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What Is an Accordion Reed?

An accordion reed is the heart of the instrument's unique sound, a thin metal strip that vibrates to produce musical notes when air flows over it. Each reed is carefully tuned to resonate at a specific pitch, allowing the accordion to sing its rich, melodious tones. Intrigued? Discover how these reeds harmonize to create the accordion's iconic voice.
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

An accordion reed is a structure within an accordion that functions to create the instrument's sound. These structures operate on the principle of free vibration in order to produce a pitch. Each accordion reed consists of several smaller parts. The first is the reed plate, which is a flat piece of metal with two long holes, or slots, in it. The second is the strip of metal that vibrates as the player performs. Every reed plate holds two of these strips, or tongues, with the strips positioned on opposite sides of the plate. The strips connect to the reed plate via rivets.

Accordion makers position the tongues of accordion reeds so that they are almost parallel to the reed plate, with the tip of the tongue being a little above the plate. When an accordion player performs, air pressure builds up against the reed and pushes against one of the metal tongues to the point that the tongue is pushed through its corresponding slot in the reed plate. The release of this pressure causes the tongue to move back to its original position. This is what happens in one cycle of the reed's vibration, with many cycles happening per second to produce a pitch.

An accordion reed is contained within the bellows of an accordion.
An accordion reed is contained within the bellows of an accordion.

The tongues in accordion reeds operate in only one direction. This means that air must pass over the tongue first instead of the slot. Air from the wrong direction only causes the reed to bend, so no sound is produced. When a player expands the instrument, one tongue vibrates. When he pushes in the sides of the accordion, the other tongue vibrates.

Several different types of accordion reeds are available, with each reed type having its own characteristics. Commercial reeds are almost entirely produced by machine. These are the cheapest type of accordion reed but also the lowest quality. Tipo A Mano reeds are imitation hand-made accordion reeds and are of medium quality. The best reeds are handmade from Duraluminum, are finely finished until they shine. They may have the base of the tongues obscured by the wax used to secure the reeds to the reed block.

Typically, the tongue of an accordion reed is steel. Some tongues are made from brass, but this occurs less frequently. The metal used in accordion reeds makes an enormous difference in the sound and longevity of the reeds. Each type of metal has a different density, which means it takes different amounts of air pressure to get different metal tongues to vibrate. Different types of metal also oxidize at varying rates.

In addition to the metal used, the length and profile shaping of the reed tongue also influence the sound of the accordion reed. Other factors such as the size of the accordion also impact the sound. Master accordion makers work hard to construct reeds that take these factors into account so that players get the best possible sound.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an accordion reed and how does it produce sound?

An accordion reed is a thin strip of metal, typically steel or brass, mounted within a reed block inside the accordion. When air flows over the reed from the bellows, it causes the reed to vibrate, producing sound. The pitch of the sound is determined by the length, thickness, and tension of the reed. Each reed is precisely tuned to produce a specific note when activated by the corresponding button or key on the accordion.

How many reeds does a typical accordion have?

The number of reeds in an accordion can vary widely depending on the size and type of the instrument. A standard piano accordion might have anywhere from 12 to 200 or more reeds. Accordions are often classified by the number of bass buttons they have, which can range from 12 in smaller instruments to 120 or more in full-sized accordions. Each button typically controls multiple reeds to create chords and bass lines.

What are the different types of accordion reeds?

Accordion reeds come in two main types: 'Tipo a Mano' and 'a Mano'. 'Tipo a Mano' reeds are machine-made and are considered to be of standard quality. 'A Mano' reeds, on the other hand, are hand-finished or completely hand-made, offering superior response and sound quality. Additionally, reeds can be categorized by their voicing, such as piccolo, clarinet, bassoon, and others, each providing a different timbre and octave range.

Can accordion reeds be repaired or replaced?

Yes, accordion reeds can be repaired or replaced by a skilled technician. Common issues like rust, detuning, or damage can be addressed by cleaning, re-tuning, or replacing individual reeds or entire reed blocks. Replacing reeds is a delicate process that involves removing the old reed, fitting a new one, and tuning it to match the instrument's specifications. Regular maintenance can help extend the life of accordion reeds.

How does the quality of an accordion reed affect the instrument's sound?

The quality of an accordion reed has a significant impact on the instrument's sound. Higher-quality reeds, such as those that are hand-made, typically produce a richer, more resonant tone with better response to the player's touch. They also tend to have greater dynamic range and sustain. Lower-quality reeds may sound duller and may not respond as well to subtle changes in playing technique, affecting the overall expressiveness of the accordion.

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    • An accordion reed is contained within the bellows of an accordion.
      By: Wizardgold
      An accordion reed is contained within the bellows of an accordion.