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Ligatures and Tonal Variance

Discussion in 'Ligatures' started by Steve, Dec 1, 2009.

  1. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I stole this excerpt from
    without permission .. but then ... i haven't asked myself yet

    Ligatures and Tonal Variance
    I am a believer that ligatures can make a difference in ones' tone. Not necessarily major differences but at least minor differences (including the screw tightness as it can affect how the reed ultimately responds - always make sure screws are lubricated). But lets look at the basic concept.

    Older ligatures (not antique/vintage as they were simple string around a mouthpiece) were simply a metal round loop with screws on it. This round loop pushed at the side edges of the reed moreso than pushing the reed up against the mouthpiece. Later on those loops had indentations for the reed location, and then they evolved into the hundreds of options that we see today.
    Several years ago I was playing for a retired pro clarinet player. He loved my playing (playing from his big band books) though he said that my tone had a high pitch squeal to it. This high pitch squeal was not audible to myself until I really listened to the tonal quality then it was quite prevalent.

    We had about 8 clarinets there, numerous mouthpieces and numerous reeds. I went through all of them trying to determine how that high pitch squeal was there but to no avail. Then I recalled that I had used the same ligature on all the tests of various reed, mouthpiece, and clarinet changes. I switched ligatures to a metal band with a floating cradle to better support the reed. The squeal was GONE.
    After that I really worked on improving my ability of hearing variances in tonal qualities based on the ligature and everything else. To my amazement I certainly could hear variances among ligatures.
    To quote Jack Brymer from his book "Clarinet", 1977, pg 70 "If one produces a deep, rich note on any musical instrument, and listens to it with care over a fairly long period, other higher notes soon begin to make themselves audible in the sound, and to emerge into the consciousness, most of the pleasantly related to harmonically but a few of them slightly dissonant."
    That quote rang true in my learnings with the above ligature example.

    In short, metal ligatures that are based on a loop and fully cradled the reed (I only tested a few) tended to have slightly higher harmonics to them than the non-metal ligatures. But most of the fabric/rubber ones that fully cradled the reed tended to slightly darken the harmonics by comparison.

    My favorite is a BG revelation ligature which is fabric with a metal insert to push the reed up to the mouthpiece in a cradle. The sides of the ligature do not touch the reed. My other favorites are: Vandoren Klassik (a 100% string ligature, Vandoren Masters (metal), Vandoren Optima with the horizontal ridges (note: the 4 pinned plate must not be over tightened otherwise the pins dig into the reed and create a full platform); Rovner dark (though this tends to deaden the tone a bit as it cradles the entire width of the reed).

    Players should not worry about ligatures until they mature to a certain level. Reeds vary greatly too and one should listen to their teacher for direction here until they are mature enough to move forward with their own experiments.

    In Summary
    • Only more mature players may audibly hear the minute differences.

    • The ligature design of how it cradles the reeds affects the tonal quality
    • The tightness of the screws affects the response and tonal quality
    • Always lubricate the screw(s) - this eases it's installation
    Example Ligatures
    [​IMG]NOTE: double click on each picture for a larger view
    LEFT: a 1974 Noblet ligature. Even though it has a small cradle the pressure points are not up on the reed.
    RIGHT: a 1972 Bonade inverted ligature. It has two metal ridges that rise up from the bottom to put upwards pressure on a reed.

    [​IMG]LEFT: BG revelation ligature which when the single screw, and metal ridges in the base cradle. As tightened it provides upward pressure of the reed to the mpc.
    RIGHT: Vandoren Optimum which provides upward pressure to the reed. The plate in the lig has 2 horizontal ridges. Behind to the left are vertical ridges, and a 4 pin. The 4 pin provides an idea of how lightly a ligature should be put on - or how not so tight. IF put on tightly the 4 pins will embed into the reed.

    [​IMG]LEFT: Luyben inverted plastic ligature
    RIGHT: Rovner style ligature. This provides pressure across the entire back of the reed.

