water keys


Active Member
a really geeky thread here!!

Has anyone got a miracle answer to emptying water from your instrument? It is the most annoying thing ever when players blow water out during quiet bits on the contest stage but I just haven't found another way to actually get ALL the water out! :? I have tried turning the cornet around 360 degrees then opening the water key and shaking the cornet a bit but some of the water always seems to get stuck in the valves. Perhaps this may be another soverign valve problem :shock: :? :shock: any tips???!!


Supporting Member
sorry about this SQ but try blowing quieter :oops:
just a gentle ickle blow should do it, it looks a lot better aswell when your on stage


Account Suspended
Probably doesnt help, but I found the same with the water keys on the sovereign horn.
The water keys dont get rid of hardly any water,
I've perfected the 2 bar pitstop of emptying all my slides, that usually lasts me a piece or a movement,
and unless you 'clang' the slide onto the instrument as you do it then it doesnt make a noise at all :)


Active Member
I once knew a guy (hes sadly passed away) who was the main reason why i had to take up sop, he was amazing to watch on stage. He'd get his instrument and to get water out or move it round the intrument to stop it dribbling or making stupid noises, he would loop his hand around it and spin it, he never ever dropped it and he would just spin it and come straight in on a top C!!!!!! Well its worth a try!!!


Active Member
SMash Kerplunk!!! Shasll we tryn it next contest rach???? we may look a bit strange spinnin our cornets round!! 8) :)


leisa said:
SMash Kerplunk!!! Shasll we tryn it next contest rach???? we may look a bit strange spinnin our cornets round!! 8) :)

Wanna bet lol! I thought we had already mastered strange as a section lol :p
My instrument has water keys ? I use them maybe once a year - I just have gotten into the habit of emptying the whole slide for some reason - gets the water out for me!


Active Member
rutribal said:
leisa said:
SMash Kerplunk!!! Shasll we tryn it next contest rach???? we may look a bit strange spinnin our cornets round!! 8) :)

Wanna bet lol! I thought we had already mastered strange as a section lol :p

Sorry yeah 'tis true we are already strange!!

Naomi McFadyen

New Member
you dont really need to blow too hard... as the water will just go straight over the hole... blow gently and give the instrument a little shake...

there we go ;o)


Active Member
I think water keys are a perfect example of the complacent and conservative attitudes of modern brass instrument makers.
Water has a surface tension so a cork covered hole, a few millimetres across, is wholly unsuitable for draining water without accompanying shaking and blowing.
Lets face it hardly anything significant has changed in brass instrument design in the last 100 years. I am sure there is enough engineering experience in this world to solve a small problem like emptying a few drops of water out of a pipe. A small oneway valve with a button pump, much like a tickler in a carburetter, would do the job.

Inefficient water keys, sticking vaves, stuck slides, peeling laquer, 100 year old designs. Come on ! this would never be tolerated in any other consumer product costing hundreds of pounds.

Rant Over.
Anybody any good radical ideas for new instrument design?


Active Member
BigHorn said:
Anybody any good radical ideas for new instrument design?

I think the use of a laser sight on most sopranos would help them aim for the principal cornet players head in order to cause maximum annoyance! :wink: There was an article once, I think in the bandsman, on a guy at one of the london unis developing an electronic valve system for his tuba. A mere press of the button would operate his rotary valves. And here's me wasting all that energy moving them all those inches!


Staff member
BigHorn said:
A small oneway valve with a button pump, much like a tickler in a carburetter, would do the job.

I play occasionally on a Wilson euphonium that has a system somewhat similar to that which you describe, although I don't know that it is really much better.


PeterBale said:
BigHorn said:
A small oneway valve with a button pump, much like a tickler in a carburetter, would do the job.

I play occasionally on a Wilson euphonium that has a system somewhat similar to that which you describe, although I don't know that it is really much better.


