Brass monkey that funky monkey. Brass on the mind today. Today’s topic…Rotary Valve maintenance. We will discuss these particular necessities for your brass instruments. This resource was provided by Music Showcase. Many of the the cleaning/maintenance products discussed in this article are available at Ant Hill Music.
Oiling & Maintaining Rotary Valve
Sticky valves can frequently be repaired at home before taking a to them to repair shop. Valves typically stick because they are dry and need to be lubricated. There are many methods that work, but this is what they have found to be the best.
There are two surfaces that need lubrication: the bearings at the ends of the rotors and the areas that seal off the ports. You can use transmission oil as it works very well on the two bearing surfaces. For the bearing on the linkage side, place a few drops on the surface just below the stop arm and above the cork plate. Remove the rotor cap on the other side and place a few drops onto the rotor surface that spins. Work the valve to help spread the oil onto the bearing surfaces.
They prefer not to use the suction method of pulling the oil into the valves. If the instrument is pretty new and fairly tight, not much oil will be pulled into the valve. Also, please understand that the bearing surface is not the only area where oil can be pulled into the valve. Grease and dirt may be pulled into the valve around the valve port areas and can cause additional sticking.
The second area requiring lubrication is the rotor itself. This can be accomplished by pulling the tuning slide out (don’t forget to depress the trigger) and putting a few drops of fine trumpet valve oil into the tubes of the tuning slide. Do not drop the oil into the tubes that lead into the rotor. The oil can wash the tuning slide grease into the rotor causing sticky valves. Replace the tuning slide and turn the instrument so the oil will to go into the valve while working the valve to distribute the oil.
Another area requiring lubrication is the linkage. If you have a string setup, no lubrication is necessary. Mechanical linkage requires lubrication within the ball and cup. They have found that oil is not heavy enough and usually causes a noisy action. A lanolin based cream works well and can be obtained at your favorite music store (Schilke tuning slide grease), or can be found at the local pharmacy. Remove the cup exposing the ball. Clean both ball and cup, apply the lanolin and reassemble.
Oil your valves every time you play, or at least three times per week. Unscrew the top valve from the valve casing, and pull the valve out in a straight line. Do not twist. Apply valve oil, coating the entire valve. You may want to first wipe off the valve to remove debris before applying new oil. Do not oil your valves from the bottom caps.
Slide grease keeps slides airtight and maintains smooth movement. Vaseline should never be used because it is corrosive to brass.
Moving and greasing all slides and bottom caps once a month will help prevent slides and caps from sticking.
Valve casings and tuning slide receivers can be cleaned more thoroughly by using a trumpet cleaning rod. Insert a soft cotton cloth through the slot at the end of the cleaning rod. Wrap the cloth around the rod several times so no metal is showing. Work the cloth back and forth through the valve casings until the cloth comes out clean.
To clean the tuning slide receivers, take a clean cloth and insert into the slot of the cleaning rod. Be careful not to make the cloth too big or it will tear when you try to clean the receivers. Work the cloth back and forth in receivers several times until it comes out clean.
Blow all moisture out of the trombone before storing.
Wipe off any old lubricant before re-applying.
Always lock the slide when not playing the trombone. The locked position should prevent you from moving the other slide.
Young players should use slide oil at least once a week. To apply slide oil, put hand slide into the third position and add oil to each slide.
Slide cream and water are recommended for mature players. A proper way to apply slide cream is to pull the inner hand slide almost all the way out, applying cream on only the very bottom edge of the inner slide.
Tuning your trombone is done by adjusting the tuning slide until you achieve the desired pitch. Move the tuning slide at least once every two weeks or so to prevent it from getting stuck. Bare brass will stick together when in contact for long periods of time.
Hand slides of trombones can be cleaned by filling the outside slide with water/soap. Insert the inside slide and work in and out. This loosens most of the dirt. Dry the exterior of instrument with a soft cotton cloth. A trombone cleaning rod can be used to further remove dirt from the outer slide. You can cut a 4″ square piece of cotton cloth and insert it into the cleaning rod. Work the cleaning rod back and forth in both tubes of the outer slide. This should be done several times with new pieces of cloth until the cloth comes out clean. Make sure you thoroughly dry the inside and outside of the slides.
General Brass Care Tips
- You can wash the mouthpiece with warm, soapy water, making sure you dry the inside thoroughly. The mouthpiece should not have any dents in the end of the shank. If the mouthpiece gets stuck, do not attempt to remove it. Bring it to a reliable music repair shop as they usually have special tools for removing it.
- Wipe down the exterior of all brass instruments with a non-treated cloth to remove fingerprints and residue.
- Pitch is affected by temperature. Be sure to warm up your instrument before playing by blowing air through it.
- It is recommended that all brass instruments be taken to a professional repair technician at least once a year for general maintenance and professional cleaning. Doing so may prevent costly repairs in the future. Regular maintenance and professional cleaning will also help prevent and slow”red rot”, a form of corrosion that eats through brass.
- Broken solder joints should not be ignored. Have a qualified repair technician check out your instrument as soon as possible.
- Never set anything on top of your brass instrument, whether inside or outside of its case; this includes sheet music! Damage occurs easily when items are placed on the instrument and the case is closed. Make sure your case is secure and all hinges, latches, and handles are securely fastened to the case.
- Never leave a brass instrument in a hot car or in your trunk. Extreme temperatures can damage your horn.
Brass instruments should be flushed out once a month to clean out any accumulation of dirt and to prevent corrosion. A good place to do this is in a bathtub. Fill the tub with lukewarm water and a mild soap (not detergent). Remove all tuning slides. Unscrew top and bottom valve caps, removing the valves at the same time. Any felts on valves should be removed so they don’t get wet.
Place instrument in water and flush interior with water and soap. Use a snake brush to clean tubes of tuning slides and bore of instrument. The snake brush can also be used on trombone slides, inside and outside.
Once all tubing has been cleaned, remove instrument and dry with a soft cotton cloth. Place any felts on valves and reassemble using a high quality valve oil. Reassemble tuning slides using a lanolin based slide grease (never Vaseline). A good practice to get into is to always push the tuning slides closed when you’re finished playing (primarily because this prevents the air from drying out the grease, and also, you’ll have to re-tune anyway).