    [​IMG]LEFT: early Penzel-Muller which has a floating reed platform, similar to idea Vandoren Optimum now uses
    RIGHT: 1980s Harrison which uses specific pressure points, and inverted, to lift the reed to the mpc
    BOTTOM: Vandoren Klassik which is all string which provides an even support for the reed

    Ligature Pressure Points (Reed support)
    Pictures with arrows shows the pressure points from the ligature to the reed. A reed shaped piece of foam with square lines on the back end was used to identify which parts of the reed got compression from which direction then noted. Pictures below show a cane reed installed.
    GENERIC The generic ligature, when you tighten the double screw puts pressure mostly sideways on the reed in addition to towards the mouthpiece. True, round loops pinches the reed from the sides. Not the optimum designs.

    ROVER STYLE The Rovner style mouthpiece, due to it's flexibility, never pinches the reed but puts pressure across the entire width of the reed downwards onto the mouthpiece.

    VANDOREN OPTIMUM The Vandoren Optimum was designed to push the reed from the top down onto the mouthpiece. The various plates cradle the reed in various methods.

    BG The BG revelation ligature has metal cradles which, when the ligature is tightened, push the reed toward the mouthpiece.

    BONADE The inverted Bonade ligature, when tightened, pushed the reed towards the mouthpiece. One important factor about inverted metal ligatures is that if they are over tightened on can change the form of the metal where it could then cause the metal sides to press up against the reed. This is "blow out" of the ligature itself. Ligatures can be repaired from this but care has to be taken from that point on as metals are not designed to be reshaped and tend to break after several reshapings.

    LUYBEN The Luyben ligature has 4 round pins which put pressure on the reed to take it to the mouthpiece. This plastic ligature can be over tightened and the plastic stretched. They are cheap and can be replaced quite inexpensively. But they seem to stretch and never allow a super tight fit and the screws are hard to screw into the plastic threads.


    VANDOREN KLASSIK Vandoren created this ligature as the "shoe string" ligature, or wrap ligature from early clarinets. This cradles the reed without over tightening.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  2. The lig has an influence on sound

    This is definitely controversial and I've read, on another forum the name of which starts with an S and ends with a W, that seasoned pros affirm it is pure fancy to simply think a lig may affect sound. YOU make your sound, etc.

    I'm not a scientist but think experiences where you can make one parameter change while all the others remain the same may bring interesting conclusion.
    With sax ligs, such an experience is very easy to conduct, e.g. using the Vandoren Optimum set. This excellent lig comes with 3 or 4 pressure plates of different designs. With the same mpc, the same reed, the same mood and spirit, play the same tune or scale with the same strength and record it (with the same mic, etc.) and listen to the result. It speaks for itself: the tonal quallities of your records are different: brighter, darker, etc.

    Thus everything rightly mentioned by the OP can be checked live with minimal investment (and besides, the basic concept of the Optimum seems to me one of the most clever and easy to use on the market).

  3. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    The Vandoren Optimum ligature is fantastic. This is Vandoren's copy on the 3 replaceable plates


    I have one for soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and also for soprano clarinet. I tend to prefer the #2 plate most of the time. But I prefer the Vandoren Masters ligature over the Optimum #2 - same design just a thinner, lighter ligature which seems to allow me slightly more ease of playing and ease of expression. But then, I prefer the Harrison ligs on the sax more and the BG Revelation on the clarinet.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  4. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Just to show you the flexibility of the Vandoren Optimum lig system, I use them on the following instruments:
    • sopranino, soprano, f-mezzo, alto, c-melody, both metal and rubber tenor (two sizes), bari, both vintage and modern bass saxes.
    • sopranino (Eb), Bb, A, C sop, Eb alto, Bb bass, Eb contra alto, Bb contrabass clarinets
    • taragato
    Amazing that they have all these sizes. It can take some figuring out, but for example, the contra bass lig works on the Eppelsheim bass sax mouthpiece.

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    Try a string ligature, even one that consists of nothing more than a waxed piece of twine. It's a bit more cumbersome than the Ivan Muller-invented or inspired band and screw type, but the difference is striking.

