Summer has arrived in full force; being in the accordion business and located in Florida, heat and humidity are a great concern year round, but especially so during summer - the blazing sun, afternoon rainstorms, and condensation caused by the chill of air conditioners can cause serious damage to your accordion. While your Dancemaster accordion is made using a special high quality - heat resistant reed wax and equipped with a special humidity/corrosion control packet, we recommend prudent precautions.
DEALING WITH HEAT
The reeds in most accordions and in some concertinas are mounted onto reed blocks with 'reed wax' (a blend of beeswax, rosin and other additives. (If your instrument has screw-mounted reed frames on leather gaskets, you can skip to the next section.) Ordinary beeswax has a melting point of around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take. Most reed wax contains some amount of rosin which has a high melting point and also has strong adhesive characteristics. There are probably as many different types of reed wax so it is a good idea to assume that they all respond differently to heat. While the average highs in summer in Florida do not reach the melting point of reed wax, on a moderately warm, sunny day interior temperature of a closed car can quickly exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (Our 'Dancemaster Tropical Reed Wax' used in many of our Dancemaster Accordions was formulated to maintain its form in high heat and has a melting point of over 150 degrees Fahrenheit - but even with that we urge you NOT to leave your accordion inside a parked car in the sun even for a short time.)
Also, the 'melting point' is the temperature at which the wax liquifies; in fact, long before reed wax liquefies it begins to soften. While reed wax at 75 degrees Fahrenheit is rock solid and has strong adhesion strength, as it gets warmer and more pliable, the adhesion weakens. Large reeds are heavy so if the temperature rises to 120 degrees the wax becomes soft and the weight of the reeds can cause them to pull away from the reed block. Any impact or vibration would further contribute to the loosening of the reeds. I once got an accordion from a customer who had driven for less than 2 hours on a pleasant sunny day with his accordion inside a black carrying case in the passenger seat. The AC was off, the window was down, but the sun had been hitting the case. The black shell of the case had drawn a lot of heat and the inside of the case had become an oven, causing reed wax to soften and that combined with the vibrations many of the treble reeds had slid a few millimeters down the reed block. The wax contaminated many of the underside reeds and valves requiring the removal of many reeds and valves - a very expensive repair. Had the accordion been in light colored case it may have prevented such a meltdown.
A couple of summers ago I had to travel by car across the country carrying a lot of accordions. Since they did not all fit inside the passenger compartment, many of them had to go in the trunk and in the carrier box atop the rooftop rails. There were several hours of driving through the Mojave Desert in a most brutal heat. As bad as this sounds, none of the accordions suffered any reed wax meltdown or any other damage thanks to a few precautions I had taken.
Here are a few useful tips on transporting accordions by car in hot weather:
1. Before the trip, cool accordion and case in an air conditioned room. If it is a long trip and it is a really hot day place it in a large drink cooler - styrofoam or the padded kind - large enough to fit the accordion in. The lighter the color, the better.
2. Once inside the car, place accordion out of direct sun, and away from the car's hot spots. Areas of the floor close to the exhaust pipe are hot. Make sure there is good airflow around the case to keep the surface cool. Place over it a light colored towel or a reflective windshield shade over accordion.
3. Use dark tinted film or shades on the windows.
4. If shade or AC is not available inside the passenger compartment, the accordion may stay cooler inside the trunk esp. if the car is light colored. Again, keep it away from hot spots; the area above the exhaust pipe is often the hottest place in the trunk.
5. If you have a dark colored car and need to place your accordion in the trunk, tape a large reflective windshield shade onto the outside trunk lid to help keep the sunlight off of it - in the case of my dark green Ford Escort I duct taped a reflective sheet on the trunk lid. It wasn't pretty, but it did the job (plus it made it easier to find the car in a crowded parking lot.)
6. If carrying accordions in a rooftop carrier, know that as long as the car is moving it will remain relatively cool inside, esp. if it is light colored. Before my trip I spray painted my black Sears rooftop box with light gray primer and then finished it with a coat of silver paint. With air flowing at highway speed over the top and bottom surfaces of the carrier, it stayed remarkably cool inside, even through the Mojave in July.
DEALING WITH HUMIDITY & CORROSION
Most damaging to the reeds is excess moisture. Typically, relative humidity of under 50% does not cause any rapid corrosion of the reeds. However, if condensation is allowed to form on the reeds, corrosion sets in quickly. Even below 50% RH condensation can occur if accordions are being moved back and forth between air conditioned buildings and the outdoors. The colder the AC, the greater the risk. It happens on a steel reed in much the same way condensation forms on a glass of ice water. If the water droplets drip down to the rivets and gets trapped in the crevice between the base of the tongue and the frame you will have rust. This kind of exposure to humidity is most damaging. Salt air is another story, and we hope, a rare one. Unfortunately, some of our favorite customers spend a lot of time on boats on the open sea - with their accordions. For them, I recommend a combination of humidity control and corrosion preventor packets.
Here are a few useful tips on protecting your accordion from humidity & condensation:
1. We know how condensation forms on a glass of ice water but not on a warm coffee mug. Same goes for accordion reeds. After playing outside on a humid day, before storing away your accordion for any length of time, play the accordion in a dry room and pump the bellows full of dry air before closing it up. On the other hand, if you are taking your accordion from a cold, heavily air conditioned room to a hot and humid outdoor location, play it long enough until the reeds can warm up to the ambient temperature level to prevent condensation on the reeds.
2. In a high humidity environment, install a humidity control packet - not standard silica gel dehumidifier - inside the accordion and one inside the case. The packet normally lasts 2-5 years (shorter in extreme conditions.) They protect metal parts from corrosion and wooden parts from expansion and contraction. For salt air a combination of humidity control & corrosion preventor packets is recommended.
Please email any questions to: mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 5/06 c. 2006 Irish Dancemaster Accordions