"WET/DRY" SOUND AND TUNING

The different aspects of Accordion tuning such as "wet/dry" tuning are excellently explained by Richard Morse and Alan Polivka. To support this I've also provided a link to my own page describing registrations:

| "WET/DRY" explained by Richard Morse | | About tuning by Alan Polivka | | How does it sound? | | About registers by Hans Palm |


"WET/DRY" explained by Richard Morse

Perhaps I could help a little as we have tuned a great number of boxes over the years. We use an electronic tuning meter that is graduated in "cents". There are 100 cents in a semi-tone. If on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being a unison sound or "dry" and 10 being wet as a Bronx cheer, we find that GENERALLY SPEAKING, on a double set of reeds of the same pitch, the middle C would be tuned:

The above reflects not only how instruments come straight from the factory set up for a certain genre (the typical Hohner 2-row is about 15 cents), but musicians requests to us in having their boxes retuned. Needless to say that there are still many exceptions. Another interesting point is that the wetness of sound also depends on the quality of the reeds and the way they are mounted in the banks and the banks to the soundboard. The better the quality of reed, the less it will wander from the pitch it is tuned to. A typical machine-made grade 2 reed will lose about 4 cents under normal soft/loud pressures and maybe 10 cents under extreme pressure while a "hand-made" reed will lose less than half that. Reeds which are mounted closer together or more loosely secured (heavy wax, softwood banks, thick felt bank gaskets) will tend to make an adjacent reed of similar pitch beat in unison, sometimes pulling together reeds 10 cents apart to the same pitch resulting in a "waaaaahhh, waaaaaahhh" sound as they come together and break away. There are several fixes for this too, none of which include retuning. Accordions with very dry tuning, say a 2 on our scale, would have reeds about 4 cents apart. I find that it is nearly impossible to have reeds any closer than this or they will beat in unison, sometimes even if they are in different banks!

Rich Morse, THE BUTTON BOX
Website: http://www.buttonbox.com
E-mail: squeeze@buttonbox.com


ABOUT TUNING by Alan Polivka (WWW:ed and illustrated by Hans Palm)

Having spent several years researching, analyzing and of course, performing the tuning of piano accordions I have run across and/or tried quite a few variations. There are almost as many different ways of tuning accordions as there are accordion manufacturers and tuners. However, in general, the various ways of tuning an accordion fall into one of the categories discussed below.

Note that throughout this article, I am only talking about tuning of the right-hand side of an accordion since there are no tuning variations encountered on the left-hand side of a typical accordion.

WARNING: I do not recommend trying to tune your own accordion unless you are very experienced at it. You can easily damage a good set of reeds and reed skins by not knowing what you're doing. Furthermore, if you plan to have your accordion tuned, be sure to get multiple references on the person who will do the tuning for you. There are very few truly qualified accordion tuners in existence these days.

Overall, an accordion may be tuned to standard A=440Hz pitch, or it may be tuned to something else (sometimes 442, 443 or 444 is used to make the accordion stand out a bit from other instruments). However, one or more of the reed sets in the accordion may be intentionally de-tuned relative to the other sets to change the general sound of the accordion.

First of all, the tuning is dependent on the reed arrangement in the accordion. For a full sized professional accordion, there are typically four sets of reeds on the right hand side (a "4-reed accordion"). There are two different reed arrangements commonly used in 4-reed accordions. I'll refer to them as "Reed Arrangement A" and "Reed Arrangement B", defined as follows:

"REED ARRANGEMENT A" has one low octave set of reeds (analogous to 16' voices in an organ), known as "bassoon" reeds. It also has three sets of middle octave reeds (analogous to 8' voices in an organ). Often this arrangement is represented as a circle with two lines and four dots arranged as shown:

"REED ARRANGEMENT B" also has a set of bassoon reeds. It only has two sets of middle octave reeds, however. In place of the third set, there is a set of high octave ("piccolo") reeds. These are analogous to 4' voices on an organ. This arrangement is often represented as shown:

The typical full sized professional accordion is referred to as a "4/5 accordion" because it has 4 sets of reeds (4 reed blocks, unless you have something like a Titano that breaks them into twice as many short blocks) on the right hand side and 5 sets of reeds on the left hand side. Occasionally, you'll run across an accordion with 5 sets of treble reeds and/or 6 sets of bass reeds.

In all cases, the bassoon reeds, at least one set of middle octave reeds (referred to as the "clarinet" reeds), and the piccolo reeds (if present) are all tuned to the same standard (e.g. _all_ are tuned to A=440 Hz, or _all_ are tuned to A=442 Hz, etc.).

The way that accordions are made to sound different from one another is in the way the remaining set(s) of middle octave reeds are tuned. Typically, they will be tuned a little bit off from the others to get a tremolo effect (a.k.a. a "beat note"). The amount of tremolo (actually the rate of the tremolo) is typically referred to as the amount of "wetness". If all middle octave reed sets are tuned exactly the same (no offset), the accordion is said to have "dry" tuning. In that case, no tremolo is heard.

Another term sometimes used for a wet accordion is to call it a "musette" accordion. However, this term has some ambiguity with it since many accordions have a shift labeled "musette" even though the accordion may be tuned totally dry. So, to avoid confusion, I'll use the term "wet" rather than "musette" to refer to an accordion that has some reed sets intentionally de-tuned.