The system you refer to is an Amado (I think that's right) water key. I believe it works on the premise that the design does not interrupt the air flow. Denis Wedgewood who builds his own trumpets has done something along these lines.


You don't need to blow the water out at all, just open the key and let gravity do it's thing!
As Naruco says above, most of the time, if you try and blow it out, some of the water will stay in the instrument.



I'm sure i must have given you my rant about blowing to get the air out, it is almost as bad as talking or loud page turns in quiet bits. Fair enough when people are applauding or something but it can destroy the atmosphere so hard to create with some music.

I can only speak as a trombonist (might be harder on valve instruments), but ever since i got told not to blow to get the spit out as it only blows it past the hole, i've not blown!! so to speak.

just open the key, slowly turn the instrument to allow gravity to do its thing, if your tubes are clean on the inside then it should be a quick process, if however you are gunged up from lack of maintenence then that is why you'll be forced to blow water out.

in short, gently shake to let the fluid flow, a blow is not necessary. (how many blokes have you heard say that recently. ;)


Active Member
I don't care how people blow their water out in between pieces in rehearsal. make as much noise as you like. However the blowing of a profuse volume of air through the instrument to get rid of water through the water key is unnecessary as gravity and a gentle blow works. The problem with the 'blowers' is that it becomes a habit and is distracting to players and detracts from the piece when done in quiet passages.

Another pet hate is the announcement that the band will play is greeted by half the band pumping air through the intruments whilst 'wiggling' the valves....again at volume.

Surprisingly for someone who is 6 feet three inches and 16 stone I say that gentler is better!
Could be something to do with capilliary action on smaller bore instruments, i.e. cornets and horns. Euphoniums' water just seems to fall out without blowing through. Baritones seem to collect water in a tube that no-one can get to! Meaning you have to turn the instrument three times over to get it out. The person that puts a water key there will make a small fortune. :idea:

On stage however, the most calm player usually shakes when emptying a slide. An effect also noticed when putting mutes in. Is this because you have an opportunity to look around the hall when you do this?


As used and promoted by JAMES WATSON ---

THE SATURN WATER KEY [20 quid including deliv]



What's wet, messy, dribbles over tuxedos, fails at the most inappropriate moment, has bits of cork as its main ingredient, interferes with the airflow, is fitted on virtually every brass instrument ever made, and hasn't (perhaps with one exception) changed design since Joshua practised his fortissimo against the Jerichoan Walls. Well, not quite, but certainly since Adolphe Sax invented the seven belled trumpet.

If you haven't guessed by now, you are not a Brass Player. Yes! It's a water key.

We've got space age titanium mouthpipes, Kevlar bells, rocket science cryogenics, precision ground valves to microns of tolerance, pertubatory analysis that would baffle Einstein, super- deluxe go-faster booster warblers that do absolutely nothing and we still use a device on our instruments that wets our shirts - amazing!

Horror stories about water keys abound. Only recently a good friend of mine played a whole concert with his 'finger in the Dyke' when the spring broke after the first note -no Interval. One could actually leave a space in this article for the readers to insert their own personal leaky nightmare.

When the spring breaks -as they do -on a conventional water key the cry echoes around the ensemble -'my kingdom for an elastic-rubber band' This being really the only effective emergency method of keeping a small hole on the players instrument closed, thus allowing him, or her, to complete their performance.

As a brass instrument apprentice, there used to be an 'old boy' (everyone's old when you are sixteen) whose raison d'etre was to make water key springs. There he sat, on his high stool at a bench from Sam to 5.30pm five days a week plus Saturday mornings in our Factory. Frankenstein could have comfortably called it home: rats, bulging walls & waterfalls when it rained. Just winding springs on a little rod with a hand wheel at one end. To be fair, he was the First Aid man as well as spring maker, but sure as hell no one ever went near him if they'd had an accident. Perhaps that reminiscence was the reason for me to enter & lock the door of the 'thinking room' and put the seat down. More probably, it was the absurdity of the device itself.

