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FAQ Main Menu > Free Reed Instrument Care and Maintenance

Free Reed Instrument Care and Maintenance

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Free Reed

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General Advice

Accordions, Melodeons and Concertinas are fairly hardy instruments which if handled carefully will not need much maintenance. It is quite normal to go 10 years or more before needing re-tuning or any other work.

Never force the bellows open by moving them without either playing a key, or opening the air valve. This will damage the bellows, and cause air leaks.

Take care that you don't allow the bellows to rub against buckles, buttons etc on your clothing. This will soon lead to expensive damage on the back of the bellows. Melodeon players often cover the vulnerable part with insulation tape, to give extra protection.

The keys can be damaged if you carry the instrument without a case or bag. It is quite easy to catch something under a key and bend it out of place. This can normally be safely bent back, by removing the end plate and straightening the relevant metal lever, but if in doubt call for advice first. With piano Accordions care is needed when putting the instrument in its case to avoid catching the piano keys and lifting them.

Make sure the instrument is never dropped or severely jolted. Reeds can be dislodged, and the casework badly damaged. The heavier the instrument, the more severe the damage usually.

Climate Problems

Free reed instruments usually have steel reeds, and often have bellows made of card. Don't play them in the rain! They really don't like this, the steel will rust, and the bellows fall apart. For the same reasons never store your instrument in a damp place. All types of free reed instrument last longer between repairs and re-tuning if they are regularly played. Moisture or condensation can build up in a disused instrument leading to rust and other damp related problems. Also the valves tend to curl up if they are made of leather (as in most concertinas, and many older accordions).
Heat is not such a great enemy here as it is with woodwind and stringed instruments, but it is still an important factor. Sunshine in the open air is not normally a threat, but if you leave your instrument in a car on a sunny day, you may well find that the wax holding the reeds melts, and all the reeds fall out! Concertina reeds are not waxed in, but with older concertinas the likely result of great heat is a crack in the wooden plate where the pads rest, which will cause leaks, and is hard to mend easily.
Dust is an irritant rather than a threat, but it is the most common cause of problems with the reeds in free reed instruments. The clearance between the reed and the frame which holds it is very small, and a speck of dust will often lodge between the reed and frame causing it to stop up altogether, or maybe make buzzing or rattling noises. Sooner or later a new player will have to face up to learning how to open up the instrument and brush away the dust. Before opening up the instrument though, it is worth playing the offending note sharply a few times as this will often dislodge the problem particle.

Running Repairs

If a reed goes badly out of tune very quickly, it nearly always means that a crack has developed in the metal tongue, and that it is about to snap. With a melodeon (and this problem occurs most commonly in small 2 row melodeons, particularly Hohners) it is a good idea to finish the job off by playing that note sharply until it does break, or to open up the instrument and tape over the broken reed plate. At least the instrument will now sound in tune. A proper repair is not very expensive, and reeds are usually available from us if you want to fit it yourself.
Reed tuning and adjustment is a very skilled job, and unless you really know your stuff, we recommend leaving all other reed work to the professionals.
The next most common problem is a broken spring (the key will drop in below the level of the others, and the note will sound continuously), and again running repairs can be successful in the short term. On Melodeons, you can sometimes wind a rubber band round adjacent levers, and with concertinas a safety pin has been known to help. A proper repair is needed on this one, although we do sell springs separately for most models.
This is really a concertina problem mainly. If the note sounds continuously and the key is ABOVE the level of the others, then in all probability a pad has fallen off the end of its lever. It is a relatively simple job to open up the end, and re glue the pad using a non permanent glue. Make sure it is seated well, or you may get leaks and squeaks.


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I wrote a short fault finder and repair guide for myself and our staff many years ago. you may find some useful hints in there to keep your box working, or fix up an old one you have come by.


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All free reed instruments may go out of tune over time, and need correcting. However you can increase the longevity of your melodica by clearing it of moisture after playing by pressing the saliva/moisture button on the instrument and giving it a good blow.