Squeezebox jargon demystified – Eagle Music explain the most used terminology

Eagle Music lists below the most used terminology in the squeezebox world and gives simple explanations of all the buzz words and jargon like Musette, Cajun, Dry Tuning, Wet Tuning, Anglo Concertina, Diatonic, Chromatic etc. The list is alphabetical and non exhaustive!

Accordeon

What purists might call a European melodeon or a continental chromatic squeezebox.

Accordion

A squeezebox with bellows, that has buttons or  keys or a combination of both.

Air button

A button or lever that is situated near to the players left bass end operating hand. It enables the player to ‘let air in’ or ‘let air out’ of the bellows.

Anglo concertina

A concertina that plays a different note ‘on the push’ and ‘on the pull’. The popular sizes are described as ‘20 key’ and ‘30 key’. The popular tuning for Irish music is G/C.

Back strap

A strap located at the back of the player …When fitted, the ‘back strap’ pulls together and holds  the two shoulder straps in place. This gives extra stability to the accordion player.

Bellows

The central part of an accordion. The bellows holds and stores air. When the player presses the buttons or keys of an accordion, this transfers the air to the reeds and makes the voices sound.

Bellows strap

Normally two of these are fitted to an accordion (one at the top and one at the bottom) they hold the bellows together for safe transit, or when the accordion is not in use.

Bellows tape

Special cloth backed tape that is glued onto the edges of the bellows to hold them together and it also protect the edges of the bellows.

Bellows pin

Small metal domed pins that hold the bellows to the casing of a squeezebox.

Button accordion

It looks the same as a melodeon but it is a chromatic instrument eg.. On a 2 row box the reeds are tuned an interval apart eg. B/C or D/D# or C#/D etc. A three row Button Accordion could be in the key B/C/C# etc.

Buttons

The small round ‘buttons’ that the fingers press on a melodeon or button accordion to sound the reeds.

Cassotto

The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. ‘The Box’ is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Castagnari

A top quality Italian melodeon  maker.

Cajun music

Cajun music is often couple and mentioned at same time as  the Creole-based Cajun-influenced zydeco form of music  which are both of the Acadiana origin. This type of music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada and also is an emblematic music of Louisiana, USA.

Cassotto

‘The Box’ this is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Chin switches

These are a type of ‘Treble Voice Switch’ located above the treble keyboard. The player does not have to move their hand away from the playing position to change voices, this makes them very easy and convenient to use.

Chromatic

A squeezebox that can be played in and out of the rows to access all the notes including sharps and flats of a chromatic scale.

Continental chromatic

In simple terms, you could think of this instrument as being a Piano Accordion that has buttons rather that keys! because you get the same note on the push and pull the same as on a Piano Accordion.

Converter bass (Also see Free Bass)

An accordion fitted with a converter bass system is the most versatile squeezebox regarding  the left hand. The left hand bass end of the squeezebox has ‘switches’ to change between standard Stradella and ‘Free Bass’.

Couplers (also called Registers, Switches and Stops)

These are the ‘selector switches’ that are found on squeezeboxes. they are used to select the number of ‘voices’ that can be playing at any one time. Accordions that have a more than two voices are often tuned to different octaves of each voice. An accordion that is described as ‘Octave Tuned’ will have a voice tuned an octave higher than the middle voice and a voice tuned an octave lower than the middle voice.

They have small dots or indentations on them to indicate the number of voices that the coupler will ‘switch on’.
eg. The coupler switch with one dot on it will play only one voice, and if it is the higher octave single reed that is chosen, it will sound something like a concertina.

Depending on how many voices the particular squeezebox has, will determine how many couplers there are. The voices can come tuned to different octaves. On say a three voice accordion, you will be able to select the higher tuned reeds, the lower tuned reeds and the middle tuned reeds in a number of different combinations. On a four voice accordion that is musette tuned, you will can select and play on the three musette tuned reeds. etc.

Crane

A make of duet concertina from the 19th century.

Diatonic tuning

Diatonic. eg. A/D, D/G, G/C etc. (a 5th apart) – Chromatic. eg. B/C, C#/D, D/D# etc.

Double casotto

The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. ‘The Box’ is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Double Ray

A button accordion model made by Hohner.

Dry tuning

When two voices or more are tuned to the same to concert pitch (No tremolo).

Duet concertina

The Duet Concertina is the least common and least available to find or buy in modern times. There are three duet ‘systems’ that were  invented in the 19th century by Jeffries, McCann and Crane. Crane’s Duet Concertina ‘system’ was also known as The Triumph Concertina.

English

A type of music eg. Morris Dance Music or a concertina that plays the same note on the push and the pull.

Four stop

A one row melodeon that has ‘four stops’ for selecting different reed playing combinations.

Four voice

A box that has four banks of reeds.

Free bass

An accordion  bass system that is favoured by Baroque, folk and some classical players.
Unlike the stradella bass system, ‘Free  Bass’ means that all the left hand buttons play a different note! …this makes the instrument very versatile and gives the player a massive range of musical notes. Classical, piano and organ music can be played with little need for re arrangement.