The fact is that the brass instrument water key is the last thing a designer & manufacturer wants to know about when they've spent all their time & energy on the instrument itself.

The standard brass instrument water key usually comprises of about six parts.

A 'cast' key with a small tube brazed at right angles near it's fulcrum with a cup shaped piece of metal also brazed at the non- levering end to take a piece of cork as a sealant. This casting is usually nickel plated for added strength prior to whatever finishes the instrument is intended. A 'carriage', the base of which is soldered to the instruments' pipe or slide where the device is to be set. This 'carriage' has two raised prongs -one threaded to take the screw pin connecting the 'carriage' to the 'key'.

A piece of brass shaped like a tiny "Vesuvius" which is also separately soldered onto the instrument and then drilled through into the pipe -usually, although seldom, in the case of one British Manufacturer, at a low point on the bend.

A spring, shaped like a convoluted mediaeval torture device bisects the key, its points pressing against the carriage keeping the cork filled cup at the end of the lever firmly -or it should do - airtight over the 'Vesuvius'. Gravity then takes over.

As the water (saliva), beer, tea (tea?) in the instrument seeks the low point, inside the pipe and into the volcano; it awaits the player's decision to press the lever. This is usually preceded by burbling noises, especially on low notes - thus partially parting the cork from the volcano, which releases the liquid.

The volcano I'm referring to is the chimney of air between the pipe of the instrument that is sometimes blocked by pre-shaped rubber or cork, and so - the water hits the cork, its owner and his colleagues simultaneously. The amateur player gets just as wet as the virtuoso. Gravity does not discriminate!

In one of Mr. Schilke's London lectures he demonstrated the ability to play certain notes on his 'C' trumpet with the water key open. This was to demonstrate that as long as the vibrating air column had a node it didn't matter what shape the tube was. This technique, which is standard, is somewhat inaccurate as the cork still partially covers the hole, blocking the 'volume' at the water key point.

From a scientific viewpoint, is it really a good idea to have an air filled cul-de-sac in an instrumental vibrating air column?

From a manufacturers point of view, constructing & fitting water key is just a nuisance. Levers, carriages, castings, electro-plating, screws, cork, aligning the device with two reference points onto the instrument, fitting the spring. ....And springs have lives of their own. Trombone springs nearly always attack first. They're victims are much apparent on monday mornings at my work shop their pointed ends having stuck into fingers.

The single design exception to the ancient lever water key is the Amado water key. Mr. Amado opted for a spring enclosed piston blocking the instrument exit hole in the closed position and opening when the operator pushes the extension button. Nice idea - except that pistons still need connecting rods that have to pass directly across the water exit once again impeding fluid release.

we've found that by leaving a burr inside the tube after drilling a hole for the water egress, experienced players detect a 'blurring' of certain notes,. Or even a tendency for some notes to split. Presumably these are notes with antinodes in the water key area. there is still a discrepancy of bore, either vibrating or non-vibrating, depending on the frequency of the played note, underneath and around the piston area.

Instead of levers, the designer of the 'Amado' water key device had almost certainly travelled the same wet route as we did. So, these were the reasons to take a new look at what basically is a plugged hole in a brass tube.

And there was the brief: To design and construct a more efficient, easy to use, easy to make mechanism to release water from a brass instrument, the construction of which offers minimum pipe distortion and maximum efficiency when activated -i.e. no 'volcano', corks, pistons etc. blocking egress. The device to be preferably 'housetrained'.

It was immediately apparent that better brains than mine had been there well over two centuries ago and used the maxim 'if it works, don't fix it'. Spectres of ancient spring winders appeared, with "forging Nibelungs" fettling away, producing works of hydrological art still seen on instruments today.

It was also apparent that priority was to use mass production manufacturing techniques. Would a 'mushroom' device with an inverted seal work? No! it would still need a rod, which would get in the way of exiting fluids.

