How to get trumpet slides unstuck

by ReverbLxnd in Trumpet

Here are the two step-by-step methods you need to get your trumpet's main tuning slide or valve slides unstuck, all by yourself without damaging your trumpet — there are a few precautions you need to observe.

One of the most common problems with brass instruments is stuck tuning slides.

This is a very simple repair that most people can do without causing any damage to the instrument but there are a few precautions.

There are two methods you can use to remove a stuck tuning slide. One is with penetrating oil, one is with a wick or both.

You could also use leverage to get it unstuck but you run a much higher risk of damaging your trumpet with that approach.

Let’s look at each of these methods step-by-step.

How to get the trumpet main tuning slide unstuck (method #1)

There are a lot of levels of “stuckness” — if you will — of tuning slides. Some are really stuck, some aren’t very stuck, and some are in between.

There will be the occasional tuning slide is so completely stuck that you will not be able to get unstuck without risking destroying your equipment.

But those are few and far between.

Nearly all tuning slides will come unstuck if you carefully follow this guide.

So let’s get started.

What you’ll need

Here are a few things you will need to do this:

  1. Some penetrating oil: You can get this at the hardware supplies store. It’s usually used for cars but works on instruments just the same.
  2. A mild heat torch or cigarette lighter: You will need a moderate heat source.

Step #1 — Find out which side is stuck

The first thing you need to find out is which side of the main tuning slide is stuck. That will be the side you will focus on to get the slide unstuck.

Usually, it is the upper side of the tuning slide or both of them. Rarely is it only the lower side with the water key, without the upper side being stuck.

Pull the main tuning slide a little bit to see which of the two sides has any give, however small.

The unstuck will be moving. You have to look carefully while you pull to see this.

Step #2 — Apply penetrating oil

The next thing you need to do is take some penetrating oil and spray it into the stuck end, or ends, of the main tuning slide.

If you have a syringe and needle, you can try to direct the oil deeper into the pipe. But a syringe and needle is not strictly necessary for this exercise.

Step #3 — Heat the penetrating oil

Next, you take a little heat torch, you can use a cigarrete lighter, or a matchbox, or something that provides moderate heat like that, and apply it on the pipe you’re working on.

Getting some heat on the pipe helps the penetrating oil travel into the pipe.

Step #4 — Let it sit for a while

Once you put in and heat the penetrating oil, let it sit for a while.

Step #5 — Pull the slide

Trumpets are made out of brass which is a very soft metal. So there is always going to be a little bit of give, and you’re going to use that give to your advantage.

Hold the trumpet at the valve casings with one hand and pull the main tuning slide with the other. Rock it back and forth.

Rocking it while you pull it is usually just enough to loosen up the stuck side.

You have to do this for several minutes.

You will see it start to come out slowly, when it does. Once it starts to move, even just a tiny bit, you know you’re on your way there and you’re going to get it unstuck.

By the time it’s done your hand will be a little tired but that’s how you get a slide unstuck.

And there you go, your slide is out.

How to get trumpet valve slides unstuck (method #2)

Again, the process of getting a valve slide unstuck usually depends on the degree of “stuckness”.

Besides, using penetrating oil, let’s look at some of the other options you can use to get your valve slides unstuck.

What you’ll need

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A wick (2 - 2 ½ foot): An old kerosene lamp wick will do — probably rope too. But, a kerosene lamp wick is better because it is this on one side and thicker on the other. It has a lot of strength and you can also get into a lot of tight places with it.
  2. A vice.
  3. An old rag.
  4. A ground casing mandrel.

Step #1 — Put the wick through the stuck slide

The first thing you need to do is put the wick through the slide that is stuck and match up the ends of the wick.

Now you’re ready to go.

Step #2 — Attach the wick to the vice

After taking the wick through the stuck slide attach the ends of the wick to a vice.

Step #3 — Hold the trumpet the right way

This is one of those precautionary steps I talked about earlier.

Before you yank the trumpet, you need to be careful that you hold it the right way.

You want to hold onto the valve casing section of the trumpet with the wick pulling the slide straight in the direction it comes out (whatever that direction is, depending on which valve is stuck).

Make sure you have a pretty good grip on it, you don’t want to drop your trumpet.

You need to pull the slide straight out.

If you try to pull it at an angle you can bend or damage the slide or push them into the casing, and then you have a valve problem.

So, make sure you are pulling the slide in a straight line out, especially on the second slide.

Step #4 — Pull the old rag on the vice

It is a good idea to put an old rag on the vice because the valve slide will come flying out.

Put the rag in such a way that if the slide goes flying out, it will hit the rag and it won’t dent it, or bent it, or damage it in any way.

Step #5 — Yank the wick

All you have to do to get the valve slide unstuck is yank the wick.

When you yank the wick, cup one hand around the wick right in front of where the wick and slide meet, while you pull with the other.

This will hold the wick if it the slide comes out, to stop if from flying out and hitting an object.

Usually, the slide won’t come out on the first try.

Try it a little harder if it doesn’t come out. It takes a few tries.

Do not pull soo hard that you start causing damage. If it doesn’t jump out after a few tries, leave it for the next step.

In conclusion

Usually, penetrating oil by itself (method #1) does not get a slide unstuck but it helps a little bit and sometimes it give you what you need for method #2 to work.

While following each of these methods be careful because you can damage things. Pa close attention and watch, if you are doing any damage you stop.

If you are not comfortable with the repair, don’t do it. Just take it to a repair shop and let them do it for you.

I hope that helps.


I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you.

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