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French System vs. International System Chromatic Button Accordions


Active member
Oct 25, 2021
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Massachusetts, USA
I was browsing the various Musictech accordions (just curious, no plans to buy). I noticed that they offer both French System and International System CBAs. As an example, here is a photo from their website, same model, but two different systems:
French vs International System.jpg

I have a general idea of the differences, but I have never found a description. Here is my impression:

French System:
  • Smaller buttons (14-15 mm), so a slightly more compact keyboard
  • Often 4-rows, but 5-rows are also common
  • Maybe a thumb groove for the four-finger style of playing
  • Mushroom style bass buttons
  • French Stradella, often 3+3
International System:
  • Larger buttons (16-17mm), slightly larger keyboard
  • Usually 5-rows
  • Cylindrical bass buttons
  • Normal Stradella, usually 2+4
Does anyone have any additions or changes to my list of characteristics?

I think the two small CBAs I own are both the French design.

My main questions are these:
  • Has anyone had significant experience playing both systems or even own both systems?
  • How difficult it is to switch between these if you play both types, especially adjusting to the different button sizes?
  • If one has been playing one of these systems, is it best to avoid buying an additional accordion of the other type?
  • Does either system have any significant advantages over the other?
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The issue with your questions, or most of them, is that responses to those questions are really individual to the player, There's no objective "This Is Better" answer. So long as the instruments are both B system or both C system, switching between these other features will be trivial to some player, they'll be fine either way. Whereas others won't get on with one config or another. Personally I don't care if CBA buttons are a bit smaller versus the fullsize, or mushroom bass versus the other kind. But YMMV.

It's like PAs with different key widths. Some players don't give a second thought to switching between fullsize keys versus slimmer, while others stick with one width that is comfortable them and find other widths hard to get on with.
The questions are completely irrelevant for the Musictech system but relate to the difference between French style button accordions and "international" style button accordions (not including bayans).
(Note: I do not know who makes the accordions of the Musictech "brand" because Musictech only does the electronics afaik.)
You summed up the differences between these types of accordions nicely. Some people prefer one kind, some the other. You can get used to either, but it's not so convenient to mix both. It's a bit like playing a "ladies size" piano accordion (narrow keys), a regular size PA, and an oversized PA like the Hohner Morino M series (extra wide keys). When you are used to one it's difficult to instantly move to one of the others and play the same songs.
Thanks for the replies OB and Paul. There is something unique here relevant to Musictech. They are offering their CBAs in two versions, either an F-CBA or a I-CBA. Most manufactures only offer their models in one CBA version. So it makes you think about this difference, and how significant it is. If the new CBA you are considering is not available in the same physical format as your current instrument, is this a reason to avoid it? Especially if you want to continue to play both instruments. That is the main question. So the answer is probably that it is not a sufficient reason to avoid, but it might be a little inconvenient.

Now for a beginner, choosing C or B system is confusing enough. They also have to consider French or International (if they are even aware of this choice).
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I have both ....I like the smaller french system 3x3 especially for tone and having that flat 3rd available easily ...
However I have always found the larger buttoned international CBAs easier to play in an ergonomic manner....somehow they feel lighter and better balanced....i think this is because they are narrower and the reeds are layed out as piano accordion rather than in the wider french system...
As Paul says it takes a little time to settle between the two but nothing really prohibitive....
I tend to work stuff out on my international box but enjoy "playing" on the french layout...
...There is something unique here relevant to Musictech. They are offering their CBAs in two versions, either an F-CBA or a I-CBA. Most manufactures only offer their models in one CBA version. ...
Most manufacturers offer accordions in the French model and the "International" model. I don't know which accordion maker supplies the accordions to Musictech for them to install the electronics in. The focus of most accordion factories, for non-convertor accordions, is on the "international" model with the larger buttons. Some focus more on the French model, like Piermaria and Cavagnolo, but that's a small minority.
What matters to Musictech is the placement of the register switches (under the keyboard in the French model, and on the grille in the "international" model). That influences the installation of the electronics.
What matters to most manufacturers is uniformity. The non-convertor accordions from the same factory are essentially the same, whether CBA or PA, with the exception of the keyboard itself. Their CBA are essentially a PA but with buttons. They are therefore also in most cases limited to 46 or 47 notes because that's how many notes fit on the PA version of "the same" accordion. When they make a French model it has no direct PA equivalent, and in most cases the French model CBA will give you more notes (52 is common), spread over more reed blocks than in a PA.
Having gotten to play one instrument that had them, I am quite fond of the behind-the-keyboard registers. I find them easier to find by feel without peeking. (And easier to peek at, too, if you really need to.) Similarly quite fond of the mushroom basses.

You won't find many manufacturers that give you a choice of registers on the front or the back. But most of the other variations --- 4 vs 5 rows, 3+3 or 2+4 basses, mushrooms or pistons --- they'll happily accommodate.
I also have both, but, although I like them both equally, I have some difficulty in changing from one to the other. Mainly missing jumps by a note. It normally takes me a couple of days to get accustomed.
In reality, I think I prefer my French system Paolo Soprani, (Italian made for the French market, for the Paul Buescher music store in Paris), but my Roland FR8xb has the international style, so that's been my excuse to buy (yet) another box in the international style