A piston maybe with a plug that actually went 'inside' the instrument when depressed? Same thing, back to square one. Time to talk to greengrocers, car salesmen, astronauts- if I knew one -and my friend the road sweeper on the Broadway. They'd know.

The birth of the 'Saturn' Water Key began with the background clatter and hiss of CNC machines in my friend Brian's production engineering factory. Always heralded by an aural fanfare when parking my motorcycle -to musicians, I'm an engineer, to engineers I'm a musician.

Yes, he thought he knew what was needed. Nothing to block the exit hole when open. Can be activated in any direction 360° left or right handed. Minimum deformation to the fixed tube when closed. The whole thing designed for mass production, and no cork - plus a complimentary flying pig with every purchase - hehe!

And so the 'Saturn' Water Key evolved. One fixing to the instrument. Press on the ring in any direction (any hand) to dislodge the stainless steel helical sprung ball from its airtight seating.

Virtually clear route from instrument to floor. Release ring and the stainless steel ball returns to it's seating once again to make an airtight seal. Improved instrument response was a fortuitous bonus!

Perhaps the ghosts of my old spring winder and his fellow craftsmen centuries earlier smiled on us, and will stop walking at night soon. It would be nice to know they look favourably on their modern colleagues. And who knows, our new Water Key might even prove popular.

I've asked my chum, Roddy o-iii<O..to distrinbute the SATURN WATER KEY on my behalf.

They are in rawbrass to enable various finishes to be added and should only take the average instrument repairer, technician, approx 30 mins of work ($20 / £15 check locally.) Instructions included in package.

Pics here - http://www.cornetconnection.com/swk.htm

Any further questions / orders should be directed to Rod (email + web address below).

The price is £20 including shipping AND includes FITTING instructions.

...contact Rod to send UK BANK CHEQUES -- RoddyTpt@aol.com


It is essential that you follow these instructions for your clients to get the maximum benefit & efficiency from their 'Saturn' Water Keys. When fitted correctly this key actually enhances the performance of the instrument by creating minimum distortion to the pipe or slide on which it is fitted.

The under surface attached to the instrument is a 'compromise concave'. As this water key is suitable for, and an asset to, all brass instruments, this under surface must be sculpted to fit the relevant mouthpipe/slide etc., in order that the two surfaces mate' correctly. Use a 'dental burr' & 'ball phrase' (rotary ball cutter).


When soldering the instrument, care must be taken to prevent solder entering the cup by capillary action.

The best way to prevent this is to mix a paste of Jewellers Rouge, or 'Tripoli Polishing Compound' and paint it onto the cup of the Water Key where the stainless steel ball makes the seal, prior to soldering an instrument.

In general you will be fitting the 'Saturn' as a replacement for an extant conventional or 'Amado' Water Key. Make sure that the hole in the instrument is the same size as the Saturn' exit. If not, carefully ream out the instrurnents existing hole to the same size as the Saturn' & de-burr the inner edges with a 'Swedish file'.

The easiest way of connecting t to the instrument is to make a clip to assist you. The clip is also useful for other fixings, so the time isn't wasted.

Before soldering, dismantle 'Saturn' - remove cup, spring, ball, 'satellite' & wire circlip. After soldering, clean, wash off anti-capillary paste, fit ball & springs, examine cup for debris, test for leakage. Do not overtighten cup with hexagon key. This is only to prevent players with too many bars (measures) rest from taking it to pieces & losing the bits.


Best Wishes -- Weg

Denis Wedgwood moved from England to Wales in 1993.

Llys Pres (Court of Brass) on Cardiff's Broadway is where his Trumpets and Cornets are now made - mostly to order.

All these instruments incorporate his "Ovoid Valve" design, the theories of which have been discussed at length in BRASS BULLETIN #102 May / June '98 issue.

Website: http://www.deniswedgwood.com


Roddy o-iii<O




A few of the many who use and endorse the SATURN waterkey:










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