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Stuck valve while performing

Postby Tubaru » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:40 pm

What some of your stories of when you had a valve stick while playing a performance. How did you manage to compensate?

Playing a concert on my Thor tonight, about 1/2 way into the first piece my 2nd valve began sticking. Must have gotten something into the casing since it was difficult to push down as well as dragging as it came up. Being the only tuba I couldn't stop and fix it. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time before the 2nd tune take it out, clean it off, and apply new oil. The 2nd piece was the Holst Second Suite so of course lots of As and Es. Used 3rd in place of 1-2 to get through all 4 movements. Managed to get 2nd working enough to get through the second movement with and those A-flats. After the Holst, I was able to take it out and get it working enough to get to intermission.

Spent intermission wiping down the valves and applying oil and then the 1st valve decided to stick in the 2nd half. Lots of marches in the 2nd half with of course B-flats and Fs. Hasn't been but a few weeks since I cleaned the horn inside and out but I do appear to have a little build up on the valves. I wipe down the valves and oil them every time before I play. Just never had valves stick that much before. It had just rained before we played and the humidity was still at 100% during the concert. I wonder if that was a factor.

Anyone else have a similar story to share?
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby UncleBeer » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:47 pm

You mention humidity, so it's fair to assume this was an outdoor concert, and maybe warm weather? I find if I'm sweating at all, sweat makes its way off my face, down the leadpipe and into the valves, jamming 'em up. I think sweat is the culprit.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby bloke » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:59 pm

I could tell a couple of stories like that from several years ago, but I've sorta learned my lesson (formerly: somewhat of a cobbler/his-own-shoes syndrome)

A friend of mine - who keeps the interiors (and exteriors) of his instruments immaculate - has no such stories to tell.

Your tuba - Something(s) was/were migrating around. If it was extra-hot, that/those thing(s) possibly changed from gooey to runny, freed itself/themselves from wherever they were hangin' out, and migrated to places in between pistons and their casings.

In my experience, when customers (who did not bring their instruments in to be cleaned, really needed their instruments cleaned, and) reported to me that they had just recently cleaned the interiors of their instruments...uh, not so much. :|
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby groth » Wed Jul 05, 2017 12:53 am

Tubaru wrote:What some of your stories of when you had a valve stick while playing a performance. How did you manage to compensate?

Playing a concert on my Thor tonight, about 1/2 way into the first piece my 2nd valve began sticking. Must have gotten something into the casing since it was difficult to push down as well as dragging as it came up. Being the only tuba I couldn't stop and fix it. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time before the 2nd tune take it out, clean it off, and apply new oil. The 2nd piece was the Holst Second Suite so of course lots of As and Es. Used 3rd in place of 1-2 to get through all 4 movements. Managed to get 2nd working enough to get through the second movement with and those A-flats. After the Holst, I was able to take it out and get it working enough to get to intermission.

Spent intermission wiping down the valves and applying oil and then the 1st valve decided to stick in the 2nd half. Lots of marches in the 2nd half with of course B-flats and Fs. Hasn't been but a few weeks since I cleaned the horn inside and out but I do appear to have a little build up on the valves. I wipe down the valves and oil them every time before I play. Just never had valves stick that much before. It had just rained before we played and the humidity was still at 100% during the concert. I wonder if that was a factor.

Anyone else have a similar story to share?

Playing the Holst all by yourself? wow. How large was the ensemble? That's much easier on B flat tuba IMO. I remember a couple memorial day's ago one of my fellow band mates playing an old Leningrad Russian 3 valve horn had his 3rd valve stop arm fly completely off because the small screw in the top backed out and flew into the grass, thus making the linkage go limp. Couldn't find it and thus rendering him out of commission for the concert.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Will Jones » Wed Jul 05, 2017 1:07 am

So most people really over estimate the value of lightning fast valves. I use slide-o-mix on my valves- just a little. They feel a hair slower, but never ever stick. Thats a f-ing good trade off. And guess what- its never been my valves that hold back my technique.
You just have to decide what fail mode you prefer. Slightly slow valves that still move faster than your fingers, or risking show-stopping stuck valves.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Tubaru » Wed Jul 05, 2017 1:17 am

bloke wrote:
In my experience, when customers (who did not bring their instruments in to be cleaned, really needed their instruments cleaned, and) reported to me that they had just recently cleaned the interiors of their instruments...uh, not so much. :|


I'm not saying it was perfectly clean but was as good as it was going to get with the cleaning kits that are commercially available. None of them have a snake that can really clean a leadpipe and we all can't have an ultrasonic cleaner in our basement/ garage/workshop.

Unfortunately the local repair shops are "closed" to walk-ins while they fix all those school beater horns.
Last edited by Tubaru on Wed Jul 05, 2017 1:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Tubaru » Wed Jul 05, 2017 1:31 am

groth wrote:Playing the Holst all by yourself? wow. How large was the ensemble?


