There are 5 key steps to daily trumpet care:
- Oil Valves
- Grease Slides
- Clean Mouthpiece
- Empty Spit Valve(s)
- Check Horn
Read on to learn how to complete each trumpet care step.
Daily Trumpet Care Routine
1. Oil Valves
Do this every day. The valves should go up and down freely and fast so oiling them is important. Almost any valve oil, or even kerosene will do that job but I’ve switched over to the synthetic valve oils. My dirt bike likes the full synthetics, and so does the old 1975 Bach Model 37. I used to do the whole deal with pulling the valves out, oiling them and putting them back in as recommended in the little booklet that came with the horn. Lou Ranger pointed out that those valves are most likely to work best and last longest if you don’t scratch them up by pulling them out of their normal range of travel every day. Now I only pull valves if there’s a problem or if it’s cleaning day. The valves on that old 37 are still in great shape and, based on the number of times I’ve practised the Carnival of Venice Variations, been up and down a good 30 million times.
Instead of pulling them out, oil the valves from the bottom, right through the hole in the bottom of the valve cap. Hold the horn on an angle so that the oil hits and follows the inside of the casing and move the valves up and down as you do so. Move the horn around so that the oils gets all over the inside of the valve. If you do this very day the valves will stay lubricated and work their best. Keeping them oiled up every day is the best way to prevent issues. Even a speck of dust can stop a valve – another good reason to leave them where they are. For beginning players who might be eager to take the valves out and get them mixed up or worse, take them apart, the best approach is to oil them from below. One little squirt is generally enough and I’ve learned the hard way to keep the Trumpet upside down for 15 seconds or so as I work the valves so that I don’t get oil on my pants. If I haven’t played a horn for a week or two I don’t touch the valves until I’ve oiled them and given that oil a few seconds to work its magic.
There are hundreds of brands but I put them in three classes: ok, good and synthetic. The stuff that comes in the case from the music store, or whatever they sell as their cheapest valve oil is ok and probably fine for beginners. I’ve used good oils like Al Cass Fast and Roché Thomas for decades and loved them. When my old Bach started giving me trouble I switched to T2 Tromba and I really like it. I told that to Corey, the Yamaha rep last year and a few days later an envelope arrived with some of their synthetic Valve Oil. I don’t think I can tell the difference and it works really well. Colleagues swear by Hetman, Blue Juice and a few others for their trumpet care. A friend mixes up a concoction of kerosene and gun oil and gives it away as advertising (you know who you are Bruce)! The debate on which oil is the best is at least as ferocious as the same debate about motor oil. Try a few and use what works. If your valves are clean and they don’t work well try another oil. Lean towards the synthetics if you’re having trouble. Now that you’ve read all that I’ll confess that with the synthetics you just don’t have to oil them every day. That stuff is amazing – maybe I should use it in the truck.
2. Grease Slides
Slides need to work and work well, but most days you won’t have to do anything to them as part of trumpet care. They have to be lubricated with something occasionally as needed. The stuff that music stores sell as tuning slide grease is fine for the most part. I went through a long period of using wheel bearing grease and it’s still my favourite although it makes my gear smell a bit like my garage. If you’ve ever hung around an auto parts store you might have noticed how many different kinds of wheel bearing grease there are – it’s surprising. There are also lots of products for trumpet slides and plenty of DIY trumpet care recipes as well. Anhydrous lanolin mixed with Vaseline works – here’s a recipe. but most of the time I tell students to buy the Selmer red goo (Tuning Slide Grease) in a small bottle. Those bottles are infamous for breaking at the corners from aggressive squeezing so I keep mine in a little Ziploc to keep it from leaking all over my case. There are lots of brands and they all work well enough.
If you’re a beginner that’s almost all you need to know. For reasons I’ll explain somewhere else your main tuning slide – the first bend in your Trumpet (probably second in your Cornet) should always be out a little. Just for fun, let’s say 3/4″ or around 2cm. It also needs to be adjustable and you don’t want any of the slides to leak so get some of that red goo or almost any heavy grease on there. While you’re at it pull the second valve slide out and put some on there too. What you want is a thin coat of grease that will keep air from leaking through, keep the slide from falling out and prevent it from getting stuck. If your first valve doesn’t have a thumb saddle on it, lube it the same way with the same stuff.
