"My Valves Keep Sticking"

by Rich Welker, Bronstein Music

One of the most frustrating things for trumpet players is when the valves don't come up as fast as they should. Sticky valves are caused either by the lack of oil, or a number of problems with the horn itself.

Oiling 101

Valve oil is almost as thin as water. It is not like "3 in 1" oil. It is a more refined mineral spirit and is subject to evaporation. Quite often the teacher will tell the students to use the oil very sparingly because they don't want a big mess on the classroom floor. But, you need to use the oil freely every time you play. The function of evaporation leaves a residue on the valve and casing that builds up after a while. This residue alone can cause the valve to stick. Using liberal amounts of oil will flush the residue into the bottom cap.

There are a number of brands of oil: Al Cass, Clark, Superslick, Pro, HMG, Zaja, Yamaha, as well as some synthetic oils that don't evaporate. Each player should try a new type of oil each time they run out to find the one that works best for them. Each person has a different feel, and the oil will actually react to peoples' saliva in different ways.

Mechanical Problems

The most common mechanical problem with sticking valves is denting. The tolerances on the valves are very close. The valve has to move freely, but air can't leak between the piston and the valve casing wall. The smallest ding in the casing will lock up the valve, and likewise, a dropped valve that doesn't appear to be dented will also cause problems.

Older trumpets that used nickel plated valves will occasionally exhibit pitting or a "bubbling" of the plating that causes problems.

Most mysterious of all, is the strange dark brown build-up on some valves. This apparently is the result of a metallic reaction between the valve material, the brass of the casing, and the saliva/oil used. The reaction causes a leaching of the copper from the casing and plates the valve. This can be fixed by acid cleaning the valve or replacing the valve with a nickel plated valve.

All of the mechanical problems can be fixed, but there are a number of low-end instruments being offfered on the market now that have problems in their basic design and manufacture that can't be corrected. You should ask us or any reputable repairman about these instruments before you try to repair them.

Valve Placement

The valves are numbered 1, 2, and 3. They go into the trumpet (or baritone) from the mouthpiece end towards the bell, #1 closest to the mouthpiece. There are guides on the valves that have to line-up with notches inside the valve casing. The valve should be rotated until the guide "clicks" into the notch.

If the air doesn't flow freely through the horn, the valves are either mixed up (check the numbers on the valves) or the guides aren't properly aligned.

Never disassemble the valve, because you will put the guides in wrong and air won't go through the horn!!!