So you got a brand new trumpet, played it for a while and now it feels not as smooth as you felt at first? You experience hang ups, the keys feel creaky, the sound is not exactly the same and something feels wrong?
Well, seems like your trumpet valves need some oiling.
Feeling puzzled about what valve oil should you buy? Have you ever asked yourself why should you even bother oiling your beloved instrument? I can give you a hand with that, but firstly let me explain how does the trumpet oil does its job.
Table of Contents
Do trumpets need oil?
A modern trumpet is made of bent brass tubing and has three piston valves. When they are pressed, these valves alter the length of the trumpet’s tubing and change the instrument’s pitch. It is important to regularly and correctly oil these valves to keep your instrument in excellent condition.
Why should you oil your trumpet?
Well, valve oil has three main purposes: it enables smooth operation of the valves and keys, it keeps dirt, green stuff and debris out (the smoothness of the oil flushes out any debris to the sides), and it keeps your trumpet parts airtight, so no air escapes. All of this makes your trumpet sound good when you play it!
Besides lubricating the moving parts of the valve, valve oil provides corrosion protection to the bare metal of the inner valve. While the valve piston or rotor is made of metal which is more resistant to corrosion and erosion , the inner valve casing is typically bare brass. (The brass on the outside of a modern instrument is lacquered or plated to prevent corrosion.) The oil also completes the seal between the valve casing and the piston or rotor. Putting in mind that the inside of a musical instrument is a very inhospitable environment for a delicate valve mechanism, since the trumpet player blows warm moist air through the valve.
Are all valve oils the same?
Storeowners that do not professionally play trumpet will tell you that all valve oils are all basically the same; however, the differences between valve oils are serious, verifiable, and have a dramatic effect on how your horn will perform and sound.
Types of valve oils
- High viscosity oils.
- the low technology formulations based on a modern day version of kerosene (the odor is unpleasant obviously).
- light weight oils with little or no petroleum odor.
Always put in mind that speed is always the most important quality in valve oil, because of its ability to promote and increase speed by reducing and canceling friction as much as possible, knowing that the oil has a resistance of its own, and we call this type of resistance “viscosity” and its unit of measurement is centi-Stokes (cSt.).
A lot of valve oils are so “thin” that they come close to the viscosity of water, while others are so viscous. Water has by far the lowest viscosity, but if low viscosity was the only criterion for speed, spitting in your horn would be enough to keep your valves fast. The fingers of an experienced trumpet player can sense even the slightest valve hesitation, and this experience has shown that the optimum viscosity for speed lies somewhere in the 1.1 – 5.0 cSt range. A lot of experiments have shown that the optimum viscosity for valves in good condition is in the 2.5 – 4.0 cSt. range; however, badly worn valves can tolerate or even benefit from somewhat higher viscosity oils. Nonetheless, viscosity isn’t the entire answer.
Because obviously speed is useless if the action is not smooth, or if the valves become slow in the middle of a performance.
Endurance is the oil’s ability to maintain the original fast and smooth valve action over many hours despite different playing conditions. This characteristic is very difficult to develop in an oil without affecting speed because endurance is the end result of a complex series of interrelated properties and conditions like: evaporation rate, film strength, surface tension, water solubility, and valve cleanliness.The first property is evaporation rate. In most student and mid-line horns, when a valve oil evaporates so that less than 40% of the original oil remains on the valves, they will begin to hesitate in an unpredictable fashion. In much expensive horns with clean and really tight valves, the slowdown is much sooner and sudden seizing of a valve is common. You can compare the evaporation rates of oils with their viscosities, and remember that Endurance is enjoying fast consistently smooth action for a long time – not slow action for a long time. Some trumpet oil manufacturers include a heavy oil in their formulation to slow down the apparent evaporation rate, and (hopefully) to make the oil last longer. Unfortunately, as evaporation occurs, the lighter oil content diminishes until only the slow heavy oil remains on the valves.
for an oil to be truly effective it must also resist emulsion formation
Endurance is super sensitive to the integrity of the oil film on the valve surfaces. As the piston slides down the valve casing it rubs against the oil film. This movement tends to tear the film and allow direct metal/metal contact. In hyper-tight valve assemblies (i.e., Monette and Schilke) oil film rupture is potentially more frequent and disastrous. This is a purely mechanical phenomenon which can only be prevented with an oil having a high film strength. Achieving a high film strength oil within the optimum viscosity range (2.5- 4.0 cSt) is quite difficult. Although it is not easy to measure this film strength directly, it is best understood through demonstration. Firstly, a high film strength will give you a smooth, slippery feel when the oil is rubbed rapidly between the fingers. When shaken, an oil with a high film strength will create bubbles that collapse within 1- 3 seconds. On the other hand, an oil with poor film strength will tend to trap air for a much longer time. Oil film rupture can also occur for a different reason: moisture.