    Even without the "special grooved mouthpiece" used by most German players, it holds well, and it causes no damage to the clarinet, the mouthpiece, or the reed used. But, like most else about clarinet playing, 99% of the players have never tried the German system (for want of a better term) of holding the reed on, even though the cost (a $2.00 ball of twine and a $2.00 disk of beeswax) is minimal and the skills needed possessed by a five year old child. Go figure.

    My ligature (says the proud inventor) builds on this by replacing the fastening systems of the string (an over-wrapping of the twine on one end, and a sort of half knot on the other) with a combination of hook-and-loop fastener surfaces formed by a spiral of two-sided hook-and-loop fabric. Check out the patent (www.uspto.gov, US Patent Number 4,796,507) if you are interested.
  6. Carl H.

    Carl H. Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

  7. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Admin and all around good guy. Staff Member Administrator

    Thanks Terry and Carl, adding Patent search link to my browser favs and forwarding Terry's string lig patent to a number of musicians. Cheers!
  8. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    1. I do think at least 80%, if not 90% of your sound comes from YOU. However, that also means that the other 10% comes from your setup: your horn, mouthpiece, ligature, reed, barrel (if we're talking clarinet) or neck (if we're talking saxophone).

    2. If you're a beginner, you need to concentrate on that 80 to 90%, because that other 10 to 20% isn't going to make you a better player.

    I've played around with some ligatures. On sax, I really didn't have much choice: I played Sigurd Rascher mouthpieces across the entire range and there aren't that many ligatures that fit the mouthpiece (I used a generic "Rovner style"): it's a huge mouthpiece. On clarinet, I experimented a bit more and found that I really liked the Gigliotti (they still make/sell them at wwbw): it's very much like the Luyben, in Steve's post, and had the ability to fit my Berg Larsen hard rubber bari 'piece, if I needed a spare lig. The reason why I liked the Gigliotti is that it allowed me to play marginal reeds well and great reeds for a longer time. Simple as that.

    Sonically? I can see how having to restricted a reed would cause chirpiness/squeal in your tone, as Steve describes, because without the reed vibrating, your horn ain't gonna make no sound. However, I'm not quite convinced (and I don't think Steve is trying to convince us) that a ligature has a major impact on tone. I think we'd also have to look at reed material (such as standard cane, plastic, Plasticover, etc.) and reed strength, as well.

    All that being said, I would like to try a string ligature, one day. However, I think I'm too out of practice to notice much difference at this point :).
  9. Dave Dolson

    Dave Dolson Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Good thread. I've used many of the ligs in this thread and I DO believe that a certain ligature will be better than others. I have settled on the old stock Selmer metal two-band/two-screw ligs as being the best for me on all reed instruments I play (sop sax, alto sax, sop clarinet).

    The Vandoren Optimum I have for soprano saxophone is a good one, too, as is the Bonade (both inverted and regular), but they don't quite measure up to the Selmer - for me.

    All of the text that accompanies manufactures' products (like the text describing Vandoren's Optimum lig above) strikes me as so much marketing hype. All one has to do is to read through WW&BW's quarterly catalogues and read all the hype printed next to each item's description to determine the hype-quotient. I mean, if I bought and used all of that stuff based on what some marketing masters-degree holder wrote, I'd be a star. DAVE
  10. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

    I dunno about that. The difference is striking and (considering the $4.00 cost, this to purchase materials available at your local Wal Mart) putting it together is child's play.

    You start by running a winding of the twine (regular "binding twine" was what I used, although I haven't seen it by that name for a long, long time) around the reed and mouthpiece combination. Neatness isn't essential, just that you place enough windings around the reed to hold it in place on the mouthpiece. Less is needed if you have a grooved mouthpiece (Van Dorn sells them, by the way), more with a smooth one.

    Once you have the length determined, cut it off of the twine ball. Then, run the cut piece of twine through the beeswax (obtained in the fabric department; it's used for sewing) three or four times. Then, pass the treated twine between your thumb and forefinger a few times to bed the wax into the twine.

    Now, place the reed on the mouthpiece, start the twine windings near the heel of the reed (wrap the twine over the loose end to hold it in place), and then continue the winding process until all but three or four inches remains. At that point, finish the windings with a half knot (like the first step of tying a shoe) and tuck in the free end.

