When you walk into a store to purchase items for you or your child’s musical instrument, it can be daunting at times to see how many different varieties of the same item there are to choose from. What makes one product better or worse than its competitor? Why is Brand A more expensive than Brand B? Thankfully, there are a few ways to make sense of which brand to select.
For oils, there are two types that will be discussed; petroleum and synthetic. Both are found in either piston or rotor variety. To know if you need piston or rotor oil, you can take a look at the area you are trying to oil to tell you which is correct. If the valve moves in an up and down style of motion with a circular button, that is a piston valve. If the valve looks like a lever that you move up and down like keys on a keyboard, that is a rotor valve. Generally Trumpets, Euphoniums, and beginner Tubas have pistons while French horn, Trigger Trombones, and upper level Tubas have rotors.
The first type of oil that most people grab will be a petroleum based lubricant. This includes items such as Blue Juice, Al Cass, and most generic oils that come with an instrument at the beginning. The second type of oil is synthetic based, which includes the Hetman brand and Yamaha’s synthetic line.
There are many differences between these styles of oil, but the biggest among them is what happens when the oil dries up. Hopefully your pistons and rotors are never left dry for long, but sometimes it happens. When petroleum based oil dries up, it leaves a crusty white residue on the valve that usually will lock it in place if not dealt with swiftly. This locking is due to the size difference in the molecules, where the smaller bubbles will evaporate quicker than their larger counterparts. These molecules collect dirt, and when a small molecule dries up, the larger molecule will absorb the dirt left behind. What this means is that when those larger molecules dry up, there is a large deposit of dirt in one spot as opposed to spread out over the valve causing it to lock up.
Synthetic based oils are made in such fashion that the molecules are all evenly sized and spaced from each other. When this oil dries up, it is much easier to remove and clean/oil the valve than their counterpart. Most repair shops, including our own, use these synthetic oils on any instrument as a way to keep everything uniform and in the best shape it can be.
Generally, pricing wise, synthetic oils are going to be more expensive than their counterparts on the petroleum side. But, this difference in price really does make a difference in the quality and care of your instrument. If you ever want to know more, please ask anyone in our stores and we will be glad to assist you!