Everything You Need to Know About Accordion Reeds

Accordion reeds, along with the bellows and buttons or keys, work in concert to create the music accordions make.

What is a Reed

Accordion reeds are thin blade structures made from one of three materials. Some free-reed instruments use plastic or cane reeds. Accordions use metal reeds.

Not all instruments that use reeds sound the same. For example, although the bandoneon and accordions share similar characteristics the sound they make is different. You can compare the sound of an accordion to that of a harmonica and not a bandoneon.

How Many Reeds are Inside Accordions?

Reeds are small, but when you stuff an instrument full of them, they pack a powerful punch.

The reeds within the accordion’s air chamber range in number, depending on the model and size of the instrument. Some models may have as low as sixty reeds. Others may have a reed count that is high into the hundreds.

Tipo a Mano or Mano Reed

There are standard accordion reeds mass-produced in factories. However, many accordion reeds are still assembled by hand. Mano is Italian for hand so, it probably isn’t hard to guess what type of reed a Mano reed is. A mano reed is crafted, secured to the reed rank, and adjusted manually.

The Tipo a Mano reed may not be handcrafted, but they are secured to the reed rank and adjusted in the same manner as a mano reed.
Which of these reed types produces better sound quality? That depends on the type of sound the accordionist prefers.

How does the Accordion Reed Work

Accordions have air chambers that hold reed ranks. Each reed rank is lined with open holes that reed plates fit over using a special wax.

The reed plates have pairs of narrow slots that align over the holes in the reed ranks. One of the slots in the reed plates lets air into the instrument. The other pushes air out.

A thin strip of reed leather connects to the top of each one of the two openings in the reed plates. The opposite ends of the reed leathers remain disconnected to allow them free movement. Each opening is the correct width for the loose end of the reed leathers to vibrate and be free to move in the chamber.

Pushing and pulling the bellows sends air through the reed ranks and reed plates, corresponding with the note played. The moving air makes each reed vibrate and produce sound.

The reeds corresponding with the notes not played are kept in place by a reed valve until they are ready to be used.

How Often Do Accordions Need to be Tuned?

A well-cared-for accordion can go years before needing any kind of service. But like all instruments, eventually, they will have to be tuned to maintain sound quality.

Reed tuning is a layered process requiring significant amounts of time (70 hours or more, depending on the tuning type and size of the instrument), added to knowledge, and a lot of skill in between.

Accordion reeds can be tuned to produce different sound quality by using different tuning methods.

  • Dry tuning:has a flat, classical tone. More of the older accordions have this sound.
  • Wet tuning: has that wavering melody, preferred by modern accordionists
  • Swing tuning: hangs in the middle of a wet tone and a dry tone.

But before reed tuning can begin, you must first assess for damage and service the accordion. Each reed plate waxed into the reed ranks has to be removed for cleaning, waxed again, then filed to achieve the desired pitch. Once that is done, the reeds must be fine-tuned again as a collective.

It is possible to do the tuning yourself with the help of an online site or many. If you do not have the time, patience, or tuning know-how, you can take your instrument to a shop.

Accordion Culture

Accordion culture is the preference a society or group has for one accordion type over another. For example, Accordionists in the west prefer the piano-style model. The chromatic button model is well-liked among accordionists in the eastern part of Europe and beyond.

So which type is best for you?

Choosing the Best Reed Instrument for You

Like the bandoneon, est., 1846, the accordion, est., 1829, has come a long way since its introduction to the music arena. Back then, accordions were small, portable boxes with a few buttons and reeds used to play folk music. Now the accordion is a complex one-man-band instrument used in orchestras even.

Still, their basic elements remain the same with all of the reimaginings, reinventing, and adjustments made to accordions. All the new models have their foundation in either one of two models:

  • the Piano key type Accordion
  • the Chromatic button type accordion

The piano-style accordion gets its name because it looks like a piano. The treble or right-hand side has a set of keys resembling the piano. The bass or left side has sets of buttons.

The octave range on the treble side can be as low as two and only goes as high as four.

The Chromatic button type has no keys. The treble (right- hand) is made up of sets of buttons, and so is the bass (the left side). This model has a B system and a C system, which help locate middle C on the button board.

Whichever model accordion you like, the general layout and playing method remain the same – treble on one side, and on the other, the bass, with both sides having a set of buttons and/or keys. And if you’re beginning your accordion adventure, experts suggest starting with one of the older models, many of which are priced to go.


No matter which model you decide to buy, reeds are the sound of accordions. Knowing the different types and how they work will help you play better.

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