    That's it. Simple and direct. Once you do the drill a couple of times, it's pretty quick.

    I met Anthony Gigliotti a long time ago. When I did the ICS annual conferences back in the 1980's, I used the Gigliotti ligature as one of my hand props for the demonstration of our ligature. I pointed out that the Gigliotti was a great ligature (which it was and is), but that it would not fit on my Selmer crystal mouthpiece (like many others), whereas ours would.

    At that point, Tony said that I should have used the alto sax version, which would have fit just fine. I replied that it was a shame that he wasn't there at the music store to tell me that when I bought the "wrong" one. He didn't have a comeback for that.

    Oh, how we all laughed...
  11. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    In my testing (alot of sax, though the above is strictly on clarinet) I recognized, though did not document a correlation between a brighter mouthpiece (ie, smaller chamber, more rollover etc) and a thinner reed (brighter, more edgier) that a ligature made less of a noticeable impact. I could probably create an area chart on it with a distinct visual correlation.

    On the saxophone, many years ago I studied (about a year each) playing characteristics of Boots Randolph and Grover Washington .. two noticeably distinctly different styles and tonal characteristics. I found that the equipment made a big impact on reaching their respective sound. the Saxophone, and especially mouthpiece and reed.
  12. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Well, I can address the mouthpiece part of that statement by reducing it to absurdity: no one will sound like John Coltrane playing "Giant Steps" if you're using a Sigurd Rascher mouthpiece. Even if you have a Selmer Mark VI. (I think John Coltrane would have a problem sounding like John Coltrane if he used a Rascher mouthpiece.)

    Reed? Maybe, but I think it depends on the person. I read someplace that Benny Goodman used to use primarily 1.5 and 2 reeds. If I used that strength (I usually used Vandoren 3.5's), I'd be chirping all over the place and there's no way I could approach Goodman's altissimo. Conversely, if Goodman was using my Vandoren 3.5's, I think he'd have a problem getting up to the altissimo.

    However, I somewhat disagree with the point of saying that the kind of saxophone made a "big impact" on anyone's sound. As I said earlier, maybe 5 to 10%. I think it's more likely that the mechanism of a newer saxophone -- I've no idea what make/model Boots Randolph or Grover Washington played, but bear with me for a second -- say, a Selmer Mark VI, is greatly superior to the Conn New Wonder: more ergonomic layout, articulated G#, etc. It also had fewer design issues that you had to cope with, particularly in the intonation department.

    Makes you wonder how much better Rudy Wiedoeft could have played if HE had a Mark VI and not a Buescher True Tone or Selmer Model 22/26.

    I think it was proven by Charlie Parker that it doesn't matter what kind of sax, it's still going to sound like a sax: hey, he played a plastic, inexpensive sax -- the Grafton Acrylic Alto. Hey, if you listen to some of our own Groovekiller's recordings, he sounds like he's playing any old bari sax when he's playing his 1860's A. Sax bari.
  13. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    fyi .. misstatement .. i meant to say .. the mpc made the biggest impact. and also sax and reed.

    Grover played a Couf Superba 1 aka Keilwerth (tenor),
    Boots (tenor). varies on pics .. but sponsored by Selmer USA (the 1980s Omega horns) but seen with Selmer Paris Series IIs.

    When I've play tested those horns back to back they certainly sounded different to me when played with a dark mpc. The brighter the mpc the less different they sounded. Keep in mind, i've been using Couf and Selmer horns since the 1980s .. to me, excluding mechanics, they certainly sound different. And the people that have heard me play, also say that I am the darkest tonally player that they have heard even when swapping mpcs around with people.

    makes you wonder why everyone just doesn't play a $200 chinese sax if they all sound the same.

    And as to the reed .. a harder reed gave a more full tone only if you can give it proper air support.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2009
  14. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    Simple: sounding the same and playing the same are two different things. A Selmer Reference 54 is a higher quality -- and much more expensive -- instrument than a Monique. And plays like it.

