Accordion reed ranks and switches

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Main article: Accordion
A preview of a few right-hand manual register switches. This accordion has 3 different voices.
Accordion reed ranks with closeup of reeds.

A reed rank inside accordions refers to a single full set of the reeds that are the means to achieve the instrument's sound range. These reed ranks are located in the reed chamber. Most accordions to this date typically have anywhere between 2-4 reed ranks on the treble side and 3-5 reed ranks on the bass side. These can usually be selected individually or combined in various ways to provide a range of different timbres, by use of switches arranged by register from high to low. More of the top-line expensive accordions may contain 5-6 reed blocks on the treble side for different tunings, typically found in accordions which stress musette sounds.

How many reeds an accordion has is defined by a method that looks like a fraction. For example, a 4/5 accordion has 4 reeds on the treble side and 5 on the bass side. A 3/4 accordion has 3 reeds on the treble sides and 4 on the bass side.

Reed ranks are classified by either organ 'foot-length' stops or instrument names. Visually, they each have a fixed dot in a three-level icon as displayed in the photo on the right and tables below. These icons display when more than one reed-rank is in use.

Register stop classifications[edit]

The pitch of a single bank of reeds is traditionally defined in a similar manner to the organ stops of a pipe organ. A bank that sounds at unison pitch when keys are depressed is called 8'; (pronounced "eight-foot") pitch: alluding to the length of the lowest-sounding organ pipe in that rank, which is approximately eight feet. For the same reason, a stop that sounds an octave higher is at 4' pitch, and one that sounds an octave lower than unison pitch is at 16' pitch.

Most reed registers are normally in relative octave tuning, but rarely, some instruments have a reed bank tuned to a Fifth relative to the 8' stop (or some octave of that). This is a similar arrangement to stops for a pipe organ.

Icon Classification Description
Accordionstops piccolo.svg 4' stop This is the highest reed rank. Not all accordions will have this reed rank.
Accordionstops clarinet.svg 8' stop This is the basic middle reed rank. It is one octave lower than a 4' reed rank.
Accordionstops clarinet upper.svg 8' stop This is another middle reed rank, the upper tremolo rank.[1] It is usually tuned slightly higher than the basic middle reed rank.[2] Not all accordions may have this reed rank.
Accordionstops clarinet lower.svg 8' stop This is another middle reed rank, the lower tremolo rank.[1] It is usually tuned slightly lower than the basic middle reed rank.[2] Usually only included on special "musette accordions".
Accordionstops bassoon.svg 16' stop This is the lowest and deepest-sounding reed rank in the reed chamber. It is one octave lower than an 8' reed rank.

To hear how these sound on their own, see the first three rows of the table below.

Register switches[edit]

Register switches control how contrasting timbres are produced. They control which reed ranks are enabled (opened up) or disabled (closed off), in a similar manner to the register switches controlling the organ stops of a pipe organ: a single reed rank, or several simultaneous reed ranks. Unlike a pipe organ, only one switch can be active at any given time. Here are a few examples of right-hand manual switches on a typical large accordion[notes 1] (Smaller boxes with fewer reed banks may have fewer switches or even none):

Icon Nickname Register stop(s) in use Sound
Accordionstops piccolo.svg Piccolo 4' Thin and reedy tone. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops clarinet.svg Clarinet 8' A round tone, pure and free of harmonics. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops bassoon.svg Bassoon 16' A full, smooth tone. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops oboe.svg Oboe 4'+8' A thin tone Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops violin.svg Violin 8'+8' Listen here: Dry-tuned (MP3), Wet-tuned (MP3)
Accordionstops musette.svg Musette (Imitation) 4'+8'+8' Actually an imitation musette sound. Found in most accordions. See the last entry in this table. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops musette authentic.svg Musette (Authentic) 8'+8'+8' A strong and distinctive sound, built for special "Musette accordions". Tremolo. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops organ.svg Organtype (Organ) 4'+16' A slightly reedy quality. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops harmonium.svg Harmonium 4'+8'+16' Like the Oboe stop, but heavier because of the added 16' reed rank. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops bandoneon.svg Bandoneón 8'+16' Characteristic round, mellow accordion sound. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops accordion.svg Accordion 8'+8'+16' Like the Violin stop, but heavier because of the added 16' reed rank. Listen here (MP3)
Accordionstops master.svg Master 4'+8'+8'+16' The loudest and fullest accordion sound. Listen here (MP3)

In addition to the master switch located with the other switches shown above, professional grade accordions often have a least one extra master switch: either a chin master at the top of the instrument or palm master switch located at the side of the keyboard. These are located in positions that allow for faster changes to the full sound during playing.


High-end accordions often have a feature called a cassotto (Italian for "box"), also referred to as a "tone chamber", in the treble (right-hand) reed section. In this design, certain reed sets (usually one set of middle reeds, and the set of low reeds) are mounted at a 90-degree angle to the remaining reeds. The sound from these specially-mounted reeds must then travel farther, and along a different path, before leaving the instrument, muting its harmonics (partials) and creating a distinctively mellow, refined sound. The sound of cassotto bassoon (low) reeds is particularly favored by jazz accordionists.

The cassotto design requires a sophisticated treble mechanism where each key must open and close air passages not only for reeds mounted at the traditional angle, but also for air passages at a relative 45-degree angle (for the cassotto reeds). To do this properly, each rod and pad must be positioned precisely in relation to its right-angle counterpart. Because of the considerable extra time required for the cassotto's construction and adjustment, cassotto accordions cost considerably more than similar non-cassotto models.


  1. ^ a b Jeanette & Lars Dyremose, Det levende bælgspil (2003), p.75
  2. ^ a b Bjarne Glenstrup, Harmonikaens Historie (1972), The University of Copenhagen (Faculty of Music), p. 45b - This way of tuning results in a tremolo effect particularly noticeable on musette accordions as they have two extra middle reed ranks, one tuned slightly higher and one tuned slightly lower.


  1. ^ Table made with reference from this article at NewMusicbox