Excerpt from "The Early Flute"

by John Solum


  1. Any wooden or ivory flute with an unsealed bore needs to be 'played in'gradually: ten minutes per session (maximum of two per day) for the first two weeks, then one thirty-minute session per day for another two weeks. One may possibly play it in faster without cracking it, but one must also consider the important element of minimizing the distortion of the bore. No wooden instrument should ever be played more than two hours per day, preferably no more than one. Just because an antique instrument has survived without cracking for centuries does not guarantee it against further cracking. If your traverso is not regularly played and has been allowed to dry out, play it in gradually again.

  2. Always warm the instrument before playing. A cold instrument willcondense your warm breath faster than a warm one. A cold instrument being warmed by playing will also be unstable in pitch while warming. Warm the instrument slowly by holding it in your hands or under your arm. Electrical heating rolls are a recent development which are designed to warm flutes or recorders prior to using them.

  3. Keep the threads on the tenons adjusted so that the tenons will fit properly into the sockets. Unlike metal flutes, instruments of wood and ivory will shrink or expand with use and with changes in temperature and humidity. One should always have on hand a spool of thread to cope with these changes. Keep the thread wrappings well lubricated with cork grease or petroleum jelly.

  4. Use a twisting motion to assemble or disassemble the traverso. Always disassemble the traverso immediately after playing. Failure to do so may result in the tenon becoming stuck in the socket. To free such a tenon, dry the inside of the instrument, then allow it to dry additionally at room temperature for several days before attempting to disassemble it.

  5. The exterior and interior of the instrument should be oiled. Whenever the exterior appears dry or the finish becomes dull, apply a light coat of three parts boiled linseed oil thinned with one part turpentine. Oils applied to the interior of a traverso act as a partial barrier to help prevent moisture from penetrating the wood. The application of oil to the bore of a traverso thus helps to prevent cracking. Note that it does not prevent it, it merely helps to prevent it. If the bore of a flute is permanently sealed with a varnish, it does not require oiling. Experts are in disagreement about what kind of oil to apply to the inside of a bore if the instrument is not permanently sealed. Some prefer a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine. Linseed oil is a drying oil, first becoming sticky and then hard like a varnish. This gives a somewhat brighter sound to the traverso, since the degree of porosity of the interior of the bore affects the tone. Other experts state that linseed oil, by eventually drying in the wood, may crack it. They recommend instead almond, peanut, or olive oil. (Quantz recommended almond oil; Tromlitz stated that almond oil is too thin and dries too fast. What one needs ideally is a slightly acidic non-drying oil.) When oiling a bore, first make sure that the wood is dry and hasn't been played for a few hours. Let the oil remain in the bore for at least two hours—overnight is better—then remove the excess. The bore of a new instrument should be oiled weekly or monthly until it will not absorb any more. Check for dry patches where the oil has been fully absorbed and more should be added.

  6. Avoid extremes of temperature and humidity, or sudden changes. Because wood and ivory react noticeably to such things, it is common sense to minimize variations in humidity and temperature. If you live in a climate with hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters, it is especially advisable to stabilize the humidity and temperature as much as possible. Steam heating is particularly stressful on wooden or ivory instruments unless the air is humidified. Ideal conditions are 68°F (20°C) and 50 per cent relative humidity. Above all, avoid placing the instrument on or near direct sources of heat, such as radiators or vents. When not in use (especially in winter), a traverso should be kept in an airtight plastic bag to help stabilize the moisture content, if you are in a geographic location of relatively low humidity. In a damp climate, a cloth or sheepskin roll-up bag provides the best protection, allowing moisture to flow to and fro.

  7. Avoid drafts. The moving air originating from an open window, electric fan, or air-conditioner will quickly dry out an instrument and increase the risk of cracking.

  8. Avoid direct sunlight. A traverso carelessly placed so that the direct raysof the sun hit it runs the risk of cracking.

  9. Remove moisture from the instrument immediately upon cessation ofplaying. Even if only setting the instrument aside for a few brief minutes, one should swab out the inside of the instrument. As stated before, cracking is most often caused by humidity-induced stresses in the wood or ivory which occur when the inside of the bore is wet and the outside is dry. The best swab to use is a piece of silk, cotton, or linen cloth threaded through the eye of a swab stick. Avoid denting the cork when swabbing. Do not use woollen swabs, as wool does not absorb moisture. Swabbing also helps to remove dirt or grime which may have accumulated inside the instrument. Always inspect the inside of the instrument to make sure that it has been thoroughly dried.

  10. Do not let lipstick or ink come into contact with your traverso. Ivory andwood are very absorbent. A permanent stain will result if an instrument is used by a player wearing lipstick. Ink from a fountain pen or ball-point pen will also leave permanent marks on an ivory instrument.

  11. Always carry your traverso in a proper case or bag. The most popularcarrying cases today are the waterproof tote bags with sheepskin lining with individual compartments for each of the instrument's pieces. Jean Cavallaro of 574 Boston Avenue,Medford, MA 02155, USA, makes these instrument rolls. They are made of waterproof nylon duck and are available in a variety of sizes.

  12. Avoid subjecting your traverso to excessive travel resulting in changes inhumidity and temperature. Antiques are especially vulnerable in this regard. If you have both antique and modern instruments, leave the antiques at home and travel with your replicas.

  13. If a crack appears in your instrument, do not attempt to repair it yourself.Only an expert should do such a repair. Be sure to keep the crack clean.

  14. If the pitch of a new instrument rises permanently - for example, if an A=4I5traverso eventually plays at A=420 on a regular basis—then it either meansthat the maker did not use properly dry, seasoned wood, or that the buyer played it in too quickly. In this case, you should return the instrument to the maker to have the bore re-reamed. Do not re-ream antique instruments.

  15. On rare occasions a key may stick or the spring may break or become too weak to keep the key closed. The remedy, in an emergency, is to wrap a rubber band around the instrument, encompassing the flap of the key. This will close the key as if the spring were working. If the loss of tension is caused by a weakening of the spring, it is possible to remove the key and bend the spring, gently and smoothly, to renew its thrust.