In January this year I found a beautiful old accordion on TradeMe- $7! Who could say no. I had no idea what I was going to do with it but I knew I needed it.
It arrived and it was in pretty bad condition. A whole section of the bellows was missing, but by holding it shut I could tell that was the only reason it wasn't making noise! Musically it seemed fine, the keys that were there worked. It was missing the air release button (silent button) and one of the keys.
The bass strap was ripped and someone had stuck a Caltex sticker on it?
The decorative paper on the outside was falling apart- after removing the metal corners, I discovered the snakeskin pattern was originally navy blue, and the trim was a brilliant gold! I could tell she would have been beautiful once. So my goal was just to make her beautiful again, bit by bit.
I start all my restorations by taking the thing apart and giving it a good clean. You learn a lot about the piece and start to see its potential.
From there you know where to go - the easiest bits first! I sanded (1200 grit!) and polished the tarnished keys. Some had a coppery tone which I would have liked to keep, but it came off with sanding.
The wooden sides had a beautiful gold embossing that I eventually had to decide to paint over. I would have loved to restore them to their original glossy finish but I didn't have the materials.
I filled the numerous cracks and holes with putty, and even built up a missing edge with it. I love putty.
This part involved a lot of sanding and repainting. And then more sanding and repainting.
I ended up using a combination of enamel paint and spray paint. The flat bits were easy to paint and seal smoothly with a paintbrush, but finishing the part that the keys attached to (with the nice metal bits) took many tries due to the funky shapes and trying to avoid the metal, and surprisingly spray paint was the most efficient for it. It also meant I had to leave the treble buttons black instead of restoring them to a bone finish, but... compromise!
A few layers of clear finish, and they looked very handsome indeed.
I wanted to have the air valve button look similar to the two bass buttons as above- I bought a silver button from Spotlight, dissected it, and super-glued it on to the screw.
To replace the strap, I used part of a leather belt I found at an opshop. It worked really well!
Bellows & Edges
The bellows were missing one whole section of fold, from what looked like water damage. To replace this, I measured and cut a section of craft card, and glued it in as air-tight as I could.
After sadly giving up on being able to restore the ancient paper decoration, I spent so long looking for snakeskin patterned paper to be true to the original design! It's not an easy thing to find in New Zealand, so I had to start being more flexible with using what was available- where was I going to find the exact shade or pattern in small enough amounts that was affordable??
Solution? Spray-painted wallpaper. I cut and sealed enough to make mistakes, but the shapes were surprisingly forgiving. Gluing it on was the most satisfying, but messy, process.
The metal corners you can see were tricky. I had to guess what type of metal they were, and ended up boiling them in vinegar to clean them, then sanding and polishing. They were attached with a billion tiny pins that I ended up replacing with new tiny nails instead of trying to polish all of them.
When I disassembled it, I found a number of screws that didn't appear to do anything... I managed to reuse some of them but it was very satisfying fine sanding them back to their original shine. Being able to reuse the original reed buttons was exciting.
The trickiest part to replace was the missing treble key. It's a small half-cylinder of wood, with a metal outer and a leather pad. I ended up 3D printing a half cylinder at the right size, wrapping it in thin sheet metal, and used some leather offcuts I got from a friend. Can you tell which one is fake? The fact that most immediately can't probably means a success!
All and all I'm very happy with this piece. It still needs some finishing touches but being my first restoration of this scale I'm happy to say I learnt a lot.