BG Duo Ligatures Review - Simon Bates

A musician and musical director Simon Bates is renowned for his awesome technique and versatility, and is as at home leading bands on TV shows as he is in a local jazz club.

Simon took time out to review BG Duo Ligatures.

I’ve been happily using BG ligatures on my saxophones and clarinets for many years now, so when they release something new, I’m always interested and excited to test them and discover what it is that makes them different. Ligatures are the most overlooked part of a saxophonist or clarinettist’s sound. We spend ages agonising about reeds – what strength, what make, what cut etc. then when we settle on our favourite, we’ll get to use about a third of the box, with perhaps one or two reeds that are really immediate. Then we try hundreds of mouthpieces and are prepared to pay a fortune for that elusive ‘one’ which for most people seems to become one of many… Yet we often ignore another really important factor – the way the reed is attached to the mouthpiece. It might be that you’re happy with the one that came with the instrument, but I assure you that once you start experimenting with ligatures, you’ll discover that they make much more difference than you ever thought possible. And in my opinion, the differences are mostly perceived by the player not the listener. But if I told you that you could improve your playing by changing your ligature, I’m not sure you’d believe me, but it’s true!

The seal between the heel of the mouthpiece and the non-shaved part of the reed is important. Mouthpieces can become pitted and lose their flatness and reeds are notoriously temperamental, so of course being cane, they can warp really easily. A good ligature will hold the reed firmly to the mouthpiece and minimise the sealing problem, but a new problem can be created if it is held too tightly as the reed won’t be able to vibrate freely, thus causing a deadening to the sound. Some people may actively seek this as a feature and if you’re one of them, the BG Flex or Standard (basically a Flex with a rubber insert) are going to be perfect for you. But if (like me) you want the reed to vibrate as freely as possible giving you more dynamic range and tone control, this is where you need to start considering the way the ligature connects with the reed and holds it to the mouthpiece. The BG Revelation and Super Revelation get around this neatly by adding a metal insert with ridges to a fabric ligature, but then, I find this slightly reduces the vibration capabilities of your mouthpiece. Again, this is not always an issue, but I favour a bright free tone for the sort of music I play, so have (until recently) used the BG Tradition ligature as, being made of metal, this cuts down on the contact of absorbent material to the mouthpiece and reed, while holding the reed securely and helps me achieve the sound I want while helping keep it stable and free-blowing in all registers.

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I have been very happily using the Tradition on clarinet and alto saxophone, but have now changed my ligature. This is because I tried the relatively new BG Duo. Like all metal BG ligatures, these come in a variety of finishes, which again can make a difference to your sound. The silver plated version (LD) is undoubtedly the brightest with the gold plated (LD1) and lacquered (LD0) versions having slightly mellower properties. The gold plate seems to add more projection and centre the tone more than the other two.

With all three, staccato is easy and clear and the tone across the ranges of my instruments is focused and consistent. The construction of these ligatures is very different from any I’ve tried. For a start the single screw is mounted on top of two red ‘floating’ posts which are attached to the ligature. These posts each have a small hard rubber pad, which comes into contact with the mouthpiece. I say ‘floating’ as the post is allowed to move freely, guaranteeing the correct positioning and secure fixing of the ligature. The only other points of contact are a small raised section of the ligature at either side, which contacts the mouthpiece and two raised sections that are slightly knurled and contact the reed – very securely! In fact, once it’s on, despite minimal contact with the mouthpiece or reed, you shouldn’t have any problem with the reed slipping while moving the mouthpiece during instrument assembly or tuning as everything is tight and secure. Whilst the different finishes seem to slightly affect the quality of the sound, I believe that the Duo ligatures offer the most honest tone that my mouthpiece and reed combination allow without absorbing many of the harmonics that other ligatures do. Especially on saxophone, the bottom ranges were clear and much easier to produce a good tone. On clarinet, the projection is extraordinarily good. I’m sure my dynamic range has increased incredibly since using the Duo. It also appeared to me that my intonation was more easily controlled and less of an issue than with other ligatures, but I suppose when other things are not getting in the way it’s easier to relax in all aspects of playing.

Overall, the less you worry about technical difficulties on an instrument (will that bottom Bb speak first time, can I guarantee I can hit that altissimo C…) the more you can get on with playing the instrument without worry or stress. The more secure you are with your setup, the more secure you’ll be in front of an audience. In my opinion, your tone is the most important aspect of your playing. Whilst it’s important to develop finger technique and flexibility, people don’t hear your technique, they hear your sound! So as I said earlier, even if the ligature has a minimal effect on the listener’s perception of my sound, the Duo makes a massive difference to my perception, which means I play better!

I’m hoping that Franck Bichon and the guys at BG consider making different sizes of the Duo as I’d love to use them on soprano and tenor saxophones (my Guardala Super King is too small!) and bass clarinet too. Try them. And I hope as I was, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Simon Bates

www.simonbates.co.uk

Reproduced with the express permission of Simon Bates, October 2017