The saxophone ligature is considered to be an important factor in tone production since it is in direct contact with the mouthpiece and reed. The purpose of the ligature is to hold the reed snugly to the mouthpiece so it does not move but at the same time, allow the reed and mouthpiece to vibrate freely promoting a tone that is rich in harmonics and good response.
In reality, the type of ligature used, as long as it is functioning correctly, does not have a significant effect on the overall tone produced. In fact, it is very difficult to actually hear a tonal difference in a saxophonist’s sound by changing only the type of ligature used. However, the ligature does have a dramatic effect on the way the reed “feels” to the saxophonist when it is played and also on the response of the instrument. Therefore, it is important to have a ligature that actively promotes reed vibration and mouthpiece resonance.
When placing the ligature on the mouthpiece, special care should be taken so the reed is not damaged. During this process, the reed should be placed on the mouthpiece first and held in place by the thumb. The ligature is then carefully slipped over the mouthpiece and reed making sure not to touch the tip of the reed. Also, it is important to make sure the ligature is lined up exactly in the center of the reed only touching the bark and not the filed portion. By experimenting with the placement of the ligature, saxophonists will usually find a spot that works best for producing optimum reed response. Once the ligature in placed correctly, the screws may be tightened but only enough to hold the reed snugly in place. If the screws are tightened too much, reed response will be inhibited and there is also a chance of breaking the ligature.
Ligature Materials and Designs
The basic standard ligature that accompanies most saxophone stock mouthpieces is made from thin metal and has two screws located on the underside of the mouthpiece. These ligatures, which are the least expensive, are not very good in promoting reed vibration and can be easily broken. As a result, when replacing the stock mouthpiece with a better one, many saxophonists will also purchase a new ligature that is well made and assists the new mouthpiece in producing the best tone and response possible.
There are many high-quality ligatures being manufactured in numerous designs and made from a variety of materials. Brass, fabric, gold, leather, nickel, nylon, plastic, rubber, silver and wood are just some of the materials used in making saxophone ligatures. There are also various ligature styles ranging from a basic ring with no screws to more complex designs using pressure plates and screws. When determining which ligature will work best, the material and design of the ligature are factors that should be carefully considered since both will have a significant effect on how well the ligature performs on a specific mouthpiece.
Two Screw, Inverted Ligatures
There are several popular ligatures that use a two screw, inverted design with the two screws on top. Rico produces the H ligature, a retro version of the famous Harrison ligature. This ligature holds the reed in place from the underside of the mouthpiece with four single contact points located on a metal, H shaped band.
Another metal ligature that follows this design, both in standard and inverted models, is the Bonade. This ligature is made from either nickel or brass and is designed to hold the reed in place by two ridges running parallel with the reed. Special care in this design assures the sides of the reed do not touch the ligature improving vibration and response.
The Oleg Olegature is also similar in design with two inverted screws, but is slightly different in the way the reed is held to the mouthpiece. This ligature holds the reed in place by a metal mesh band, which applies equal pressure to the entire surface of the reed. Since a mesh band is used, this ligature can easily be produced in many different sizes allowing it to fit a variety of hard rubber and metal mouthpieces.
Horizontal One Screw, Inverted, Leather/Fabric Ligatures
There are several popular ligatures made from leather or fabric that use a one screw, inverted design with the screw on top. Rovner and BG produce ligatures in this style, both standard and inverted, in which a band of leather is used to wrap around the reed applying equal surface pressure to the reed. Although this ligature promotes good reed vibration, it produces a darker sound due to the large amount of surface contact between the leather and the reed. To provide saxophonists with more options, this ligature also comes in several different models with various portions of leather removed from the band. This feature decreases the amount of surface contact between the ligature and the reed producing a brighter sound.
Vertical One Screw, Standard, Pressure Plate Ligatures
Another popular ligature uses a one screw, standard ligature design in which the reed is held in place by a pressure plate. Vandoren Optimum Series ligatures follow this design and come with three different interchangeable pressure plates, each with its own unique pattern of reed contact points. One of the plates has four small points that minimally contact the reed while another uses two solid thin lines, one on the top and bottom of the plate running across the reed. A third plate uses two solid ridges that run parallel with the reed. Due to the difference in contact point design, each plate produces a different amount of reed vibration, thus altering the harmonics.
The Ultimate Ligature by Francois Louis also follows this design but with a several differences. Very similar to the Winslow ligature that is not longer in production, this ligature surrounds the mouthpiece using a metal frame with four brass tubes as contact points. One vertical screw is used to apply tension to a single pressure plate.
This style of ligature is very simple in design and basically consists of a single ring made of metal, rubber or wood that slides over the mouthpiece and reed. Bois makes two models following this design, the Bois Classique and the Bois Excellente. These ligatures contain an inner rubber O-ring that prevents the ligature from scratching the mouthpiece while holding the reed in place. As a result of this design, Bois ligatures have minimal contact with the reed and mouthpiece, increasing reed vibration and harmonics.
Another ligature that follows this design is the Jody Jazz Ring Ligature. It is made from brass and designed to fit Jody Jazz DV series mouthpieces. This ligature does not contain an inner O-ring but uses a machine tapered brass ring to hold the reed in place by only touching the sides of the reed and the top of the mouthpiece.
Selecting a Ligature
When selecting a ligature, it is important to first research a variety of ligatures through the Internet, ask for recommendations from saxophone teachers and observe what top professional performers are using. After narrowing down the choices based on the information gathered, different ligatures should be test played using the same mouthpiece, reed and instrument. If the ligatures requested are not available at a local music store, they can be ordered online and depending on the store’s return policy, and test played for up to thirty days before they have to be returned. Although this may not be the most convenient way to obtain the ligatures, it allows the saxophonist an extended period to try them in a variety of practice and performance situations.
When selecting a saxophone ligature, there are many choices available due to the numerous designs being produced and the wide variety of materials used in their manufacturing. While ligatures do not have a dramatic on a saxophonist’s tone quality, it is still very important to have a high-quality ligature since saxophonists will certainly be able to feel which one produces the greatest reed vibration, mouthpiece resonance and instrument response. When selecting a ligature, the material and design of the ligature are factors that should be carefully considered since both will have a significant effect on how well the ligature performs on a specific mouthpiece. Also by test playing ligatures for an extended time and in a variety of different practice and performance situations, saxophonists will have a better chance of discovering a ligature that meets all their needs. With so many ligatures to choose from, saxophonists can feel confident that they will find the best ligature for their playing style and mouthpiece setup.