Trumpet maintenance tips: Monel and Stainless Steel Piston Valve Care
Most modern trumpet valves (pistons) are made of a steel alloy, either Monel (primarily composed of nickel and copper, with small amounts of iron, manganese, carbon, and silicon)1 or stainless steel (usually 316 stainless composed mainly of chromium and nickel with a few percent of molybdenum and manganese and traces of silicon, carbon, nickel and phosphorus)2. These materials are known for their resistance to corrosion and wear. 316 stainless is especially resistant to pitting and corrosion.
Even though modern valves are made of tough materials and can resist corrosion, they can still get stained with contaminants from our breath (especially calcium and other mineral deposits), food particles, bacteria buildup, and residues from dried petroleum valve oils. The stains or other contaminants will cause the valve to stick since the contamination will close the very small space between the piston and its casing, often less than 0.001 inches (0.02mm). You can see really bad contamination and staining in this picture. These valves will surely stick and would require chemical cleaning to be restored to working condition.
Traditional petroleum valve oils (made from a petroleum distillate such as kerosene or liquid paraffin) will evaporate quickly, leaving behind black or blue residues which are difficult to remove. These residues can cause very tight-fitting valves to stick. You will also need to oil the valves frequently, especially in hot weather.
Synthetic valve oils such as Ultra-Pure Professional Valve Oil do not evaporate so quickly, and they do not leave behind any residues which would cause sticking. Synthetic oils are commonly used in automotive engines today since they last so much longer and keep your engine cleaner. Synthetic oil for your trumpet pistons offers the same benefits -- longer lasting lubrication and cleaner valves.
Here is a picture of Monel valves which have been oiled with only Ultra-Pure Professional Valve Oil for the past 25 years. They look great and they work great. These are from a Monette Bb trumpet made in Chicago around 1989.
Stainless steel pistons have a slightly smoother surface texture and are more sensitive to oils. They work best with a synthetic valve oil since the oil seems to wet the surface better and does not leave any stains or residues behind. Here is a photo of new stainless steel valves from CarolBrass®. Oiling regularly with Ultra-Pure Professional Valve Oil (or our Ultra-Light Valve Oil) will keep these pistons looking like new and working well for years to come.
We recommend that you oil your valves every day by pulling a piston all the way out of the casing and dripping a few drops of oil onto the piston surface. Carefully put the piston back in the casing and lock the valve guide into place. Tighten the valve cap, and move on to the next valve. It takes only a few minutes to oil them properly, and the oil will also help to remove any grime or other contamination that might be building up. Once each few months give the valves and the entire trumpet a good cleaning with warm soapy water so all the inner surfaces stay perfectly clean. See our tips on how to clean your trumpet here.
If you are switching to Ultra-Pure Professional Valve Oil from a petroleum valve oil such as Al Cass "Fast", Blue Juice, etc., we recommend that you first clean your horn as best you can. There is no bad reaction with these petroleum products when you first apply Ultra-Pure, but our oils will tend to dissolve and clean out the dried up residues that the other oils left behind. This clean-up period can last a few weeks and you may see some light grey residue coming out the water key. Keep oiling the valves and this will clear up on its own.