As someone who once had a valve freeze up while performing a solo rendition of the National Anthem at a Major League Baseball game, I can assure you this topic is near and dear to my heart.
Your horn is a delicate thing. Specifically, the valves on your horn need to be treated with the utmost care, from avoiding dents and bumps to maintaining proper lubrication. While the brass on the outside of your horn is lacquered to prevent corrosion, the surface of your valves is bare metal and prone to all sorts of maladies. It is crucial that you maintain the valves with regular cleaning, and, of course, lubricate them regularly with valve oil. Having slow, sluggish or frozen valves is never fun, especially in the middle of a performance!
Valve oil lubricates the metal helping to avoid the metal-on-metal friction that would occur with dry valves. It also helps to seal the space between the two metals. It is not uncommon to have to oil your valves several times a week just to maintain their playability.
So, which valve oil should you use? After all, there are so many. Aren't they all the same? Well, yes and no. Most valve oil is essentially mineral oil - just a petroleum distillate (like kerosene). Different manufacturers may add other ingredients, but the main difference is usually the viscosity (the measure of the resistance of the fluid).
There are also synthetic valve oils available. One of the issues players have had over the years is mixing different versions of oils. The reactions between specific mineral ingredients can be problematic, causing build up and blockage over time. Synthetic valve oils help to eliminate this issue and have been known to require less re-oiling.
Asking other players which valve oils they prefer and why can be very helpful, but your best bet is to find out from the manufacturer which oil they recommend for your particular horn. I had been using the same oil on my horns for years, but when I bought my new Yamaha, I noticed it wasn't quite as good. When I started using the recommended version, voila! The horn was offering me a much better performance.
Once again, I cannot recommend a particular brand, partly because I haven't tried them all, but mostly because your horn needs its own specific recommendation. But I can point you to some of the most popular brands. These are just a few of the valve oils I see most frequently on the professional scene:
Al Cass Fast Oil—Al Cass oil has been a favorite of many players for years.
Ultra-Pure Professional Valve Oil—You can't argue with guys like Arturo Sandoval and Wynton Marsalis—they seem to know their stuff, and they use Ultra-Pure brand valve oil.
Superslick Valve Oil—I've used Superslick oil before and had a positive experience with it.
Almost every instrument manufacturer has a brand of valve oil, which may suit your horn best. Here are some examples:
Yamaha Superior Synthetic Valve Oil - This is what I use on my Yamaha horns.
Bach Valve Oil
Holton Valve Oil
Getzen Valve Oil
And of course, The Woodwind & Brasswind offers a specific branded valve oil, which has received rave reviews. And you can't beat the price, especially if you find yourself in need of a large supply—like a music teacher might need.
Search the entire wwbw.com site to see the many varieties of valve oils offered, don't be afraid to try a few, and you and your valves will be feeling slick in no time!
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Tony Guerrero is a freelance trumpet player in Los Angeles California. Performing and recording with a wide range of artists ranging from John Tesh to High School Musical, Tony is at home in nearly any style on both trumpet and piano. For more information on Tony including his latest Recording titled "Blue Room," visit www.tonyguerrero.com
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