How to Tune – Part1

July 14, 2016

This page is an unfinished work in process.

As I start this part, I have nothing in place except the donor accordion, so I am treading on completely unknown and theoretical grounds as I speculate this process.  These are my thoughts about how to proceed when it comes to tune an accordion.

The basic process is somewhat explained on the Dirk’s Projects web site.  It lacks some obvious specifics that I will add once I learn more.  I even plan to document the process in writing and in video to best help me out with different projects.  For me, the essence of knowledge is documentation so that I am both consistent and advancing my abilities… if and when I start.

Here is a copy and paste of the process as explained on Dirk’s website:

  1. The reeds which sound when pressing a key or button of the accordion are frequently indicated with L, M and H. L stands for the low octave (16′), M for the middle octave (8′) and H for the high octave (4′). With three reeds in the middle octave (upper and lower beating), MMM it is noted. With two reeds in the middle octave and one in the low octave, LMM is noted. Check if the sounding reeds (when pressing one key) can be measured by the tuner at the same time. In the Tones mode (Octave and Chord buttons both not pressed) 1, 2 or 3 reeds in the same note (M, MM or MMM) can be measured at the same time. In the Octaves mode, 2 or 3 reeds of the same note, but in another octave (LM, MH, LH or LMH) can be measured at the same time. If the accordion has more reeds (for example LMM) then one must be eliminated before starting to measure.
  2. Set the number of reeds in the tuner to the number of sounding reeds. This is done with the Reeds button.
  3. A4 is frequently tuned to 440 Hz. If the desired pitch of the A4 must remain the same as it was, then the frequency of the A4 of the accordion must be measured first. Press the Freq button for this and sound the A4 of the accordion. In the wide bottom window with the red needle(s) there are boxes shown with the frequencies of the measured reeds now. Read the frequency and set the A4 frequency on the tuner with the vertical slider on the right. From now on the tuner uses the scale with the A4 on the desired frequency.
  4. Record all keys (or buttons) with the Record button pressed. Record all keys in the push direction and also in the pull direction.
  5. Create (fill in) or load the beating list (click on the text below the image of the accordion). Press the Recorded button to view the recorded pitches. Now the beating list can be filled in in such a way that the graph runs through the recorded values. Close the window with the beating list using the red cross. The name of the beating list is now shown below the image of the accordion.
  6. Go to Record & Report using the Menu button. The deviations of the reeds in Cent are shown in the Error column. This is the amount that the reeds need to be adjusted when the reed blocks are taken out of the accordion later on. In fact only the error values of the first reed and the goal values of the beatings are of importance. This will become clear in the next step. Now print a Tuning Report using the Report button. Return to the main screen of the tuner.
  7. Get the reed blocks out of the accordion. Because of the changed surroundings of the reeds the pitch of the reeds will change now. They are no longer locked up in the case. Sound the reeds of one key on the tuning table. Remember the deviation of the first reed. Look in the tuning report how much the first reed needs to be adjusted (the Error value from the report). Determine the desired deviation (= current deviation error value from the report) and tune the reed. The pitch of the reeds will be exactly right when the reed blocks are placed back in the accordion and the case is closed. Now tune the other reeds until the beatings are at the correct values. The tuner shows this value according to the current beating list. The tuning report is not needed for this. Repeat this for each note. All reeds are now tuned.
  8. Place the reed blocks back in the accordion. Close the accordion and record all the notes once again. All the reeds should be on the desired pitch and the desired beatings now.

My thoughts:

Part #1 – Documentation

Before the tuning process even begins, one has to know what the current status that the accordion is and in general, how is it tuned.

I know that I prefer having my accordions tuned to A=440 and currently all of my accordions are factory tuned thus, however, not all reeds will be tuned to this standard.

The reason one needs to evaluate is to get a very general idea of how the reeds that are (for example) offset for musette or violin standards and to bring them all in line.  In time, I would like to experiment with “true musette” tunings to possibly get my accordions closer to a “true musette” sound one day, if I like how that sounds.  There are also other kinds of accordions like the Steiriche accordions or the Czech Heligonka button accordions that have a very unique sound and to be able to document and understand them would be incredible knowledge to have.

To evaluate and document the current status of the accordion is a task that is incredibly important before starting ANY tuning projects, and this is made a little easier by Dirk’s Accordion Tuning Software, specifically it’s recording and reporting feature.  It’s not mentioned if the software can differentiate  between the push and pull reeds but if it cannot, it seems that this entire process needs to be repeated twice, once for the pull reeds and once for the push set of reeds.  Save the report(s) and print it all out.

Just this of itself can be a process of many hours, documenting the tune status of EACH reed in a push orientation and a pull orientation, and then discover the base tuning of this accordion (A=440hz or 442hz or whatever) and then document in general how “wet” the musette and violin register settings are… and only then can one begin the actual tuning process.

I’ve read online that at least in this one aspect, there is no such thing as “wet” tuning the left hand or bass side of an accordion.  Perhaps that makes it a little easier, but then when you toss in the complexities of my Hohner Morino VI N Free Bass, it grows in complexity close to completely doing the treble side of a large accordion.

For the tremolo tuning you should start with one note, preferably A4 which is the “standard” A that is 440Hz (or sometimes 441 or 442…). It is entirely a matter of taste how many cents you would like. A nice wet tremolo is around 18 cents. (Some accordions are up to 24 cents which is very wet, and some are a bit drier at 12 or 14 cents. When A4 is tuned to 18 cents wet (which is around 5 Hz) going down to G3 you should gradually go up to around 23 cents, and going up A5 should be 14 to 15 cents at most and your highest note E6 should around 12 cents. It is all a bit a matter of taste what you find sounds best. There is no such thing as “standard” tuning. But when you think going down to just +2.5 cents on the upper E you will find that that is much too dry compared to the +25 you think of for G3.

More to come as I learn it and/or find out once I get the infrastructure for playing in place.