What Difference Does the Saxophone Ligature Make? Part 2

In part one of this blog post on “the differences a ligature can make” I talked about the difference a ligature can make to a saxophone player from his or her perspective.  (For those of you who don’t know,  the ligature is the device that holds the saxophone reed to the mouthpiece)  How it can affect different aspects of the sound, attack and response of the saxophone.  In this article I’m going to try approaching the subject from the other side………….the listener.  What kind of difference can a listener detect when using different ligatures.  Is it obvious to the whole audience when Joshua Redman uses a different ligature.   If, when Brecker was alive, he used a rovner ligature instead of his trusted Selmer 404 would people have gotten up and walked out of his concerts………………..I doubt that very much.  But the question always arises……..can a difference be heard when a different ligature is used?

For this test I’m going to play on a  Meyer alto saxophone mouthpiece with a Vandoren Java #3 reed.  I’m going to play the exact same thing using 7 different ligatures.  In between clips,  I will change ligature while holding the reed firmly to the mouthpiece to make sure it doesn’t move at all.  I will slide the new ligature on and play the same phrase again.  The phrase I’m playing is just a simple G major scale pattern in thirds.  I make sure to go up high and down to the low end.  I also tongue some staccato notes in the middle so you can hear how the ligatures might affect the articulation. I’m trying my hardest to play the line the same every time.

Listen to the 7 clips below (headphones would be ideal) and see if you can hear any differences.  The reed, mouthpiece, saxophone and player are all the same.  The only thing that is changing from clip to clip is the ligature.  They are recorded at 320kbps mp3 as that was the best quality I could get.  Let me know what you think in the comments section as I am very interested in what your opinions are………………Thanks,   Steve

Francois Louis Pure Brass Ligature

Vandoren Optimum Ligature

Oleg Gold Ligature

Marc Jean Gold Plated Ligature

Rovner Dark Ligature

No Name Cheap Brass Ligature

Theo Wanne Gold Enlightened Ligature

Can you hear any differences between the ligatures? (Poll Results)

  • Yes, I can hear a difference (59%, 110 Votes)
  • No, they all sound the same! Enough with this ligature obsession! (41%, 76 Votes)

Total Voters: 186

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. There could not be any differences. What if there is no ligature installed? If the ligature makes the timbre of sound, the sound should be significantly different without ligature.
    But without lig. there is no difference. Check below.


    Without a ligature the chances are high that the reed will not seal on the mouthpiece. You will get a sound like this person is getting in his demonstration. Notes aren’t coming out, there are squeaks and squawks, notes are breaking apart. I have a suspicion that the reed was probably not sealing even with the ligature on and that’s why it didn’t sound very good the whole time. At least that would be my guess……….

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