Water trapped in the valve chamber experiences the shear force of the piston moving rapidly past the walls of the valve casing. This action tends to emulsify the trapped moisture into the oil and that’s something you don’t want to happen. This micro emulsion not only has an elevated viscosity, but also displaces the oil from the valve surface. With the oil film thus compromised, the valve and casing easily rub against each other to produce friction, slowed action and wear. Therefore, in addition to the properties discussed above, for an oil to be truly effective it must also resist emulsion formation.
Speed and Endurance in an oil are two different properties; experience will show that the best oil will not sacrifice one for the other. To develop an oil for horns built on better technology, one must employ better lubrication technology. Until now, no one has tried to enlighten either the musicians or store owners that there is a science to improving valve oil, and only a few valve oils take advantage of the science.
How to choose your trumpet valve oil:
- A thinner oil is a high speed oil. If you don’t know which oils are heavy, a test in a store is to apply a drop or two of each valve oil onto smooth surface (i.e. a clean mirror, a sheet of glass or a sheet of metal). Tilt the surface and see how fast the oils run down the sheet; heavy oils move slower and can be excluded from the selection.
- The oil should have a slow evaporation rate and remain slippery. A good evaporation test is to place some of the oil in the palm of your hand and feel how long it feels slippery relative to a different oil. Kerosene based oils are not desirable because they evaporate quickly. The presence of kerosene is apparent from its characteristic odor which will become evident in this test.
- The film strength is crucial. Hold a group of well capped bottles of high speed oils in your hand, turn them upside down and shake them as a group for 5 seconds. Note how fast the foam breaks; the faster the better. exclude the ones that have a slow foam break.
- Water rejection is extremely important. This is a test of how fast the water and oil separate but since it requires sacrificing some oil, a store owner might not want to do it. The test is to add equal amounts of water and the valve oil to a small container (a test tube or even an old bottle), and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Observe how long it takes for the oil and water to separate completely.
DO NOT TRY TO APPLY VASELINE OR WD-40.
Vaseline should never be used because it is corrosive to brass, Using WD-40, mineral oil, olive oil, or other oils found in your home are not recommended for oiling trumpet valves. Although it may be tempting to use these since they are typically easily accessible, it is wise to wait until you can buy proper valve oil. These home-remedies can severely damage a brass instrument.
That being said let me show some good high quality trumpet valve oils for you to choose from.
Best Trumpet Valve Oil Options
Blue Juice is a petroleum oil with a medium viscosity. It is long-lasting and fast-acting, and its makeup increases valve speed and effectively reduces friction when playing. It also contains anti-corrosion properties. However, it does have some pros and cons.
- A bottle will last you for a long time which is something you want to look for when buying oils.
- The oil maintains its viscosity well, and it’s really resistant to moisture.
- Users have found that few drops are enough and will last nearly a month before needing to re-oil the valve again.
- Users have found that it smells like petrol (because it’s a petroleum based oil, I mentioned this point in the types of oils).
- The oil Can leave a ‘coating’ and the stains my feel blue and that’s unpleasant and something you surely don’t want if you ask me.
- Some users found the lid sometimes difficult to open (not that big of a problem).
- Users said that they find their valves are freed quickly, with the oil lasting longer than any other products.
- Odorless, good news for your nose.
- It has minimal residue and that will make things easier in the cleaning process.
- It doesn’t mix well with other oils, so make sure you clean your horn very well first.
- It evaporates faster than other oils, not a good thing if you asked me.
- Some users complain about the valve being slow especially when it’s cold.
- Easy application with the narrow nozzle
- Easy application with the narrow nozzle no
- No smell with a good price
- Some users report not having to reapply oil for three months since the first use
- Users have found the cap difficult to remove
- Viscosity is a bit too thick for a trumpet with really tight valves
Silky smooth and long-lasting
Customers report that this product works well with their trumpet. It has no odor because it’s not a petroleum-based oil