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Upgrading Your Beginner Ligature

As you improve your skills on the clarinet or saxophone, your sound can be enhanced not only by upgrading your instrument, but also your mouthpiece, ligature, and reeds. If you have only been playing for a couple years or have a modest budget, you may like to upgrade the accessories until you are able to upgrade your instrument.

This blog will take you through the process of upgrading your beginner ligature, but you can read about upgrading your mouthpiece here and your reeds here.

What does the ligature do? 

The ligature holds your reed in place on your mouthpiece, leaving the reed free to vibrate and produce a sound. Although your ligature has less impact on your sound than your instrument and mouthpiece, the design of the ligature and its materials can affect how your mouthpiece and reed respond and feel while you are playing.

Which materials are ligatures made from? 

Ligatures can be made with various metals (nickel, silver, gold, pewter, to name a few), plastic, leather, cloth or wood.

What’s the difference between a budget ligature and an advanced ligature?

Cheaper ligatures are generally made of softer metal that’s susceptible to bending. Once the ligature is bent, it can be difficult to reshape it in a way that will fit your mouthpiece and reed properly. 

More advanced ligatures are made of quality materials that are durable and less prone to bending and breaking. They may also be customisable to your playing preferences and have special features that promote better reed resonance and response.

Inverted Screws vs Traditional Screws

Ligatures with traditional screws have the screws on the bottom, where the reed is held in place. Some players feel that this arrangement restricts the vibration of the reed. Ligatures that come with beginner instruments generally use this design. Inverted screw ligatures have the screws facing upwards when the ligature is on the mouthpiece. As the reed sits on the opposite side to the screws, some people feel that this arrangement allows the reed to vibrate more easily. Advanced ligatures come in either of these screw arrangements, and some can be used either way!

Inverted (L) vs Traditional (R) Screws

How should you test ligatures?

When you come to a store to try ligatures, bring everything that is part of your normal playing set up (instrument, mouthpiece, neck strap, and reeds) so you can assess the difference the ligature is making. Try a selection of ligatures, experimenting with different designs and materials. See how the ligature responds to you playing loud, soft, slurred, and articulated. Different ligatures may suit certain repertoire and settings better than others, so you may eventually end up with a few different ligatures that you reach for depending on what you are playing.

Which brands should you look at?

Ligature brands Fine Music recommend include D’Addario, Rovner, and Vandoren.


H-Ligature - D’Addario’s H-Ligature has been designed with the vintage Harrison ligature in mind, with a four-point system that applies even pressure to the reed and inverted screw design. Minimising contact with the reed allows it to vibrate freely while being responsive.


Rovner ligatures are made from a highly durable synthetic leather. The single screw tightening mechanism ensures that pressure is distributed evening on the reed. The Star, Light, and Dark ligature can be used in the inverted or traditional screw position, allowing you to experiment and see what feels best to you. The Versa and Versa X can only be used in the inverted position, due to the positioning of the metal cradle.

Star – The Rovner Star is the most budget-friendly ligature in the Rovner range. This model is a good entry point into using cloth ligatures, being made from thinner material than the rest of the Rovner ligature range. This ligature is free-blowing and has minimal impact on the instrument’s sound.

Light – The Rovner Light ligature has a cut out in the area that covers the base of the reed. This is supposed to produce a lighter sound as there is less cloth covering the reed.

Dark – As the name suggests, the Rovner Dark Ligature produces a dark, resonant tone. It’s made from thicker material than the Star and Light ligatures, which dampens upper partials and focuses the sound.

Versa X – The Rovner Versa X Ligature has a cradle with a metal plate that sits where the reed contacts the ligature to promote resonance. There are also fabric flaps that can sit across one or both sides of the cradle, which alters the amount of metal the reed comes into contact with. Exposed metal parts result in a brighter tone, whereas covering the metal parts will result in a warmer, darker sound.

Versa – The Rovner Versa Ligature also has a metal cradle and repositionable fabric flaps, but the ligature comes with two metal plates that are interchangeable. One is thick and curved and the other is straight and thin. This allows for ultimate customisability so the player can adapt to varied performance settings and acoustics.


Optimum – The Vandoren Optimum Ligature comes with 3 interchangeable pressure plates, which allows you to alter how much contact the ligature has with the reed. A single screw tightening mechanism adjusts pressure on both sides of the reed, meaning that your reed will be secure without overtightening. This ligature uses the traditional screw design.

Masters Optimum (M|O) – The Vandoren M|O Ligature is simpler in design compared to the Optimum (there are no interchangeable plates) and it comes at about half the price. There are two contact points with the reed and one screw, encouraging ease of response and a wide dynamic range. This ligature uses the inverted screw design. It is available in Pink Gold, Black, Silver plated, Gold plated or Pewter finish.

If you are still using the ligature your instrument came with a few years ago, you should consider upgrading to something that will improve the response of your reeds and give you the playing feel you are looking for. Fine Music stocks a large range of ligatures that we allow customers to test in store. You can book an appointment here!

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