Fret worked

The way the pattern is cut on the front/grille of a squeezebox, it can metal or wood that is fretworked.

Grille

Located at the front of the squeezebox, the grille is normally fancy, fretworked and displays the makers logo.  it’s job however, is to cover and protect the workings (valves etc.) of the accordion. The grille lets out the treble sound, but it can also be designed and made in a way that it can mute the treble sound.

Hohner

A German accordion maker, probably the World’s best known.

Jeffries

A make of concertina from the 19th century.

Key

The signature of a piece of music eg. the key of C major.

Keys

The black and white keys found on a piano accordion.

Lachenal

A make of concertina from the 19th century

Master bar selector switch

Some sqeezeboxes are fitted with a bar that runs the length of the treble keyboard, it is located at the outer edge of the keyboard. When pressed in it switches in all the voices. It can be operated easily by the heel of the players hand, it springs back automatically to it’s outer position immediately after it is pressed in. very useful in that The Master Bar enables the player to switch on the master set of voices without taking any  fingers away from the playing position.

McCann

A make of duet concertina from the 19th century.

MIDI

Music Instrument Digital Interface.
Introduced in the mid 1980s for accordionists. The MIDI system means that in simple terms, the accordion is fitted with an interface controller, when a note is played it is sent to a sound generator or ‘slave’ as it is called, which instantly plays the same note through an amplifier. A MIDI kit can be fitted to any old accordion by specialist installers.

Musette tuned

Musette describes three reeds in the same octave that sound at the same time. A WET musette tuning would be when one set of reed voices is tuned in concert pitch, one set is tuned sharp, and the third set is tuned flat. this very strong tremolo effect was made popular by the renown Scottish accordionist Jimmy shand. A dry musette tuning that would be desired for Irish music would be when the three reeds voices are tuned as close as possible to concert pitch.

Octave tuned

Accordions that have a more than two voices are often tuned to different octaves for each voice. An accordion that is described as ‘Octave Tuned’ will have one of it’s voices  tuned an octave higher than the middle voice and a voice tuned an octave lower than the middle voice.

One row

A melodeon that has one row of buttons on the treble end.

One voice

A squeezebox that has just one single bank of reeds on the treble end.

Piano accordion

An accordion that has black and white ‘piano type keys’.

Pitch

A reed is tuned to a certain musical ‘pitch’ . Small reeds produce higher pitched notes and vibrate much faster than bass reeds. As such, bass reeds need to be longer and thicker than treble reeds …in fact the longer and thicker the reed, the lower will be the the pitch. bass reeds move much slower than treble reeds. When you press the bellows harder and force more air through a reed, it doesn’t make the reed move any faster, it just increases the volume of the note.

Pokerwork

A one row or two row melodeon model made by Hohner. It is names after the pokerwork type pattern on the casing.

Reeds

Reeds are what produce the note/sound of a squeezebox. Steel is the most common material for making reeds. The thin steel reed is riveted onto an aluminium reed plate. The reed plate has a slot in the middle which allows the reed to move freely in the slot. When air from the bellows is passed through the slot the reed vibrates and produces sound at the pitch of the note that the reed is tuned to. Reeds are ‘tuned’ at the time of manufacture and in some cases can be re-tuned. The reeds are mounted onto wooden reed blocks. To moderate and conserve air, reeds are fitted with plastic ‘wind-savers’ or ‘leathers’ as they are also made from soft leather. Some people also call them  ‘valves’.

Reeds types

The playability, sound and general quality of a squeezebox can be attributed to the reeds that it is fitted with. reeds come in four different quality levels. the general quality may vary depending on the source of the particular reed.

Hand made reeds

A squeezebox fitted with hand made reeds is much more responsive to the player, these reeds respond to gentle use of the bellows to extreme pressure placed on them by the player. Each reed plate is hand made from Dural (a  type of string aluminium developed for the aircraft industry). It is hand worked deburred and polished to a fine finish. The high grade steel used for the actual reed tongue is heat tempered which leaves a visible blue sheen on the edges of the reed. When the reeds are fitted to the reed blocks with wax, the base of the reed plate may be smeared with a layer of wax, this is another sign to tell you that the reeds are hand made.

Hand finished reeds

This reed and plate is hand finished in that the maker fits the steel reed tongue by hand. There is a lesser degree of quality and finish relating to the reed plate itself which will be duller and less shiny than a hand made reed plate.

Tipo A Mano. ‘hand made type’

‘Tipo A Mano’ when translated from Italian to English means ‘Imitation hand made Type’ This reed and plate looks similar to a genuine hand made reed and is normally made on an larger plate, in fact the top quality ‘Tipo A Mano’ reeds that are made from the best quality steel with some degree of hand finishing, can be as good as some of the hand made reeds.

Commercial or factory made

Factory made reeds are less expensive to produce and this is reflected in the cost of instruments compared with the ones fitted with hand made reeds.

