In this guide, we'll look at everything you need to know about saxophone ligatures.
Ligatures are a very popular topic in the woodwind, and specifically saxophone community.
There are a lot of discussions about what makes a good ligature — the material, whether you should switch up ligatures and difference that makes, how expensive they are and whether it's worth it etc.
The purpose of this guide will tell you why you need a good ligature, give you a few tips on what to look for when choosing ligatures, how much you should expect them to cost, some interesting defects you need to be aware of, and some placement tips.
Let's dive right in.
Saxophone Ligatures: Everything You Need to Know
For most of us when we start out on the saxophone, we start with a no-name brand stock mouthpiece with a rollover baffle and a typical basic ligature.
The that is smashes when you sit on it.
These ligatures are okay, they are perfectly fine. They are intended to have the screws on the bottom facing towards your right.
It is recommended that people switch their ligatures after about a year or so of learning the saxophone for a couple of reasons.
The Real Reason Why You Need a Good Ligature
To Get the Best Vibration Out of Your Reed
The problem you cannot produce the sound you want might be your embouchure. And your embouchure might be lacking because your ligature is not bringing the best out of your reed.
If you are not getting the best vibration out of your reed, your embouchure will suffer.
That's something you'll have to pay attention to when you are playing for hours at a time.
A good ligature will extend make the best use of the amount of time you can play before you tire out because the vibration of your reed is used very efficiently.
That's why a lot of ligature companies often claim that the response of your saxophone will probably be a little bit better.
If you know you can sound a certain way, but it takes so much effort to sound that way, then it just might be your ligature.
7 Things You Must Look For in a Good Ligature
I don't give much credence to a lot of what ligature companies describe the ligatures as able to do — from claims of "fine-tuning sound color" to "a range sympathetic vibrations" to "excellent intonation, projection and response".
I don't even know what a lot of that is supposed to mean, and let's face it, it's mostly bullshit. Nobody believes any of that stuff anyway, they have to write something on the box, right?
Where I draw the line, however, is when it comes to platings.
One ligature claims that silver platings give a brighter sound, another claims that gold platings give a brighter sound, another says something altogether different.
Can we all just agree that the color, and the paint, and the plating on a ligature has no impact whatsoever on your sound and put the matter to rest.
And that's the end of it.
If it comes in a bunch of different finishes, that's only a bonus to have it match the color of your instrument.
Here's what you need to look for in a good ligature:
#1 — A Good Ligature Must Hold the Reed onto the Mouthpiece
The single most important thing about a good ligature is that it needs to hold the reed onto the mouthpiece well.
It's not easy to know this before you try on a few ligatures. You have to do a bit of testing.
But once you get a ligature that provides an excellent grip of the reed on the mouthpiece, you will immediately notice the very welcome stability that comes with it.
The reed never budges, and you don't even have to tighten it up that much.
#2 — A Good Ligature is Well Made, Durable, and Stable in Tone
A good ligature should be durable, it should last you a long time. Once you get a great tone, you want that to last. You need a brand that knows what they are doing.
Ligatures are designed to keep the reed in place and to keep your tone to be stable.
I've got quite a few ligatures that I've collected over the years. Most of them last a lifetime, so they just sort of accumulate over time.
Whatever reed you choose, look for durability and stability of tone. A good ligature is well made and will last a lifetime.
#3 — A Good Ligature Fits a Wide Range of Mouthpieces
A good ligature will fit a range of mouthpiece sizes so you don't need to buy a new one just because the diameter of your new mouthpiece changed slightly.
The diameter and shape of different mouthpieces vary so sometimes you have to get different ones to fit different mouthpieces.
A good alto mouthpiece, for instance, will fit on a clarinet mouthpiece on top of fitting on smaller alto mouthpieces.
That said, your metal mouthpiece ligatures likely won't fit on your hard rubber mouthpiece, and some mouthpieces have an odd shape.
#4 — A Good Ligature Must be Easy On/Off
A good mouthpiece should be easy and fast to put on and take off.
#5 — A Good Ligature Stays Put
A good ligature should not move when you put it on.
#6 — A Good Ligature Must Have a Good Cap
A good ligature has a good cap that you can get off in the dark without damaging your reed.
It is, should as a minimum, have a durable cap with a nice wide opening that you can get on and take off in a dark stage without damaging anything.
#7 — A Good Ligature Needs Only a Single Screw
A good ligature should tighten with one screw. Nothing more.
2 Annoying Defects / Faults with Saxophone Ligatures
There are some very popular ligatures out there that some common glaring faults that I'd like to point out right now, before moving on, just to give you some examples of what you need to watch out for in a ligature.
#1 — A Ligature that Doesn't Hold the Reed
After about a year of using some ligatures, they stretch out so much that if you happen to touch your mouthpiece to try to turn it on the neck cork they just slip off.
And that's all the way tightened up.
This fault is common with Silverstein Works Cryo 4 ligatures, which costs somewhere around the $300 mark.
At that price point, a ligature should be really, really, good at holding your reed onto the mouthpiece.
#2 — A Ligature that Scratches the Table of Your Mouthpiece
Another big problem you'll find with ligatures is that the plate that holds the reed on to the mouthpiece is so jagged that it leaves scratches on the table of your mouthpiece.
It's almost like a jagged piece of metal that was never really finished.
This is a fault with the Francois Louis Ultimate ligatures, which are a bit more reasonably priced at around $60 mark.
That means you have to be careful when putting on or taking off a mouthpiece with this fault to avoid it coming into contact with the table of your mouthpiece.
If you get one of these, you might be forced to take out some sandpaper and smooth out the rough edges on the plate.
When you don't have a reed on your mouthpiece, you might have to keep something between it and the mouthpiece.
How Much Does a Good Saxophone Ligature Cost?
A saxophone ligature that costs more than $100 is more on the expensive side, but if you expect it to last a lifetime, and it fits a lot of other mouthpieces, and all the other considerations are in place, it might be worth it.
If don't want to spend upwards of $100 on a ligature, you should be able to get something around the $20-$40 dollar mark that meets all the above criteria easily.
3 Tips For Good Ligature Placement for Saxophone and Clarinet
Good ligature placement is the same for both saxophone and clarinet. It is the same concept on the entire saxophone family and the entire clarinet family, so the same tips suffice for both.
#1 — Follow the ligature alignment marks on your mouthpiece
Your mouthpiece has two alignment lines etched into the side and around the mouthpiece except for underneath the flat table area.
Those lines are indicative marks by the manufacturer for where they suggest you align the ligature when you put it on.
Most ligatures, except a few such a the Rovner Platinum Series, are top load. That means the screw(s) is on the top of the mouthpiece.
Either way, you need to align the ligature with those adjustment markings on the mouthpiece.
#2 — The tightness of the ligature has a huge impact on response
Besides securing the reed, the tightness of the ligature has a huge impact on the response.
If you over-tighten the ligature or under-tighten the ligature, you'll find that the response will vary wildly.
#3 — The tightness of the ligature has a huge impact on tone
The tone of your saxophone will also vary wildly depending on how tight you fasten your ligature.
You must experiment with the tightness and looseness settings to get the sweet spot in your playing.
So look for a sweet spot in the adjustment of your ligature. If you play the clarinet, it's the same process.