That’s a question that I get quite often both from my students and other kaval enthusiasts. I looked online, and to be honest, I didn’t find anything that could give clear answers and directions on that topic. I myself have cracked a few very good instruments because I didn’t take proper care of them. I remember buying a new kaval a few years back. It was an amazing kaval made of cornelian cherry tree. That’s actually the most common material for kavals and old luthiers use mostly that to make their kavals. I was so excited that I had it, that I would not stop playing for hours and hours every day.
One day I decided to take this kaval with me in Austria. I went there at the invitation of Juan Garcia Herreros (an amazing bass player from Colombia, based in Austria) to participate in the recording of his new album. Of course I took the new kaval with me and I decided to use it for the entire record. The location where we were recording was high in the mountains in Austria. The climate, altitude and humidity were different from Bulgaria. I played even more on the new kaval. Until… on the fourth day of the recordings I heard a strange sound from the kaval. At first I didn’t pay attention to it, but then I reached out to clean it and felt a new weird texture on the surface of the top joint of the kaval. It was a HUGE crack. I was so devastated, I didn’t know what to do. I taped it with some duct tape and finished the recordings. When I got back to Bulgaria I tried to fix it, I glued it but nothing worked, the crack was too big. Terry Pratchet says that every instrument has a soul and if you break it then even if you fix it the soul is dead. I guess he’s right. This kaval never played the same way.
So how do we avoid cracks like that? Well, in this article, I will give you some very useful tips to keep the kaval in good condition so that it can serve you for a long time.
Oiling the Kaval
Here’s what the process of oiling the kaval looks like. First of all you need two cleaning rods. They could just regular flute rods. The first one is with a clean cloth and the second one is for oiling. Every time you take the kaval before playing, you need to be sure that it’s as oily as possible on the inside. That’s very important because that way the oil prevents the moisture from absorbing into the wood and it simply drains out of the kaval as you play.
So here’s what the everyday playing routine should look like. Of course you can skip days but it’s good to do that as often as possible.
- Take the rod with the clean cloth then gently pass through each joint the kaval. Make sure that the kaval is as dry as possible. I often replace the cloth with a napkin or just a piece of it, because I simply throw it away after using it.
- Take the oiling rod, oil the piece of cloth on the top and just pass it through each joint of the Kaval. For now we’re only oiling the inside of the kaval.
- Play the kaval as much as you want. If the kaval is less than a month old, I recommend playing it less than two hours a day.
- Repeat Step 1 and Step 2
- Oil the kaval on the outside by using either your hands or the same cloth you used for oiling the inside of the kaval.
- Leave it in a shady place, on a napkin or paper towel.
- Wait for at least one hour and put it in the case.
P.S. Old kaval makers use only olive oil. Nowadays different kinds of oil can be used. I myself use almond oil. It’s very good both for your kaval and your skin, has no smell and keeps the kaval in a good condition.
That’s it! I recommend following those steps every time you play kaval especially if the kaval is new. Then it’s very important to do that for at least a month. If the kaval is more than a few months old, then you can reduce the oiling, but try to wipe it after you play.
Assembling and disassembling the Kaval.
The most important thing about assembling the Kaval is to really be careful, because it’s wooden (in some cases not but most of the time it’s made out of wood). The wood can be quite fragile and you should never force it in any way.
The first step is to take the head joint (the first Ekleme) and the body joint (the second Ekleme). Then slide the first Ekleme’s tenon into the socket of the second Ekleme with a gentle twisting motion. Be careful not to press the head joint to the body joint at angle, it just needs to go in straight on. Slide it all the way into the socket.
The second step is to take the foot joint (the third Ekleme) and do the same with it. Then, line up the holes on the body joint with the ones on the foot joint so that they face up.
I often see people assembling and disassembling their kavals while keeping their hands too far away from each other. Never do that! Especially if you played for a longer time and the wood is already swollen. That’s very dangerous and not healthy for the instrument. The proper way to do that is to keep our hands close to each other and then carefully twist the two joints to opposite directions. I’ve seen kavals break so you should be very gentle.
Threads on the connectors – how often do we replace them?
Most woodwind instruments use cork to keep the joints tight. This is not very common with the kavals, although I’ve seen kavals with cork instead of threads. The kavals in my store use threads so I’m going to speak mostly about that kind. I’ll go through the process of replacing the threads below.
I’ll first start with the kind of thread I use. It’s just a regular cotton thread. I use mostly black but you can pick the colour you want. There isn’t a rule of how often we should replace the threads but I personally advise you to do that every few months, mostly because of hygiene reasons.
Here’s the process broken down into steps:
- Remove the old threads. That’s pretty easy, just find the end and take it all off. If you can’t find the end of the thread use a knife but watch out, because you can scratch the kaval.
- Take a new thread, take the end of it and gently place it on the connector. It’s good to wrap the connectors as tightly as you can, because otherwise the thread will fall apart the next time you assemble or disassemble the kaval. Then we check how it fits and if it’s tight enough we cut the thread.
- The last step is something that I do to lubricate the connectors. I use a special balsam/cream that also “glues” the threads to the connectors so that they don’t flutter all over the kaval.
It became a pretty long article but that’s all I have to say about that topic. Hope you find it useful. Happy playing!