Save time tuning accordions! - by Mirco Patarini, Dirk Wolters

Accordion Reed Production

Written by: Voci Armoniche s.r.l.
Publication: Accordions Worldwide
Date: 2003

The purpose and aim of this initiative is to contribute in the spread of knowledge to accordion lovers and people interested in this wonderful instrument. Behind this intention is the belief, that the more profound the knowledge of the product, the more this helps clients to choose with care the instrument best suited to their needs, increasing satisfaction to the purchaser and performer.

The basic materials of the reed are a plate, two tongues, two rivets, and into these materials must be added a lot of work and a wealth of skilled experience. This kind of work is not easy. There are reeds which sound beautiful and improve, the longer they are played. Other reeds sound only satisfactory, and there are also reeds which produce an unsatisfactory sound.

This visit using photographic images from an Italian factory, which has produced reeds since 1935, is intended to show the production steps in the manufacture of this most important component of the accordion.

The Profile of the Reed Tongue:

The Harmonic steel precision strip (which must have special features referring to hardness and ductility) is the raw material for the reed tongues.

To have a steel tongue produce a note, it is necessary to shape the profile of the tongue by removing material.

To carry out this operation, a carefully designed profile must be set up on a metal shape. This shape will direct the grindstone, so it will remove the steel from the tongue to achieve the required tongue shape. This photo shows the metal shape on which the tongue profile is ground.

The Research for a Better Profile:

Each note has its own profile; there are over 400 different notes as they have many scales, types and sizes of reeds in production.

To each single reed belongs its best profile in terms of hardness and shape, to guarantee the best quality sound output.

The photo shows the filing by hand of the shape, working on a tolerance of hundredth millimetre. To be considerated as WELL DONE, on bending the tongue, it has to show a round homogeneous and slim curve.

The Grinder:

This is a most important production phase. Adequate grindstones together with a special technique are necessary to avoid steel overheating and to retain the sound quality of the metal.

The steel is ground in plates (approx. 16 tongues) or in small strips / band (two tongues each for A MANO - hand made

Cutting of Reed Plates:

With special moulds, the reed plates are cut from an aluminium sheet (which can be a hard or soft aluminium type) complete with holes for the tongues and rivets.

While reeds plates in soft aluminium are ready to be assembled, reeds plates in Duraluminium for TIPO A MANO (hand type) or A MANO (hand made) reeds must also be filed inside the holes to guarantee maximum precision.

Cutting of Reeds Tongues:

The ground reed plates and the ground small strips/bands are cut with special moulds made of extremely hard steel.

These moulds need constant upkeep and control to assure high quality cutting of the reeds tongues, with very exact tolerances (hundred mm) being constantly checked.

Warehouse of Reed Tongues:

The photo shows the wooden drawers where the reed tongues, after they have been cut, are kept to avoid any oxidation / rust.

Each drawer corresponds to a note and reed type

Warehouse of Reeds Plates:

This photo shows drawers with reeds plates that have been cut and are ready for assembling.

Assembling Reeds in Sets:

The assemblers follow the schedules that have been filled in as per the customer's requests, and reed sets are selected according to the different accordion models requested.

The individual reeds are next selected to be assembled into sets. This selection must pick the correct reed design and quality so as to produce a consistent set.

Paper Bags/Envelopes:

Following the notes schedules, is the identification of the envelopes, which will include the partly finished materials: reed plates, reeds tongues and rivets.

Normally, each envelope contains different quantities referring to one type of reed.

A group of envelopes corresponds to an accordion set.

Set Up of the Partly Finished Materials for Assembling:

The partly finished materials are prepared in envelopes.

The Rivet:

With hammer and anvil, the reed tongue is fixed to the reed plate with a rivet.

The reed tongue must be exactly in the middle of the reed plate hole to achieve the best response and sound.

This high precision work is still done by hand

Il Provino /Tuning Table:

On this table there is a specially designed support for the reed. Underneath there is a bellow which is operated by a foot pedal, and the bellow supplies the air to the reed.

The provino (tuning table) is used to check the tuning of the reeds.

The Tone Control:

Sounding the reed to be tuned on the tuning table together with the reference reed (which produces the note of reference) the worker hears "by ear" the tone differences.

The worker puts a thin tool, called "sdtizzicatora", under the tongue , which helps to keep the reed tongue flat on the plate as it is shaped to produce a sound the same as the note of reference.

First Tuning:

To raise the tone, it is necessary to remove material from the tip of the reed tongue. To lower the tone, it is necessary to remove material from the body of the reed tongue.

This is done by hand with a special tool called "stecca" as shown in this photo; or with an electric grinder tool, taking care to not overheat the reed tongue as that would compromise the sound output.

It is also important to tune without damaging the reed tongue profile, to avoid any reduction of sound output, or weakening or breaking of the reed tongue.

Please note that this is not the final tuning. Final tuning is done when the reed is placed in the reed block and fitted in the accordion as these factors have an effect on the tuning.

Setting/Placing of the Tongue:

It's necessary to place the reed tongue accurately/correctly in the plate.

The positioning of the reed tongue, greatly effects the prompt response of the reed and how the reed responds to different bellows pressure.

Reeds Finished:

This finishes the assembling of the reed. Each reed is packed separately, the paper wrapping helping to protect the reed from air, humidity and dust.

Warehouse of Finished Reeds:

This photo shows a shelf with reeds packets. Each packet contains reeds of same note

Care must be taken to have the same consistent reed quality across the different reed sets of the accordion

Final Set Up / Delivery to the Customer:

The reeds are carefully selected and packed in sets according to the progressive notes of the accordion.

Great care is taken to have a consistent reed type/quality for each row (reed set).

Second Tuning:

On customer's request, a second tuning can be done on ordered reed sets. This means to put the rows/range of reeds and their correspondent notes, which are part of the reed sets, to the requested frequency (LA/A = 440 hz) creating the different typical sound effects in the accordion: tremolo, musette etc.

This second tuning is important to give uniqueness/character to the reed set and is done strictly on ordered sets. Like the first tuning, it is necessary to remove material from the reed tongue to raise or to lower the tone, this time using an electronic tuner to achieve maximum precision.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT THE FINAL TUNING, which is done after sticking leather or plastic valves on the reeds and when the reeds are placed in the reed block and fitted into the accordion. All these factors have an effect on the tuning. This careful operation, necessary to guarantee quality sound output, cannot be done by the reeds manufacturer. Thus it is done by skilled professional people working for the accordions factories.

Attaching the Valves to the Reed:

After the second tuning, a leather or plastic valve is glued on the reed plate covering the hole alongside the sounding reed tongue. This is to avoid air passage through the hole of the reed tongue that is not working. Plastic valves, called "VENTILLI", are mostly used, as they have improved in recent years to often compare positively to leather valves.


In this summary, while we have left out a few secondary working phases of reed production, we have tried to show you the most important processes.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this and that it has been helpful.

Voci Armoniche

© 2024 Accordions Worldwide • All rights reserved. To comment on these pages, e-mail the webmaster.