How to oil sticky, sluggish trumpet valves

by ReverbLxnd in Trumpet

Here's how to oil trumpet valves in 7 easy-to-follow steps. Too much oil and your valves will be sluggish, too little oil and your valves will stick. Here's all you need to make sure your valves move quickly and smoothly up and down.

Today I want to show you how to oil trumpet valves. You are going to learn the best way to oil your trumpet valves.

Trumpet valves are supposed to move very smoothly and quickly up and down. In order to keep them moving smoothly and quickly, we need to oil them.

Trumpet valves can be very finicky. Too much oil and your valves will be sluggish, too little oil and your valves will stick.

If you don’t oil your valves, they will start to get slow and hard to push down and they won’t want to come back up. Oiling your valves allows them to move properly reducing the wear inside trumpet valve casings.

It gets very frustrating to try to play with sluggish or sticky valves.

Let’s go over this step-by-step.

How to oil trumpet valves — step-by-step

On the trumpet, we’ve got three valves. The first valve is closest to the mouthpiece and the third valve is closest to the bell.

It’s important to know that our valves each have a number and a specific order that they go. You don’t want to get this mixed up because then our trumpet won’t work if you put them back in the wrong valve casing.

It is probably best you only do one valve at a time.

What you’ll need

To oil your trumpet, you’re going to need three things:

  1. Your trumpet, of course
  2. Valve oil
  3. Some paper towels

So let’s get started.

Step #1 — Unscrew the third valve cap

When oiling valves, you should always start with the third valve and work backward. I will explain the reason for this much later.

So the first thing we need to do when we want to oil a valve is to unscrew the valve cap. The part that you press on a valve is called the valve button, the cap is right below that.

Do not unscrew the button itself even though it will come off. There is no need to. You’ll probably drop it and it will roll it and you might lose it.

To unscrew the valve cap, turn it anti-clockwise all the way until it comes loose.

If you have an older trumpet and maybe no one has unscrewed these valve caps in a long time, they might be really stuck. Get someone with stronger fingers.

Never use a pair of pliers or any tool whatsoever on your valve caps. You’re better of taking it to a music store and they can help get this loosened up for you.

Step #2 — Lift the valve to expose the valve surface

Once the valve cap comes off, you need to lift the valve out of its casing to expose the valve surface.

Try and avoid rotating the valve as you pull it out.

Generally, you do not have to remove the valve all the way. Lifting the valve about ⅔ of the way will allow the sufficiently lubricate the piston.

You can see inside the valve now. There is the first part from the top which is a housing for the valve spring. Here is where you can see an engraving of the number of the valve.

There is a valve guide. This is the bit that slots inside your valve and stops it from turning around—that is very important.

The bit we are interested in is the lowest, widest part of the valve. This is called the valve surface, and it’s the only place we need to apply the oil. The valve surface is the only part of the valve that comes into contact with the valve casing.

We don’t need the oil in the spring housing or anywhere else.

Step #3 — Apply the oil on the valve surface

Now we’re going to pick up our valve oil.

Sometimes, on your valve oil, you might see a little child safety mechanism. Just press that tab and twist the cup to reveal the nozzle.

When you apply the oil, put the nozzle on the valve surface and a couple of squirts is all you need.

You need to apply only a few drops on each side of the valve—three or four at most. Too much oil on the valve will cause it to be slow and sluggish. Excess oil will also collect dust and grime eventually leading to a dirty trumpet.

You don’t need to put the oil in the holes of the valve surface, just the outside.

Step #4 — Seat the valve back into place

Once the oil is applied, push the valve back down maintaining it’s orientation. If you twisted the valve round and up and down to make sure the oil gets spread (which is completely unnecessary), you’ve likely lost the orientation.

This is the tricky bit.

On the valve (on the spring housing) there will be a number, I mentioned this earlier. This number will be 3 for the third valve.

When the valve is eventually in, the number will be facing straight towards the mouthpiece. Push the valve in with the number a ¼ of a turn anticlockwise of the mouthpiece. Then, once it’s all the way, rotate it a ¼ of a turn clockwise to bring it to its eventual position, and listen for a click.

Once you hear the click, the valve guide has locked into the valve casing.

The valve is properly seated.

When the valve is properly seated, it should not rotate. Sometimes a slight left to right rotation is required to get the valve to click into place.

Step #5 — Tighten the valve cap

Once the valve is properly seated, tighten the valve cup.

Do not attempt to tighten the valve cap until you hear the click. That tells you whether your valve is exactly right and working.

Step #6 — Spread the oil

If you lost orientation of the valve earlier, it’s likely because you rotated the valve up and down to spread the oil, which I said was completely unnecessary.

Press the valve several times to help work the oil around the piston and valve casing.

This should reveal that the valve is not operating smooth and fast.

Step #7 — Blow into the trumpet

After spreading the oil, I like to blow into the trumpet in between oiling each valve to ensure the air flows freely.

If it doesn’t, then you’ve not put the valve back on properly. You need to recheck the orientation.

Some brands only allow the valve to click into place when it’s in the correct position. Many other brands allow the valve to click into place in both the wrong position and the correct position.

If no air passed through the trumpet after oiling the third valve 180 degrees and see if it clicks into place.

You can also blow into the trumpet just before you tighten it to make sure it is on correctly.

Step #8 — Repeat the process on the second, and finally the first valve

We will now repeat this exact process with the second valve and then the first valve.

Remember to oil one valve at a time, and check the air flow in between each one as you go.

How often should trumpet valves be oiled?

Ideally, you want to oil your trumpet valves every time you practice—which is every single day. And that’s fine. If you have a rehearsal coming up or a performance, oil your trumpet just before. At a minimum, you want to oil your valves at least a couple of times a week.

That’s how you have your valves moving nice and smooth so you can play your best.

What kind of oil should you use on your trumpet valves

DO NOT use a cheap oil

First of all, using cheap oil is an absolute no-no.

DO NOT use vegetable oil

Secondly, vegetable oil should never ever come anywhere near your trumpet. When vegetable oil dries, it will get stuck and jam your valves, not to mention the green gunky moldy crap that completely takes over your trumpet after that.

If you use vegetable oil, get an instrument repair technician ready because it’s damn near impossible and time-consuming to get it all out, and the only way to remove most of it is heating it with a propane torch.

And be ready to pay extra for the hassle.

Bad idea.

DO NOT use tuning slide grease

Thirdly, do not use tuning slide grease on the trumpet valves.

If you ever accidentally get tuning slide grease or Lanolin on your trumpet valves, or if it mixes with valve oil, you’ll end up with sticky sludge. That defeats the whole purpose of applying valve oil in the first place—getting your valves to move smoothly and quickly.

So, if you’ve been working on trumpet slides before you start messing with valve oil, always wash your hands really well so you can get all of that Lanolin residue off your fingers.

Use the right amount of a quality trumpet valve oil

A quality trumpet valve oil, applied at the right amount, will have just the right consistency and thickness to allow your valves to move smoothly and quickly just the way they should.

Can’t you just put valve oil in bottom three trumpet valve holes?

If you’re a young trumpet player, you may have heard somebody tell you that that you could just put valve oil into the three bottom holes of each valve instead.

Except, that doesn’t work so well.

Think about it, the valve oil comes in through the little tiny hole at the bottom of each valve, hits the bottom of the valve but when you turn the horn over to play, it falls back out.

The valve surface is where we need the valve oil. Even though you might get a little bit of the valve oil through, it won’t be even nearly sufficient.

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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