March 2006

Paraschos and Lebayle Wooden Ligatures

I remember one time going through a jewelry store and seeing a sterling-silver telephone dialer. I chuckled to myself and thought, "Now I have seen everything." As a saxophonist I have to say I have seen a lot of strange items made for the instrument, from flavored reeds to padless keys. So, when I was asked to review two brands of wooden saxophone ligatures, I have to admit that my expectations were not very high. These ligatures--one from the French woodwind company Lebayle and the other from the Greek company Paraschos, makers of wooden saxophone necks--are yet another addition to an already flooded musical accessory market.

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Paraschos wooden ligature

Technology has benefited the modern saxophonist, yet there comes a point when there are too many choices and the basic purpose and function of a product is overshadowed by it packaging and design. The basic purpose of a ligature is to hold the reed onto the mouthpiece. Naturally, both the Paraschos and Lebayle serve this basic function. However, any seasoned saxophonist understands that the design and materials incorporated into a ligature will often determine the degree to which the reed is allowed to vibrate.

The Lebayle Soloist ligature is a wooden ebony ring with brass end caps that utilizes the basic compression concept. The ligature has no screws to tighten the reed. Instead the ring is pushed onto the mouthpiece until it fits snug against the reed. In general I liked the concept of creating a simple O-ring to fit snug against the reed allowing it to vibrate.

I tried this ligature on a variety of hard-rubber mouthpieces, for both alto and tenor, including a Meyer, Jody Jazz HR, Otto Link and Selmer C* mouthpieces. In all cases the Lebayle improved the over all playing ease of the mouthpiece. However, it was also consistent in limiting the higher overtones, which has a slight effect on projection. For players seeking a more balanced, darker sound from their favorite mouthpieces, this ligature may be a good fit.

Like similar ligatures, the Lebayle did not fare well when the saxophone mouthpiece had to be adjusted. Most often the ligature would move, along with the reed, causing me to stop playing to reposition the ligature and reed.

The Paraschos ligature, made from Greek hardwood, has an inverted design (with screws positioned on the top) with round knobs that move on fixed position screws.

Given the wonderful experience that I had with Paraschos wooden necks, I was most excited to try out the company's wooden ligatures. Like the saxophone necks, these ligatures are amazingly crafted works of art. The beauty of the varnished hardwoods is stunning, and the entire unit is amazingly sturdy given the delicate appearance. Given the richness of its appearance, I thought that the ligature would give a dark sound like the Lebayle. This was not the case. In most instances (both in alto and tenor models) the sounds was brighter, with an almost woody, dryness to the sound. When used with my tenor mouthpieces, it produced a Joe Lovano-esque quality, yet with more high end and fewer low overtones. Articulation was effected a bit with the Selmer and Meyer mouthpieces, making it a bit harsher.

The Paraschos alto model fared in a similar fashion. However, I did like the way it made the Jody Jazz HR and Meyer hard rubber mouthpieces sound. It was more of a powerful lead sound that could be used in more popular-music settings.

With both brands of ligatures, care should be exercised when using them. The Paraschos was by far the more delicate of the two. Yet midway through my test, one of the brass end-rings came off the alto Lebayle. Given the price (more on that in a moment) I would not recommend either ligature if you are a player who is rough on his or her equipment.

Price is an important aspect to consider. The Lebayle Soloist retails for about $55 for either alto or tenor models, which is the high end for most specialty ligatures. And the Paraschos will run you about $200. I am a firm believer that there should be no price placed on quality, but I cannot see spending this much money for a ligature, regardless of the material used in its construction. There may be some who will find one of these ligatures to be the answer to their sound problems, but given that my most expensive mouthpiece was still not as expensive as the Paraschos, I doubt anyone's sound would merit that much of a financial commitment. In my opinion, this wood is good but just not necessary.

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