Take one knurled thumb screw, a thin band of brass, and interchangeable pressure plates, then plate them in gold and what do you get? The Vandoren Optimum Ligature of course. This ligature is the premium for the saxophone line up and at $70 for the baritone with plastic cap from Woodwind and Brasswind it’s not the cheapest. But sometimes quality comes at a cost.
MATERIAL: The ligature is made from quality brass material like all of the Vandoren products. The brass feels like it will resist stretching more than your standard 2 screw ligature. This combined with the sense that the pressure plate feel somewhat heavy for their size, gives the player the feeling that this ligature will last. I should note that this is not a screw-on-top type ligature. The adjustment screw is responsible for keeping the pressure plate in place.
Special feature/Gimmick: The pressure plates are part of what sets this ligature apart from so many others. Each ligature comes with 3 choices of plates. The first has a wavy or corrugated pattern running the length of the plate. The second has 2 raised bars perpendicular to the plates longest side, and the 3rd has 4 raised dots. The method of changing these plates is not as intuitive as I would have liked. If you try to grasp them and pull them out you will likely bend the ligature. The proper removal procedure is to gently press down on one end of the plate as you unscrew the thumb screw. This will pop the plate of quickly and easily without requiring much effort at all. If you feel like you are tugging at it then you have to start again and go slowly. The replacement is the reversal of removal only much easier still.
Cap: The plastic cap is cheap. If it weren’t for the gold Vandoren logo i’d have tossed it in the bin with the other cheap caps I own. It would have been nice to get a brass cap with the ligature. Vandoren does offer an optional leather cap but that was not available when I ordered my ligature.
Fit: The ligature I purchased was designed to fit the slim V16 baritone mouthpiece and will not likely any other bari piece mouthpiece. Because it was designed for the V16 mouthpiece it fits like a dream. Not to high on the mouthpiece nor to low. Adjustments to the reed while on the mouthpiece does not result in the ligature moving or sliding out of alignment. If you can operate a 2 screw ligature then this will be a walk in the park.
Does It Work: I have A/B tested these pressure plates with the untrained ear of my mate and she could not tell the difference between them from any distance. In playing I could barely feel a mouth difference between plates. I was not expecting a 100% increase in power, flexibility, or expressiveness, I was however expecting a difference in stuffiness, articulation speed, or reed pickiness. The pressure plates seemed to have no effect on a well playing reed. There was some effect on a synthetic that I though was beyond service. The wavy plates even pressure likely made the reed seal better the the mouthpiece table thus giving that reed additional life.
There was however a difference in my reeds after trying both synthetic and natural cane reeds. If you like your reeds snug on the mouthpiece then the 4 dot plate and the 2 bar plate will place indentations in your reed. This is pronounced on natural cane reeds but not an issue on the synthetics. The wavy plate did not appear to modify cane or synthetic reeds at all.
TAKE AWAY: Swappable pressure plates feels like a solution to a problem that few if anybody had. This is a good ligature with unnecessary features.If this ligature had no swappable pressure plates it would still be a good ligature. In fact it would be similar to the M/O ligature.In the end, this is the ligature that the V16 mouthpiece should come with from the factory.