Factory made reeds plates are smaller, and made from a lower grade aluminium.

they are almost entirely machine made with a little hand finishing. They still play well and sound good, but a box fitted with them in the hands of a professional player will not be as responsive as hand made reeds.

Registers (also called couplers, switches and stops)

These are the ‘selectors’ that are found on squeezeboxes for selecting the number of  ‘voices’ that can be playing at any one time. The often have small dots on them to indicate the number of voices that you are selecting. eg. the coupler with one dot on it will play only one voice and sound a something like a concertina. Depending on how many voices the particular squeezebox has will determine how many couplers there are. the voices can come tuned to different octaves. On say a three voice box, you will be able to select the higher tuned reeds, the lower tuned reeds and the middle tuned reeds in a number of different combinations. On a four voice accordion that is musette tuned you can select and play on the three musette tuned reeds.

Rotella

A rotating thumb screw that adjusts the hand strap on a squeezebox.

Saltarelle

A top quality French designer / Italian accordion company. The first choice for many professional players.

Stops

Stops or Registers are Knobs or Switches or Levers that are operated by the player allowing different combinations of sound from the selected reed banks.

Stradella

The layout pattern of the bass buttons on a swueezebox.

Strap bracket

Metal fitments that the shoulder straps are fitted to, normally one at the top and one underneath an accordion.

Swing tuning

Swing. When one reed is tuned in concert pitch and the other is tuned slightly sharp. Somewhere between Wet and Dry

Three row

A squeezebox that has three rows of buttons on the treble end.

Three voice

A squeezebox that has three sets of reeds on the treble end …ie. three reeds can sound at the same time.

Thumb straps

On lighter weight squeezeboxes a shoulder strap may not be needed. One or even two row melodeons may have a thumb strap fitted on the treble end.

The thumb strap is for the thumb of the right hand, and is mostly used on lighter concertinas and bandoneons, where shoulder straps are not needed.

Tone chamber

‘The Box’ this is the tone chamber containing a set of reeds (or two or more) …The Italian word ‘Cassotto’ translates to the word ‘box’. The reeds blocks that are housed in the tone chamber can be two voices or more. A box with two sets of reeds can be referred to as ‘Double Casotto’. The quality and design ot the tone chamber can add towards the quality of the tone on the instrument.

Tuning

In simple terms, the three different tunings of reeds for accordions are what is called Wet, Swing and Dry tuning.

Wet Tuning is where the reeds are tuned apart to give a wavering / tremolo effect. eg. on a two voice box one reed would be tuned to concert pitch and the second reed would be tuned sharp …the sharper the second reed is tuned …the wetter the sound. On a three voice WET tuned accordion one reed would be tuned to concert pitch and the second reed would be tuned sharp the third reed would be tuned flat …the sharp and flat reeds beating against the reeds that are tuned to concert pitch gives a very WET sound. Wet tuning is the most accepted for Scottish music. Jimmy Shand being one of the great players that made this tuning popular in Scottish music.

Swing Tuning is the most common tuning for instruments bought ‘off-the-shelf’ and can be accepted in most genres of music. Swing Tuning falls in the middle of Wet and Dry. The reeds are tuned slightly apart which gives the a slight amount of tremolo, but a little more body to the sound.

Dry Tuning is where two voices or more are tuned to concert pitch. Dry tuned accordions are the most widely accepted in Irish music and can be likened to a concertina ‘sound’.

Two row

The number of rows of buttons on a melodeon or button accordion.

Two and a half row

A squeezebox that has two rows of buttons on the treble end, with the addition of half row of extra buttons situated above the two rows …the extra buttons give the player ‘accidental notes’ these notes can be notes that are repeated from the two rows for easier access to the player, or they can be  notes that don’t exist on the standard tuned  two row box.

Two voice

A squeezebox that has two sets of reeds on the treble end …ie. two reeds can sound at the same time.

Valves

Located inside the squeezebox under the grille, you will find sound ‘holes’ that are covered by moveable wooden blocks, these wooden blocks have ‘pads’ fitted to them, they are known as the ‘valves’.
When the buttons and keys are pressed on a squeezebox, spring loaded levers are operated that lift and lower the valves to let air into the reeds.
Also the Small plastic ‘wind savers’ that cover the reeds to conserve air in a squeezebox
are sometimes called valves.

Voices

Voices refers to the number of reeds per note in an instrument. E.g 1 voice = 1 reed, (sounds like a concertina) 2 reeds = 2 voices, 3 reeds = 3 voices. etc.

Wet tuning

Wet or Tremolo. When one reed is tuned in concert pitch and the other is tuned sharp – sharp enough to set up a fast tremolo beat between the reeds.

Wheatstone

A make of concertina from the 19th century …Charles Wheatstone invented the concertina in 1829.

Zydeco

Cajun music is often couple and mentioned at same time as  the Creole-based Cajun-influenced zydeco form of music  which are both of the Acadiana origin. This type of music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada and also is an emblematic music of Louisiana, USA.