How to oil rotary valves

by ReverbLxnd in Trumpet

How to oil the rotary valves on any rotary valve instrument.

Today’s guide is going to look at how to care for a rotary valve trumpet, particularly the valves. We will look at how to oil rotary valves step-by-step.

Rotary valves are a little more complicated, in some ways, than we are used to dealing with with piston trumpets.

We’re going to go over, in detail, the steps that you need to take to keep a rotary valves oiled and playing in top condition, so as to maintain your trumpets life for as long as possible.

There are many instruments that use rotary valves. Most common of these are french horns, as well as tubas, and trombones with attachments. Lesser known are some trumpets, flugelhorns and the Wagner tuba.

If you are not clear on what a rotary valve trumpet is, have a look at this fantastic guide on the differences between piston and rotary valve trumpets.

What is a rotary trumpet?

As you might expect, a rotary trumpet is basically the same thing as a piston trumpet but with rotary valves.

With a rotary trumpet, you get a narrower bore, a bigger broader-flared bell, a significantly shorter lead pipe and, consequently, a mellower, softer, more controlled tone.

How to oil rotary valves on a rotary valve trumpet

Oiling a piston type valve is different than oiling a rotary type valve. A piston can be accessed by the player, is visible and there is only one location requiring the oil.

Have a look at the guide I wrote on how to oil piston type trumpet valves if you need more detailed instructions on this.

The parts that require oiling on a rotary valve cannot be seen. The rotary valve is not removed by a player, and there are multiple locations that require specific types of oil.

Most people aren’t aware that inadequate or improper oiling of a rotor may contribute to premature wear, affect performance and lead to costly repairs.

The purpose of this section is to show best practices, and proven methods for what to use, and how to lubricate correctly any instrument with a rotary valve assembly.

There are three areas of a rotary valve that require specific lubrication and there are two types of oil that should be used.

The process and location of oiling are the same for any rotary valve instrument with only slight variations.

What you’ll need

The tools and materials you need for this maitenance task are very simple:

  1. Manufacturer or synthetic oil that is labelled and intended for rotor valves. Do not use piston oil, it is too thin and does not provide the lubrication necessary.
  2. Spindle bearing oil. If spindle bearing oil cannot be obtained, woodwind key oil will work just fine as a start.
  3. An applicator with a small spout, or a needle tip.
  4. A soft clean cloth or towel

Step #1 — Remove the tuning slides

The first oil needs to get to the inside where the air travels and the valve makes contact with the casing.

Pull the tuning slides for each of the corresponding valves by depressing each one’s lever as it is removed and set them on the soft clean cloth.

Step #2 — Oil the tuning slides

Then, one at a time, take a slide and hold it with the hole of the tubing facing up and pour approximately 4 to 6 drops of rotor oil in the tube.

Step #3 — Put the tuning slides back

Holding the horn in such a way the oil does not run from the tube, put the tuning slides back into place on the horn.

Be sure to depress the lever corresponding to that slide so air pressure does not build up within the valve.

This is suggested to the debris containing contaminants and abrasives are not drawn into the valve by suction when the slides are inserted.

Step #4 — Turn the horn to run the oil

Then, turn the horn so the oil runs down onto the valves inside. Depress all the levers up and down to distribute the oil around the area.

Do this type of oiling each time the instrument is played or daily. A rotary valve cannot really be over-oiled, it only wastes the product with no adverse effect to the valve itself.

If a double horn is being oiled, find the slide that allows access to the fourth valve and drop oil into the tube closest to it.

Now, the spindle bearings need to be oiled. There are two locations that require precise placement.

The spindle bearings are like machine parts and require heavier oil.

An applicator with a small spout or a needle tip is required to access these areas while the valve is assembled.

DO NOT REMOVE A ROTARY VALVE. They are very delicate, can easily be damaged, and they require specialised tools.

The following are the locations where oiling is required:

Step #5 — Location #1: Remove the valve cap

The first location for this type of oil is under the cap. Remove the valve cap, and depress the lever to see which parts are moving.

This is where you want to place a few drop of this heavier oil.

Once again, normal rotor oil, or piston oil, is too thin and does not lubricate these areas that wear against each other well enough. They are prone to becoming noisy.

Depress the levers back and forth while in this position to distribute the oil around the area. Do the same for all the valves and replace the caps after each.

Step #6 — Location #2: Look for a small space between the arm

Hold the horn is a position where you can see where the arm turns by the string when you press the lever.

Look for the small space below the arm. Between these parts is the long spindle bearing we want to oil.

It too needs this heavier oil and is also prone to wear and becoming noisy.

Apply oil right into the space with a needle tip and move the levers until it turns and distributes oil where needed.

This is the best way to get oil to the spindle bearing while the instrument is completely assembled. Do this on each valve at the same location.

If there is excess around the area, just wipe it away with the soft cloth.

Both location #1 (under the cap) and location #2 (near the lever), should be oiled every 3 days or once a week as needed.

Oiling side notes

  • Remember, piston oil is not appropriate for rotors.
  • There are two types of oils used on rotary valves, rotor oil and spindle bearing oil.
  • Use only 4-6 drops of rotor oil to get to the rotor body.
  • Oil each rotor every day the instrument is played.
  • Oil your spindles three times per week, once a week at the least.

In conclusion

If oiling is done for these areas as described, and the instrument is taken to a professional repair technician at least once a year for a thorough cleaning and evaluation, rotor valves should work well and last a very long time working perfectly.


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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