To keep our piston valve brass instruments running smoothly we need to always have valve oil on hand. But which valve oil is the best? This is a largely subjective area (many things in music are) and everyone will swear by different products. I figure I’ll give my two cents on the topic…
The ideal valve oil would be long lasting, cheap, and effective. Can any of them meet these criteria? You have to also consider that every brand of horn has different valves; the tolerances between the valve and the valve casings vary from brand to brand and model to model. That means that one oil may work slightly better or worse depending on which horn you’re using it in.
The standby valve oil that you’re most likely to encounter is good ol’ Al Cass. It was the first valve oil I used when I started playing and it’s what all the other kids used too. For those bundyish horns, Al Cass is a great oil. It’s inexpensive and effective on horns with a moderate to large amount of tolerance between the valve casing wall and the valve. It’s good for the youngsters because they tend to dump buckets of oil into the valves and because it’s cheap, there’s no harm in letting that oil flow.
After I went through my Al Cass phase, I was looking for something with a bit more performance. The next oil I got into using was Blue Juice. More on the expensive side, Blue Juice gave me smoother action. At this point I was using a Bach Stradivarius and at first I liked this oil…but that changed pretty fast. I found two major problems: First, the oil smelled particularly bad (my teacher commented on the smell as well as peers), second, when I went to clean out my horn, the valves had developed blue flakes all inside the valve ports. Blue Juice also seemed to evaporate kind of fast. It was time to move onto something else.
Then one day the clouds parted and down from the heavens descended a bottle of Hetmans! Ok, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way but it might as well have. Hetmans comes in three varieties for trumpets (not to mention the various other lubricants they sell for brass): Classic, Piston, and Light Piston. Developed by a New Jersey chemist, Hetmans is the best oil I’ve come across and it isn’t likely to be beat. I really can’t find any flaws with this brand other than it’s slightly more expensive than the others. However, it is well worth it. Hetmans lasts a long time after you apply it so you don’t need to use much of the stuff and it provides the fastest and most consistent action in every trumpet I’ve used it in. The three types are very useful as well: For your average trumpet with average tollerances, use the Piston variety. In high tolerance valves that are prone to sticking, use the Light Piston. If you happen to have a vintage horn that may be getting close to needing it’s valves redone, then you can try the Classic Piston which does a good job taking up the wide valve clearance and smoothing out worn plating spots.
So there you have it! You’ll have your own preferences when it comes to oils but these three brands are the standards. Personally, I stay away from the Blue Juice; there’s just too many negatives for my tastes. Actually, I prefer the Al Cass over Blue Juice. But I think, hands down, Hetmans is the top of the line.
But there’s only one sure way to find your favorite oil…try them yourself!