Trumpet Valve Tightness and Compression Issues

Many times trumpet players will discuss a topic which can be confusing to a beginning student, i.e. valve compression. The term valve compression is usually misused for there is very little compression in any section of a trumpet. Air is free to move through the instrument for there are obviously two openings, one at the mouthpiece and the other at the bell end. What most discussions are centered on are the tolerances or space between parts through the instrument. These areas usual are the gap between the valves and their corresponding valve casings, the first, second and third valve slides and in rare cases the tuning slide area.
The most important area to a trumpet player would be in the valve area for if the valves are too loose in their valve casings, air might be allowed to pass between the valve and its casing. This loss of air, though very slight can affect the response of the instrument. In addition to possible air loss, a valve with an extreme amount of clearance will generally become a problem as it eventually will bind within the casing. An ideal situation would be a valve which has a seal through the use of a small amount of valve oil and its surroundings. New instruments are usually not a problem but instruments which have had extensive use will many times have too much play and will eventually need expert attention.
Younger students many times ask if their valves are tight enough and I tell them that there is a very easy way to test their instrument for excessive leakage.

How to test your valves for excessive leakage-
1. Depress your third valve, and extend your third valve slide to its full length.
2. Release your third valve and slide your third slide back in while you count slowly.
3. Place the bell opening next to your ear as you continue to count off seconds.
4. When you reach 30 seconds, depress your third valve and if you hear a pop, your instrument is tight enough for all your needs.
5. Continue this test on your first valve and first valve slide in the same manner.
6. If you are able to hear a pop after 10 to 15 seconds, your first valve is also adequate.
7. Due to the very short distance you are able to move your second slide; it is not a practical test for that valve.

If after taking this test, you find that your best times are in the 5 second area, it indicates that there is indeed air escaping either around your valves or through your valve slide. If you think it might be escaping from your slides, you may hear some bubbling sounds or see actual bubbles escaping around the valve slide as you compress the air. If there is air leakage from your valve slides, an easy solution would be to use thicker valve side grease on your slides.
If you have identified the air leaks as coming from your valves, I would suggest that you contact a professional repairman to examine your instrument. A professional repair shop will be able to help you for there is nothing an inexperienced person can do at this point. These problems are most often found on the really old instruments and if you have taken care of your instrument, you will probably be trading instruments before you wear the valves out.
I have included some numbers from testing a few of my horns to give you an idea as to how much air can be trapped in an instrument which is used daily.

Instrument (Age-Valve 1-Valve 3)
Yamaha Custom Z (5-6 years old-1:30-Over 2:00)
Yamaha Bb (15-20 years old-0:15-0:30)
Bach Cornet (35-40 years old-0:00-0:00)
Conn Vintage 1 Flugel (6 years old-0:45-1:30)
Getzen D/Eb (30 years old-0:15-0:25)

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

10 thoughts on “Trumpet Valve Tightness and Compression Issues

  1. NEX-C3

    Точно там, където мога да намеря този конкретен платформа Weblog?

    • Bruce Chidester

      The Russian translation says this- “Similarly, there kdeto Moga yes intention tozi concrete platform Weblog”?

      I don’t know how to respond to your question, sorry.

      • Victor

        Bruce, that’s not Russian. Or at least it’s not proper Russian. It’s some mixture of Russian like or Ukranian words or maybe it’s some Bulgarian? I don’t know for sure but it has no relation to your post about valve compression. It says something like ‘Exactly there where it’s possible and intended also certain Weblog platform.’ So it’s some meaningless mumbling.

        • Bruce Chidester

          Thanks for pointing that out.
          You have to realize, I took three years of “FIRST YEAR SPANISH”.

  2. Gabriel Reel

    Um i am having second valve problems. My 1,3 valves are working silky smooth but then there is my 2nd valve. :/ Whats happening is that this morning in band i was about to warm up and i pushed down my 2nd valve and the very first time my 2nd valve got COMPLETELY stuck down. So i took action and pushed the damn thing out which took like 10 minutes. And now i have searched the entire valve for some kind of bend or an internal bend. Something that could possibly cause it to bend. I have had problems with this same valve 2 times before. And i have not dropped it or anything. But I can no longer play. Will someone give me some info on what to do to fix it or prevent it before i spend money to take it to the repair shop.

    I go to Staley High School in KC, MO if you need info.
    My email are:

    Please reply. Thanks!!!!

    • Bruce Chidester

      Valves can get stuck for various reasons. The most often cause is lack of oil and/or dirt.

      The next cause would be a ding or dent in the valve casing.

      If you have had trouble with the valve sticking in the past, check to see if there are any scratches on the second valve. If there are none, check to see if there is an unusually worn area on the valve. On older horns (very old horns) the plating or surface on the valve can wear through which causes the valve to hang up on you. When this happened, I have had good results with RainX. This is the liquid that you can clean your windshield of your car with and it keeps the rain from spotting. Apply RainX as indicated in the instructions as if you were working on a windshield. I have used it on several of my older horns and have had no ill effects on the valves or horn.

      A good friend of mine is having the same problem on his second vale and has attributed it to the direction he pushes the valve down. When he grips the horn too hard, he tends to push the valve to one side instead of up and down. This causes a bind in the valve casing which might be your problem also.
      Anytime a player has problems with their valves, the first thing you ask is, “have you been using different valve oil”? If one valve has a smaller fit than the other two, sometimes different oil becomes a problem.

      Another thing to try is something Mr. Schilke (the original designer of the Schike trumpets) always became very upset when told someone did it to his trumpets was to spin the valve in its case. The theory behind the concern to spin a valve is that valves in a trumpet eventually “seat” just as piston rings in a car engine seat over time. This is good but the idea off rotating a valve in its casing is generally frowned upon. When I have a problem valve, I spin it to take off any crud that might have developed in the valve case. I would not recommend this practice unless everything else has failed and doing it once or twice will not ruin your horn.

      If you have a stuck valve, I have found the best way to get it out is to remove the lower cap and place something like the large end of a drum stick on the bottom of the valve and very gently tap the other end of the stick with a book or something which will not exert much force on the valve. I find it better to push it out from the bottom rather than trying to pull it out from the top.

      When all else fails, take it to a repair shop and be ready to get scolded for trying to get it out yourself.

      Perhaps some of our readers can add something to solve your problem.

      Thanks for stopping by and remember to keep practicing. Believe me, there is no other way to improve. If there was I would be doing it.

  3. Ken Martin

    Thanks Bruce for clarifying the term valve compression. I was really confused by the term as it pertains to trumpets. Makes sense now. I’ll have to try out the tightness test you recommend.

    • Bruce Chidester

      What do I know? I’m just a pit musician in a musical….. and loving every minute of it.

  4. Sal Grippaldi

    Thanks for the test info. My King Super 20 passed with flying colors when well oiled..Been playing it since around 1950. The King Master Cornet I recently purchased so far had no reaction to either test. It’s 7am and I haven’t been to bed so I’ll try again later : ) Some thicker oil may be needed on the Cornet.

    • Bruce Chidester

      Sound like the possible solution, (no pun intended)
      Something I have also tried with problem valves is a good application of RainX then regular oiling.
      If it doesn’t help, it does wash off.

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