One of the fundamentals: Tuning is often measured in "cents". 1 cent = 1/100 of a half-step, or a difference in pitch by a factor of 2 raised to the 1/1,200 power = 1.000577789507 .

For REED ARRANGEMENT A, following are some of the different tunings that I have encountered or done myself. First, I'll establish some terminology. Let's refer to the three sets of middle octave reeds (the "middle line") as follows:

Note that the term "clarinet reeds" is fairly commonly used among accordionists and tuners to refer to set #1. However the terms "musette reeds" and "violin reeds" (for the other middle octave reed sets) are often used interchangeably.

First of all note that some accordions have set #3 tuned sharp and others have that set tuned flat. "French Musette" tuning is distinguished mainly by the fact that it is much wetter than all other tunings. Furthermore, French Musette tuning typically has set #3 tuned flat by the exact same amount that set #2 is tuned sharp. If you do a Fourier analysis of the result, you'll find that this results in something similar to non-suppressed-carrier amplitude modulation (AM), for any radio-electronics buffs out there. (The 2-reed "musette" sound, as would be found in Reed Arrangement B, is analogous to suppressed-carrier AM). For non-technocrats, this means that in either case, there is not a "blend" of tremolos but rather a single tremolo being applied to each note.

Another type of tuning that is popular in piano accordions is the following. This tuning has reed set #2 tuned just a little bit sharp and set #3 tuned a lot sharp. The reason for this is so that the player has a choice of a fairly dry sound (by just selecting sets #1 and #2) or a wet sound, by selecting all 3 sets (or selecting #1 and #3). Note that if the amount of offset is not consistent between sets #1-to-#2 vs. #2-to-#3, then you do end up with a "blend" of a tremolos.

Slovenian style accordions typically have a moderately (but usually not totally) dry sound. Most have the violin reed set tuned a little bit sharp. The Slovenian tunings vary a lot, however, in how the third (musette) set is tuned. It is tuned sharp by some tuners and flat by others. Frankie Yankovic, however, has his accordion tuned totally dry. Contrast this with Joey Miskulin's accordion which is a little bit wetter. The key characteristic of Slovenian tuning is that there is a noticeable degree of wetness in the lower notes, yet not so much in the higher octave notes as to result in an "out of tune" sound.

German style tuning generally falls into the category of about 1/2 as wet as full French Musette.

For REED ARRANGEMENT B, there is one less set of middle octave reeds to play with. Thus, there are fewer degrees of freedom for tuning the accordion. The variations occur primarily in how sharp the violin reeds are tuned and secondarily, in whether they are tuned wet across the entire range of the keyboard, or dryer for higher notes (the latter being more of the "Slovenian style" tuning).

The BOTTOM LINE in all of this is that you should play multiple accordions with the different types of tunings until you find one that you like. Then either buy it, or borrow it and take it to your favorite tuner along with your accordion and ask him to tune yours just like it.

CAUTION: Make sure you use a reputable tuner. Tuning accordions properly is much more complicated than many folks realize. A good set of reeds can be ruined by an inexperienced tuner.

Particular things to listen for while you're trying the different accordions are the following:

Remember, any accordion with at least two sets of middle octave reeds can be made into a "musette" accordion, simply as a matter of how it is tuned. Now, if you want a full French Mussette sound, you need three sets of middle octave reeds, tuned appropriately relative to one another, as discussed above. Whether you want a full French Musette sound or just wet tuning of two sets of middle reeds is something you must decide after playing both types of accordions. One of the drawbacks of a very wet tuning is that to some people, the accordion will sound out of tune when the master switch is selected, especially in the higher notes.

Alan Polivka
acrdionman@aol.com
P.O. Box 061904
Palm Bay, FL 32906-1904


So how do the different tuning arrangements sound then?

Listen to samples of the synthesized tunings that I've created. The original sample was taken from the reed set of my Zero-Sette L40 accordion. I've used Cool Edit to do pitch shifts in steps of 5 cents (1 cent = 1/100 of a semitone). I've then added the original (unison) sample and the pitch shifted samples in different configurations. There are of course limitations regarding the realism using this method. Cool Edit is able to do a pitch shift without affecting the length of the sample (or the tempo). This is like magic and the algorithm really fakes it. Depending on the parameters used, the result is 'more or less' natural to the ear. In an accordion, the reeds are acoustically coupled and the pitch of the reeds is affected by many different parameters like the temperature, the reed quality, the pressure, the box, tone chambers etc. The synthesized samples do however give a hint of how the different configurations may sound like.

The WAV files are 16 bits, 16 kHz mono and sound much better than the AU files that are 8 bits, 8 kHz mono.

Tuning

N (cents)

0, +N

(79k WAV)

-N, 0, +N

(79k WAV)

0, +N

(20k AU)

-N, 0 +N

(20k AU)

Unison (one reed set only)

0

n.wav

-

n.au

-

French Canadian

5

nh5.wav

l5nh5.wav

nh5.au

l5nh5.au

Cajun

10

nh10.wav

l10nh10.wav

nh10.au

l10nh10.au

Tex-Mex/Polka

15

nh15.wav

l15nh15.wav

nh15.au

l15nh15.au

Italian/French

20

nh20.wav

l20nh20.wav

nh20.au

l20nh20.au

Irish

25

nh25.wav

l25nh25.wav

nh25.au

l25nh25.au


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Hans Palm 1997, hans.palm@mailbox.swipnet.se , snail address