The saxophone ligature holds the reed of the saxophone onto the mouthpiece and affects the way the reed vibrates, which can therefore change the way a saxophone sounds. Ligatures, or “ligs” for short, are available in a variety of styles and are basically made of metal, leather, or synthetic fabric. Regardless of the style of the ligature you choose, it must fit the saxophone well and hold the reed flush against the mouthpiece to form a seal. Some ligatures will allow for more vibration, some will give you less. Consequently, while quality counts, choosing the best saxophone ligature is largely a matter of individual preference, depending upon how you personally want the saxophone to feel and sound when you play.
Choosing the best saxophone ligature involved first and foremost choosing one that properly fits your saxophone. Saxophones vary in size, and you will need to choose a ligature designed for your particular instrument. For instance, if you play a baritone sax, you would find the ligature for a soprano sax to be much too small. If the ligature is too large for your saxophone, it might not hold the reed flush against the mouthpiece. The resulting gap will affect your ability to play.
Ligatures are made from various materials including metal, leather and synthetic fabric. The metal ligatures can be gold or gold plated, brass, or silver. Prices and quality will vary depending upon the type and thickness of metal used. Leather and fabric ligatures can be stiff or soft. Whether metal, leather or fabric, most ligatures are held in place by manipulating one or two tightening screws, although some leather or fabric types might be held in place by a Velcro-type strap.
Metal ligatures generally hold the reed in place more firmly than leather or fabric, allowing for less vibration. Different styles of ligature assert pressure at different points on the reed. The less contact the ligature has with the reed, the looser the reed will be and the more vibration it will have. A reed that has more vibration to it will tend to give the saxophone a breathier, freer tone, whereas a stiff reed with very little vibration will result in a louder, fuller tone. Neither is technically right or wrong, and it really comes down to your individual style as a saxophone player.
Usually, the saxophone ligature that comes standard with a saxophone when purchased is of a lower quality and not the best ligature. Cheaper ligatures, or ones that generally cost under $20 US Dollars (USD), are a gamble in that they might not hold the reed properly in place, or could easily be broken. A good quality saxophone ligature will generally run anywhere between $40 USD and $70 USD. Of course, there are more expensive ligatures available, although a higher price tag doesn’t necessary guarantee that it will be the right one for you.
The quest to find the best saxophone ligature is often a matter of trial and error. It might help to ask other saxophone players what they use, but keep in mind that what one saxophonist might claim is the best ligature, another might feel is the worst. In all likelihood, you will try several ligatures before you find the one that fits your unique and personal style.