This was a community band of about 40. One euphonium, one tuba. Fortunately, being an outdoor concert, he and I were individually miked.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby sousaphone68 » Wed Jul 05, 2017 3:43 am

I have not had a valve stick but I did loose the cork from my 4th valve water key during the first movement of a test piece. Played it as a 3 valve until the second movement when I inserted some wadded up paper that sealed the key enough to allow me to play it a 4 valve tuba again.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby PaulMaybery » Wed Jul 05, 2017 8:47 am

Hmm!! Makes me think it could be a valve stem issue where just a little torque had pushed the stem sideways a bit and it is binding in the hole in the top of the valve cap. (On some valve caps there is not much tolerance, and there also seems to be a trend toward wider valve stems) With the plastic valve guides attached under the stem, (and this non-metal piece actually does compress slighly compared to metal-on-metal) the little shoulder at the base of the stem (where the threads meet the smooth upper portion) is asked to do double duty, (1) holding down the washer and valve guide, and (2) used as the push-rod to activate the piston (for which it is really intended) Since I'm not positive that the Thor uses those plastic guides, I may be off-base with my little diagnosis. But I've had this happen several times on various newer tubas. My tech spotted the compromised valve stems and put the whole piston and stem in the lathe and on very slow speed, true them up so they were again straight. The quick fix on the gig is to take your thumb and "very slowly and gently" push it back a bit so it has a clear pass through the hole. This can be an ongoing problem. A watchful eye can catch this before it actually binds. But in most casses this happens when you least expect it. Whether or not there are plastic valve guides, the stem could still somehow have gotten torqued. (More of a problem on front action pistons)
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby bort » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:04 am

Just saying... I've never had a rotary valve "stick", in any weather. :tuba:

When I've had trouble like you describe with piston tubas, I think you did just about all you could do. I think I also tried pouring a bit of water into the mouthpiece to help free things up, but clearly knew that I might be making it worse. Didn't happen to me many times, but in that situation, you just have to do the best you can.

Absolute worst case -- keep that valve pressed down, and pull out all of the alternate fingerings in your book of tricks to play as many notes as you can. That happened to me once with a sousaphone -- it got damaged during a flight, and the 1st valve was damaged and stuck down. Had to spend the next week playing everything with the 1st valve down, and only functioning valves 2 and 3. It sucked, but it sucked less than not playing at all.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby bloke » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:29 am

Most stuff that is left behind after home-cleaning jobs is found in these difficult-to-reach/difficult-to-clean areas:

I'm not scolding anyone here...I'm just offering some hints - to help you and others. I don't really enjoy cleaning this mess out of tubas (whether for pay or for free), and would be happy if players (thoroughly, as the picture below demonstrates is necessary) all took care of these issues themselves and (again) stopped convincing themselves that this-or-that "special" oil will solve their problems - problems, simply, which are caused by a need for thorough cleaning.
Sometimes, (referring to HOME cleaning jobs...or ANY cleaning jobs) it actually requires the use of one's fingers...or very-carefully-inserted stiff-bristle 1"-1-1/4" diameter brushes...or via adding high-velocity hot water to the previously stated strategies (requires a genuine rubber hose, as vinyl will come apart at the joints, and also requires logic, to avoid shooting scalding hot water out an orifice at oneself).

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Beyond migrating gook, some players (via their own physiology) leave lime deposits on their pistons/rotors and casings. The only way to know is to allow casings to completely dry out, and see of there is a whitish or greenish-whitish coating on the casings, which should otherwise appear brown - the normal color of brass oxide. Valves will not function reliably with lime deposits as [1] lime deposits reduce valve tolerances, and [2] lime deposits are actually "rock", and "rock" (at least, not lime) is not a particularly smooth surface for high-tolerance machine motion. There is a low-fuming product sold by a repair industry supplier that dissolves lime effectively. I prefer this to ultrasound, because of [1] lower cost, [2] better job of removing lime deposits, and [3] no chance of punching holes in instruments that suffer from dezinctification.

I only use lamp oil to lubricate pistons and rotors. (26 cents an ounce is the best price I've found on the web.) Some players mix a tiny amount of motor oil to lamp oil. When my valves are clean, they do not stick. I keep them clean. I've learned my lesson. I just don't enjoy the helpless feeling of "sticking valves during shows"...or even during rehearsals.

Most easily-bent valve stems are found on instruments that feature top-mounted plastic valve guides (mostly: Asian-made instruments, but some others as well). For some reason, manufacturers fabricate those plastic guides with small center openings which require the stems' male threads to be smaller than - perhaps - they should be. With small-diameter threads, stems are more easily bent.