The third valve slide (and first if you do have a thumb saddle) is a special case. If you’ve looked at the Fingering Chart page you might have noticed the star by the fingerings for low D and C#. Those notes are so sharp that they’re useless unless you move that third valve slide out for them. That slide has to be in for other notes and sometimes those notes are next to each other so we have to get used to moving it in and out as part of the fingering. That matters here because the slide has to move easily enough that the whole horn doesn’t shake. If the slide works but needs a little lube try starting with the thick stuff and adding a drop of valve oil. See how that works. Try different consistencies until you like it. Brands like Hetman sell a Light Slide Grease for these slides and a Heavy Slide Grease for the other ones. I still find that I want to thin it with a little valve oil.
If a slide – especially the 1st or 3rd valve slide is really sticky or difficult to move you might have to polish it a little as part of your trumpet care. Don’t get too aggressive with the Brasso. Give at a little polish, lube it and try it. If it needs more, do it again until you get it right. Try to polish all the way around the slide, not just at the easy part. It’s easier to take brass off than it is to add it – be gentle. Sometimes only one of the two tubes is causing trouble, so start with the one that looks suspect.
I’ll post a video or two of how to lube them and handle problem slides but you can definitely get in trouble trying to pull slides that are really stuck. Even a professional repair technician can damage a horn trying to pull a stuck slide but at least they have a chance of fixing it!
If you happen to have a slide that falls out on you put heavier grease on it until you can get it to a repair technician. They have a cool tool that fits inside the slide and expands it. I’ll post a video on this one because my newest horn has this issue.
3. Clean Mouthpiece
Some players care a lot about this, some hardly give it a thought. I know a trombone player who simply will not play his horn until he’s rinsed his mouthpiece (GW – busted). I think I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum but thought I’d mention it. Get one of those tree-shaped mouthpiece brushes and use it every now and then. (Don’t accidentally buy a woodwind one – they’re bigger and the wire might scratch the throat or the backbore.) If there’s enough crud in there it could change how your mouthpiece works and there’s a good chance that you could be incubating little nasties in there too. If you’re sick all of the time it is possible that you’re cultivating a colony – the gift that keeps on giving. Last weekend a bassoon player friend said that she had given herself strep throat by playing on a reed that she used a month or so ago when she also had strep throat. Is that just bad luck or is it science. A quick Google will tell you, meanwhile Karmen needs some alcohol (to rinse her reeds in).
4. Empty Spit Valve(s)
Oh, I mean the Water Keys – how rude of me. There are some nooks and crannies that will hide water on you but, like other things, it will roll downhill if you let it.
First and second valve condensation will find its way to the tuning slide or 3rd valve slide spit valve if you blow gently and push the valves up and down. The only other hiding place is at the last curve before the bell. Simply twist and turn the horn to see it run out the bell. This will likely only happen if you’ve been playing lots or if it’s pretty cold where you are playing.
5. Check Horn
As a general trumpet care habit it’s a good idea to inspect the hardware on your instrument to make sure that nothing is getting loose or getting seized. The valve caps should be snug top and bottom. If there are screws holding your spit valves(s) or 3rd slide make sure they haven’t backed themselves out at all. If you notice any little dings or dents try to figure out how they got there and fix that situation. If a dent is closing off more than 1/4 of any tube you should get it fixed at a shop. Small dents won’t usually affect how the horn plays, neither will its overall cleanliness. It’s a good idea to keep the horn clean but don’t take it too far. I used to polish my silver plated Bach all the time and now a lot of that silver is on the polishing cloth. Hmm.
Beyond Daily Trumpet Care
That’s it for the day-to-day. Depending on how much you play it, your Trumpet will have to be cleaned out from time to time. I mostly play my Bb Trumpet and it gets a bath maybe very 4 months or so. I’ll rinse out the leadpipe and the tuning slide more often and especially if I’ve had a run of gigs with meal breaks. For more on that go to the Trumpet Cleaning Page.