Another view on Chinese Accordions
Is this guide helpful?
Another guide to accordions, specifically, accordions of Chinese manufacture, implies that they are not worthy of our attention. I beg to disagree.
I submit that I am both an accordionist and a repairer of accordions, having repaired ancient Italian and American (yes, there were lots of accordions made in America) accordions, as well as Weltmeister, Hohner, Soprani, Dallape and others of more recent manufacture.
On the matter of chinese accordions, one gets what one pays for, and that goes for accordion manufacturers moving production to China as well. Labor rates and production costs in China are very low, and that is driving a booming export business there. The chinese are very intelligent businessmen, and skilled craftsmen. They can produce anything from nuclear reactors to spacecraft, so accordions aren't a major technological challenge. Where the problem lies, as far as the consumer is concerned is in export product quality control. We all know that quality and price go hand in hand. You get what you pay for, as the saying goes. In many instances, the company contracting the manufacturer to produce accordions is doing so to capitalize on the lower production costs found in China. No secret there. But this line of thinking often leads to expectations that are unrealistic. Yes, the Chinese can producce a 12 bass piano accordion for under 100 dollars. They can produce an excellent chromatic button accordion, rivaling the Dallape, for about $6000 USD. But they can't produce an excellent 120 bass piano accordion for under $150 USD. It's just not possible. But the business culture in China says that you don't say "no" to a customer. They will produce what you ask for, and if it's a 120 bass accordion for $120 USD per unit, that is what you'll get. And it will be worth about $120. Not an excellent accordion. If you, the importer, complain about the quality, it will be politely explained to you that you have not paid for a high quality intrument. To produce high quality costs more than to produce low quality.
I have in my posession, two chinese accordions, both chromatic button accordions. One is a 33 note, 72 bass Goldencup "practice quality" accordion. Golden cup offers "student" quality, "Practice Quality" and "Musical Performance (Professional) Quality", and three pricing tiers as well. Their highest quality chromatic button accordion has a wholesale price under $10000. Well under $10000. A comparable italian accordion will wholesale for about twice what the chinese accordion costs. But the quality will not, in my opinion, be twice as good. Maybe 15% better, with the chinese closing the gap year by year. The quality of the practice level instruments is quite good. Not excellent, but at least as good as most commercially available accordions made elsewhere (read that as non-professional accordions made elsewhere). I am quite satisfied with this accordion. The finish is good inside and out, the tone is pleasing and the action is smooth and, amazingly, quiet. It probably costs Goldencup around $250-300 to produce, retail is around $500-600USD, though you could charge more and the customer would still be happy.
Now for comparison, I have a five row 72 bass chromatic button accordion that appears to be made by Goldencup, but is in fact, made by another manufacturer in another province. This manufacturer produces a wide variety of musical instruments, from sousaphones to oboes to electric guitars. The quality of this accordion is not very good, but the price is low, lower than the 3 row Goldencup. When it arrived in my shop from the customs warehouse, it had loose screws holding in the reed blocks (loose because the were too short for the application). It had sticking buttons (5 to be exact). There were other issues. The straps were too short for anyone but a 7 year-old. The keyboard action was noisier and less accurate than the Goldencup. Where Goldencup would use plastic/nylon bushings, this manufacturer would use bent wire to connect valve rods. Terrible. But cheap. Under $200 per unit. At this price, the quality control is in the hands of the importer (me). It took about two hours of work just to make this accordion playable, and it was a brand new accordion. Retail price would still be (in some shops) around $500-$550 dollars. More profit for the shop, less quality and satisfaction for the customer. Needless to say, I won't be ordering any more accordions from that manufacturer.
When Hohner moved certain model production to China, they are reported to have sent german technicians from their european factory to monitor production and quality. My experience with the Hohner products from China is that they are SAID to have a lower quality (not by much) than those produced in Germany. But this is apparently no longer the case. One particular complaint centered around reed breakage in 3 row diatonic instruments. But 3 row diatonic instruments in America have a particularly hard life, as many are used in Norteno and Conjunto latin bands where LOUD is the favorite volume of the accordionist. Playing really loud for a long time will stress reeds. Ask any accordion technician. So the problem is laid at the feet of the Chinese producers. What you don't know is that the European producers have the same problems with their accordions when played in this manner.
I think the thing to remember, as a consumer, is that you can find reputable brands in China for far less money than you can in Europe, that some Chinese producers make lousy instruments, and others make pretty darned good ones. Same is true for European makers. It's just that their lousy instruments cost more than the Chinese lousy instruments. Some of that cost is a result of fluctuations in foreign exchange rates as well, so you want to consider the strength of your currency relative to that of the producing country.
Do your research before you bid. If it seems too good to be true, it may well be.,