    Car analogy: a 1983 Yugo and a 1983 Mercedes SL Roadster are both cars. (Well, the Yugo barely qualifies.) Which would you rather have? :D
  15. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    so do they sound the same ? a Ref 54 and Monique? Does a ref 36 and 54 sound the same to you ?
  16. Carl H.

    Carl H. Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    If those were my only choices, probably a bicycle or new shoes. I'd never keep that Benz on the road, parts would kill me. The Yugo? Doesn't it require mixed fuel?

    Does a ref 54 play that much better than a high end Taiwanese horn?
  17. Steve

    Steve Clarinet CE/Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

    FWIW, I wasn't talking about playing better .. but the sound difference between a Couf Superba 1 and a Selmer Series II. I sound different on those horns .. A to A .. it has nothing to do with keywork. or being from Taiwan, or price.
  18. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    It actually require monthly car replacement, IIRC. They're really 1970's FIATs (see the Wikipedia article).

    IIRC -- and I don't have it in front of me, but I remember it because it was amusing -- the value of a 1980's Yugo in good shape, according to one of those car "blue books", is $50.

    (I read the Wikipedia article and it was voted "Worst Car of the Millennium" by PRI's Car Talk, because of stories like, "I once test drove a Yugo, during which the radio fell out, the gear shift knob came off in my hand, and I saw daylight through the strip around the windshield.")

    A high-end Taiwanese horn? Probably not. Not for the cash difference, at least. The Monique was (and they may still be around, for all I know) the horn popularized by DOMINIC AND HIS ALL-CAPS EBAY ADS from a few years ago. They were rather low-quality student instruments. Probably Chinese.

    I think that there is far less difference in sound quality between decent professional horns of almost the same era -- at least, design wise: a Superba I is a lot more like a Selmer S80 Serie II than, say, a Conn New Wonder is. For instance, the Conn New Wonder and later Conns seem to have been designed around the concept of "people want to play as loud as possible". The Buescher horns, up until the Selmer purchase, at least, were designed around the concept of, "people want the best intonation possible". The Selmer BA and later just tried to be great all-around horns and didn't try to emphasize one quality above all else. The Superba, although it was a Keilwerth design and those were originally tweaked Conn designs, had been considerably tempered into the "all around good horn".

    In other words, where several others and I were able to tell the sonic differences between two student horns and a Mark VI (mentioned on another thread), I think it'd be much more difficult to tell the difference between someone playing an H Couf Superba and a Selmer S80 Serie II.

    Just an opinion, though. I don't have anything to back it up.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 3, 2009
  19. I've always thought ligatures can make only a little difference if any. Then this happened. Some years ago I started having response problems. I was using the Vandoren Optimum. The problem was a little similar to a reed that is not so responsinve. Not exactly too hard or soft, just a bit chocked response.

    At first I thought the problem was reeds. I tried enough to notice it wasn't. I knew there was nothing wrong with the clarinet, but I even considered that might be it. I was pretty sure it was me, though I coudln't see what changed.

    The problem continued for a couple of months with some improvements but not much at all. Then one day I had a rehearsal with an alto sax player and a singer. The sax player had a weird ligature so I asked him about it. Bb clarinet and alto sax mouthpieces are similar, so he suggested we change for a moment to try. I agreed and didn't expect any difference. I didn't even think that the ligature could have anything to do with the problem.

    I played a few notes with his ligature, and the problem was solved! At first I almost couldn't beleive it. I didn't tell them about the problem, but the sax player and even the singer imedaitely noticed it sounded much better. The choked response was gone and even the tone was more open. My Optimum lig played just fine for the sax player. We changed ligs again and the problem came back.

    So when I went back home I tried a few other ligs I had. None had the problem except that Optimum. I've used a different ligature since then and the problem never came back. I'm not sure what exactly caused it. When I first tried the Optimum it played fine. It's impossible I wouldn't notice this problem. So something changed at some point. I don't know what or how.
  20. Ed

    Ed Founder Staff Member Administrator

    I find that Rovner's seem to dampen the reed and lead to a choked off sound. Sometimes that comes in handy on really bright mouthpieces but generally it doesn't work for me. Simple two screw metal ligs work best for me and that's what I mostly use.
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