All the talk about valves in Dirty Valves = Sticky Valves reminds me of some more important advice about good valve maintenance, your choice of valve oil. It is important to remember that not all valve oils are created equally. There are essentially two types of valve oil: petroleum based and synthetic based. You can decide for yourself what type works best for you, but make sure not to mix the two. In fact, if you are planning on changing the type of oil you use then you should clean the valves as described in Dirty Valves = Sticky Valves, only applying the new type of oil once the valves are clean. This is especially true if you are planning on changing from petroleum to synthetic or vise-versa. Different valve oils can have adverse reactions to each other which can lead to severe problems with your valves. Fortunately, If you have made the mistake of mixing incompatible oils, this crisis can be solved with a simple cleaning.
Along with your choice in valve oil comes a choice in slide grease. You should pick a slide grease that is compatible with your valve oil. Be sure to use petroleum based grease with petroleum based oil, and synthetic based grease with synthetic based oil. When using synthetic oils, I like to use the same brand of grease to avoid any problems with compatibility. Believe it or not, oils and greases are getting more sophisticated all the time. If you want to avoid being embarrassed by a sticking valve or slide in an important performance, it is important to give at least some consideration as to the products you use on your instrument.
Miami is valve purgatory. In my three years living here I have had more difficulty in keeping valves running smoothly than any place I have ever lived. Maybe it’s the humidity. Maybe it isn’t. I’m really not sure. But whatever it is, it makes you work for those silky smooth valves.
The number one cause of sticky valves? You guessed it, dirt. Well, not dirt really, it’s actually that grimy, goopy, mystery substance that exists only on the inside of brass instruments. If you want to know if your valves are clean, take this quick test. Remove a bottom valve cap. Wipe your pinky around the inside of the bottom of the valve casing. Does your finger have anything other than clear liquid on it? If the answer is yes, then it is definitely time to at least clean the valves and casings, if not the entire instrument.
Fortunately, cleaning is simple. All you need to do is remove the valves and place them on a clean lint-free surface, wash them with liquid dish soap, and rinse. Take a small brush (like on the end of a cleaning snake) and clean out the ports on the valves. Rinse again. Place the newly cleaned valves on a clean lint-free surface (make sure they don’t go rolling off the counter!). Now it is time for the casings. Run water through the casings. If you have a valve casing brush then scrub the insides with that. If you have one of those metal rods that look like a giant threading needle, then thread a clean lint-free cloth through the small end and push the rag into the casing, twisting as you push. Once you have the rag through the casing, remove it from the metal rod and remove the rod from the casing. Now you can slide the rag back and forth to clean the inside of the casing. Once that is done, rinse the casing out. Inspect the inside of the casing and the valves for any remaining grime. If you are satisfied everything is clean, return the valves to the casing and oil them with your favorite valve oil.
When a player experiences sticky valves, it is a common mistake for them to assume that there is some sort of problem with the valve iself, a problem that is causing them to sick or drag. In actuality, it is often just a bit of dirt or grime that is causing the problem. If you are experiencing difficulty with your valves, then give them a thorough cleaning before taking them into the shop to be lapped or repaired. It may save you time, money, and trouble, not to mention the wear and tear that an unnecessary valve lapping causes.
Keep your valves clean. It’s a simple way to avoid embarrasing moments.