Hi Ryan -
Welcome to this forum and to the wonderful world of Cajun accordion.
In terms of getting yourself an accordion, the first and most important recommendation is to get a C accordion. Someday when you are rich and famous, go ahead and buy a D and a Bb and all those other keys, but for now, you want a C -- 99% of instructional materials are designed around a C accordion, any Cajun jams you join will require a C accordion. So don't even consider another key.
In terms of what sort of accordion you want to look for, the subject quickly gets more complicated. Some people will tell you you need a genuine Cajun box, which (with few exceptions) will run you $2,000+ new. That's a lot to spend for an instrument that you may decide is not for you after a couple months. Others will tell you to get something cheap and Chinese, and then upgrade once you've ascertained whether or not you've really got the bug. The problem with that approach is that if your 1st instrument is bad enough, it may discourage you from practicing and may ultimately dissuade you from continuing. Still other will tell you to look for a good used LA box, which is a fine recommendation if you know what you're looking for but not terribly helpful if you don't.
Personally, I think the third option is the best IF you can find someone to advise you and/or someone currently playing a second-tier LA box but looking to upgrade. Best sources are probably this forum + Craiglist for Lafayette, LA and the surrounding region.
Not a lot of Cajun accordion teachers in the Midwest, but Big Nick (aka Tom Nickel, who manages this forum) lives somewhere near Milwaukee, plays up there with the Cajun Strangers, and has put out an excellent series of instructional DVDs for Cajun accordion, which are as good a place as any to start your learning. Don't know if he teaches, but you could ask. (You can get to his web page where the DVDs are sold easily by clicking the "Return to Website" link at the top of this page.) There are 1 or 2 other Cajun accordion players in Milwaukee who might also be able to help get you started.
A bit further away, the Chicago branch of the Cajun French Music Association (CFMA) runs a monthly Sunday Cajun jam session (which, given day, time, and location should be a fairly quick commute from Milwaukee) and a monthly Cajun dance (also on Sundays usually). Worth the $20 annual membership fee just to get on the CFMA mailing list and be apprised of local events.
Good luck and, again, welcome!
Try John Doucet for a hand made LA box under $2k.
Once again... HOHNER HA114 in key of C made in Germany.
Gabbanelli (made in Italy but not made by Gabbanelli) and stand up reed blocks...
not to the quality of Castagnari or other Italian made 1 rows.
Been through "the first box" dilemna not too long ago.
All good advice so far, but we would need to know more about your budget.
As Jeff said, a Hohner HA114 would be an awesome starter. They don't sound like a modern cajun accordion w/ Italian reeds but they have a good old timey tone. And they're light, rock solid, and plain fun to play. I wouldn't dismiss a recent Chinese made one though. Their weak point is the springs which break easily. Annoying but easily fixed.
Another good option is a Hohner 1040 / 1140 (one row with 4 bass buttons) or Hohner Pokerwork in G/C or C/F (2 rows). These are not cajun accordions and won't have the cajun tone, but they're good boxes on their own, and useful for a variety of styles.
Gabbanelli, Regal (also labeled Weltmeister or Harmona) are solid choices too. You may find a used Hohner HA114 for less than any of those though.
If you wanna shell out the dough on a LA made accordion, make sure to try a few before you order one. They're pretty much all made from the same parts, but they all sound and feel different.
I may, once again, consider selling my early 1950s HA114...
Tried to off it for a giveaway price a couple months ago and retreated due to an idiotic response.
I'll check it out again, sitting here on the shelf, and see what reeds are in it.. I believe a combination of T and H....
I'll be back.
PS there is no such thing as an accordiAn
There are accordions (Ammurrikan spelling)
and other variants..
Can't go wrong with Melodeon for a one row.
Depending on its condition and what your definition of a "giveaway price" is, I may be very interested in your HA114.
I assume (may be wrong) H reeds are Hohner? What are T reeds?
I realized that I misspelled accordion right after I made my first post!
H and T on Hohner reeds are just stamps on the reed plates. H reeds are generally older and have a reputation for sounding better. In my experience, there's more to reeds than just the stamp. Also, my first box was a Hohner with H reeds and it had a glorious sound FWIW.
I would not hesitate to buy Jeff's HA114, before he changes his mind once again :)
Most HOHNERS of a certain age suffer from the wrong owners, hack "repairmen", and or improper storage, not from use.
Impossible to find a mint 1950s-60s HA114 because stuff ages and may need attention. Some a little , some a lot.
and this is usually reflected in the price...usually.
I'll check mine out tonight.. see what gives..
Bought it a couple years ago from Paul Groff, noted box historian, player, repairman-tuner of the highest caliber. Have not played it 10 minutes. I paid $500...
IF that is IF I decide to sell it will be $400.
I can take photos and e mail/send electronically.. IF that is IF I decide to sell it.
I'll post later.
This box has no hack modifications or repairs is about 95-99% original with some minor exceptions... and a bit of wear in the right places....
"IF that is IF I decide to sell it will be $400."
That should be jumped on.
Keep an eye out on Ebay, Ive bought two HA-114 one for $350 and one for $400 also a HA-114B for $400. I probably wouldnt spend more than $400 though personally.
They can also be retuned dry if you want. My first accordion was HA-114 with hand made finger board and bass box and dry tuned, it makes them much more enjoyable to play. I recently made three finger boards and bass boxes to fit them. I wish I had one "cajunized" as I call them that I could sell you but I dont at the time. I will keep an eye out though for ya!
By "Cajunized" do you mean removing the iconic Bohemian/Austrain/Saxon/German spoon bass and removing and replacing possibly the best Bohemian/Austrian Saxon/German action on a one row ever made, hairpin springs.. and replacing them with nailed on coil springs ?
"Personally", I wouldn't spend any amount of money on a E-Bay accordeon.
Quebec accordeon techs have been replacing Bass Boxes on HA series Hohners for at least 40 years...Nothing new. Cajun builders have used Hohners as a base and built around them for decades.. Shine Mouton for one.
My replacement fingerboards have thumb grooves and removable front and rear plates, no thumb straps. No, I no longer make them.
BTW Hohners aren't just for beginners. Many seasoned players and professionals use and have used Hohner one rows.
Side tracked.. my dog died.
Romeo.. actually AKC registered as Alpha Romeo
13 yrs old
English Cream Golden Retriever
Born in the Netherlands and brought over at 10 weeks.
He was my best bud.
I'd be devastated .. I am so sorry ..
The following day my wife and I travelled 1002 miles (by car) to visit Romeo's grand-daughter Bella Rose...
Slightly smaller and a spitting image. Had a great visit, a bit sad but worth the trip.
All of Romeo's Christmas gifts/toys were left with her.
My field is empty without him chasing the ground squirrels, crows and turkeys.
We are going to wait a bit before we consider another dog... hard to fill his paws.
Thanks for the thoughts...