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I have a problem with a low-end trumpet ($100 range, so you get what you paid for).

The valves occasionally get stuck-ish, and won't depress fully after being pressed (they stop at around ~2/3 or 3/4 way up). This is usually after oiling the valves.

What seems to fix it somewhat is unscrewing the valves, and pushing them in and out of their seats several times - it almost feels like there's some mis-fit and you have to smooth it out, since pushing in/out encounteres slight resistance. But that fixing is only temporary, and the problem reappears soon.

Is there a set of likely reasons for the issue? Specific steps I can take to troubleshoot and resolve it? (short of buying a more expensive trumpet :)

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I've had similar problems with trumpets. It sounds like your valves / valve-casings are a bit misaligned. This can happen if the previous owner dropped any part of the trumpet / and or dust / dirt become stuck in the valve without them noticing and caused micro-abrasions.

First, and I know this sounds silly, but make sure all the correct valves are paired with their correct casing. There should be a number on each valve that corresponds with the casing.

Second, if everything is where it should be, then you'll want to take it to an instrument repair tech so they can re-grind the valve casings. It's not an expensive procedure - not more than the cost of the trumpet certainly. Bring it in. Get a quote. Have them do the repair. Presto, you have a trumpet.

  • note: It's a brand new one, so (hopefully?) no previous owner. – DVK Dec 31 '16 at 16:14
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    With a brand new item, it should go straight back to where it was purchased. There's no 'running-in period' on trumpets. – Tim Dec 31 '16 at 16:27
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    If the valves aren't in the right slots you'll get worse than sticking. The holes won't line up and you'll get no sound at all! Give the whole thing a good clean then apply a minimum amount of oil. If the valves still stick, take it to a repair man. – Laurence Payne Dec 31 '16 at 16:36
  • Agreed with Tim - OP didn't specify a new trumpet in the question, so I would send that back to manufacturer. – jjmusicnotes Dec 31 '16 at 20:13
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Take out and inspect the sticky valve pistons, looking in particular at the finishing around the edges of the airway holes through the piston. It might be that the edges of the ports are extremely sharp (sharp enough to cut your finger - be careful), or even have slivers of metal hanging off. More expensive instruments don't generally have this problem. If this is the case, it's possible to very carefully burnish (not file!) away the sharp bits, leaving you with much smoother port edges.

There may also be residue in the instrument left over from manufacturing. You might be able to shift this by taking the instrument apart and very carefully cleaning through the tubes with a bendy brush, and the insides of the valve barrels thoroughly with an old toothbrush and washing-up liquid. Finally rinse through with lots of water, then dry and reassemble.

Your playing technique itself can make the valves bind unexpectedly. When you press the valve, ensure that all the force acts through the vertical axis of the valve. If there's any sideways component to the force, you push the valve piston and barrel closer together, making them more likely to stick.

Your choice of valve oil can also make a difference. Use a reputable make - rather than the cheapy stuff probably supplied with the instrument.

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