion, especially the right hand. The right hand of the piano accordion is the same layout as a traditional piano keyboard, only vertical instead of horizontal.
The chromatic accordion - while not overly difficult - will offer an additional challenge for piano players.
How much should I pay for a used accordion?
Once in a while, you’ll come across a beautiful used accordion that looks great, sounds great, and has been kept in pristine condition. You’ll get it for a great price and walk away a happy person. That’s the dream! It’s happened to me multiple times and is a great feeling! Buying a used accordion is usually a compromise between how much you are willing or able to spend, and the quality of the used instrument.
You may find a beautiful accordion for $50 at a garage sale, but something is likely wrong with it.
Right now, at the end of 2023 in Canada, these are the Facebook listings in my area:
There are some great bargains there! Any of these accordions would be a good starter instrument. But, notice the large jump with the bottom right instrument - an $8500 Tonaveri! I played a similar Tonaveri a few years ago. If we compare the $250 accordions to a simple car - a Toyota Corolla - reliable, safe, average-looking - then the Tonaveri is like a Ferrari! A beautiful instrument, but a bit more than what’s required for the first-time accordion player.
For a good sounding, good working beginner piano accordion, except to pay between $350 USD and $1000 USD.