...and many players will scroll past this post (too long to read on a phone) do nothing about lime deposits, continue to purchase fancy oils, continue to leave chunks of "stuff" immediately adjacent to valve casings in the adjacent tubing knuckles, and (perhaps?) might even try stretching their valve springs to solve their problems.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby opus37 » Wed Jul 05, 2017 11:26 am

I have had rotors valves stick during a performance. It's usually caused by my lack of regular lubrication on rotors valves. The solution has always been a few drops oil on the top baring shaft. Then a top and bottom shaft lube as soon as practical. My piston valves have stuck a few times too. Mostly during practice sessions. I always lube pistons before every concert. Regular Home-cleaning is important. A snake is not usually part of a kit, but they are, in my opinion, essential. Of course a periodic professional cleaning, valve alinement and check up should be on everyone's calander.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Donn » Wed Jul 05, 2017 3:01 pm

bort wrote:Just saying... I've never had a rotary valve "stick", in any weather.


I have! It would jam in the open position once in a while. Lubrication helped a lot - just like pistons, but not as convenient. Not actually during a concert, but I did have the linkage screw disassembly happen during a concert. And that's with relatively little experience with rotors, as I'm personally more partial to pistons, and we don't really have what you might be thinking of as "weather" here .
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby marccromme » Wed Jul 05, 2017 4:42 pm

Will Jones wrote:So most people really over estimate the value of lightning fast valves. I use slide-o-mix on my valves- just a little. They feel a hair slower, but never ever stick. Thats a f-ing good trade off. And guess what- its never been my valves that hold back my technique.
You just have to decide what fail mode you prefer. Slightly slow valves that still move faster than your fingers, or risking show-stopping stuck valves.


I find that Yamaha slide snot (silicone based water emulsion used on trombone slides) works best on my tuba piston valves. Even better than slide-o-mix (and it works better on my trombones too). I need only to apply once or twice a week, and the pistons are lightening fast. It wears of slowly, so no sticking valves in the middle of a rehearsal or concert.

Using any kind of normal valve oil I need to apply once or twice a day, and when valves decide to go sloggy, they start sticking a few minutes later. I definitely prefer Yamaha slide snot.

If you want to change from oil to yammie snot, you should bath, clean and dry your valve casings first to remove every little residue of oil.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Rick F » Wed Jul 05, 2017 4:53 pm

Hmm? Yamaha Slide Snot is an unfamiliar technical term to me. :roll:
Is this that stuff you're referring to?
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Slamson » Wed Jul 05, 2017 4:54 pm

Back when I had a Perantucci PT10-P, I gave it to my trusty tech for a cleaning (and valve alignment). Foolishly, I picked it up and headed for a rehearsal. Got to rehearsal and it sounded like crap, then the fifth valve (the rotor, of course) froze halfway shut.

He'd left a cleaning rag in the slide.

Everybody makes mistakes. Real fools don't check for them.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby Bob Kolada » Wed Jul 05, 2017 9:18 pm

I was playing a NATO change of command on a borrowed euphonium with an average temperature of like 400° when the second valve started sticking before we stepped out. I frantically pulled it out and spit on it. Didn't work. We marched out and all I could do was hold it and fake it.
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Re: Stuck valve while performing

Postby ralphbsz » Mon Jul 10, 2017 9:46 pm

bort wrote:Just saying... I've never had a rotary valve "stick", in any weather. :tuba:

My son did, last week. His school band is having rehearsals every day (they're off to a concert tour in a few days). This is a 5-valve CC. Last Wednesday, the horn worked in the morning, and then maybe 1/2 or 1 hour in, the second valve became unmovable. I don't know how he coped during the rehearsal (fortunately, the band has 3 tuba players, so he probably just dropped all the notes that need the #2 valve). Went home at lunchtime to fetch the "emergency spare" tuba, finished the day on that. At night at home, we diagnosed: the valve was not only very stuck (barely movable by hand using the arm after disconnecting the linkage), it also travelled too far, in particular in the off position. We "boroscoped" the valve (which is easy on the 2nd, all you need is a flashlight and a mirror), and it was traveling so far it was opening again on the wrong port; they key ended up about 3/8" too high when at rest. The rubber stops were way too beat up on that valve. It was also nearly completely dry (no oil). So I think what happened was a combination: 6 hours of rehearsal per day for a week, without oiling the valves enough, plus the rubber stops were too old, allowing the rotor to travel way too far, causing the rotor to pick up some solid object from a position it usually doesn't reach. So we took it apart, cleaned it and oiled it, then manually rotated it a few hundred spins (all the way 360 with the linkage removed), cleaned and oiled again. Next day went to the repair shop and picked up new (larger) rubber stops, realigned to the marks. The horn works fabulously now.

Many years ago, he had a redwood twig in the #4 valve (welcome to outdoor music camp), on a 4-valve BBb tuba, and survived by playing the last concert with the first three valves. Intonation was dubious, but better than not playing.
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