Rotary valves; an integral part of almost all Trombones, French Horns, and Tubas, without proper maintenance they can cause no end of issues with the your brass instrument - prone to becoming slow and noisy.

However, unlike piston valves, rotary valves rarely stick and, if cared for in the right ways, are incredibly reliable - giving years of trouble free, quality service.

Rotary valve maintenance: the basics

Rotary valve maintenance is fairly straightforward - taking just minutes of care and attention every month and a few key materials to ensure a lifetime of beautiful music.

When thinking about maintaining your rotary valves, there are 4 key elements you must consider:

  1. Oils
  2. Lubrication
  3. Cleaning
  4. Holidays

Handy hints & tips for the 4 key elements of maintenance

1. Oils: two sorts of oil are required for rotary valves. A thicker oil for external use and thin oil for inside the tubing. For the thicker oil, a specific rotor valve oil is recommended; a sewing machine oil or household oil like 3in1. For inside the tubes, normal piston valve oil will be suitable.

2. Lubrication: We strongly recommend oiling your instrument at least once a month. You can do this in the following ways:

  • unscrew the back-plate of each rotor and put one drop of thicker oil on the central bearing.
  • screw the plate back on, but not too tightly.
  • put a drop of oil on the front axle of each rotor, and on each moving joint in the linkages - don’t use too much, only one small drop.
  • whilst oiling, check that all screws are tight and none are loose.
  • take out the mouthpiece and tip the tuba to put three drops of oil down the leadpipe.
  • replace the mouthpiece and blow while waggling the valves - this is to coat the inside of the valves with some oil.

3. Cleaning: about every 6 months we suggest you flush the inside of the valves with hot, soapy water to remove which may have been blown in the valves. You can do this by:

  • pulling out the main tuning slide and turning the Tuba to pour half a litre of water in.
  • waggle the valves while the water runs through and turn the tuba to let the water out of the leadpipe. A pipe cleaner can be used on leadpipe at the same time to loosen dirt.
  • pull all the tuning slides out and turn the Tuba to completely empty water. This is best done in the bath.
  • leave all the slides out overnight to let the inside dry before returning and re-oiling tuba - this is also a good time to replace slide grease on the tuning slides.

4. Leaving for holiday: If you’re planning not to use your Tuba for a prolonged period of time - for example, if you are going on holiday - always oil the inside of the valves before leaving. If the valves are stuck when you get back, turn the rotor spindle direct by hand to free, and don’t use the valve buttons so the linkage isn’t bent.

Experiencing problems after rotary valve maintenance

With simple, regular rotary valve maintenance, your instrument should play with easy for years to come.

However, if you do experience any problems, first always clean the rotors as dirt is usually the problem. If this does not alleviate the issue, my best advice is to take the instrument to a professional brass repairer.

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