Tuesday, June 23, 2015

BG France Ligatures Review

As promised here's the full review of the ligatures I was provided with to help with the Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review. I'll also briefly talk about some of the accessories that were sent along with the ligatures.





I received 7 different ligatures (including 3 DUO ligatures in different finishes) from BG France in order to pick one to use through the Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review. They came in a cute plastic display case (except for the FLEX which came in a separate box).






The models included were as follows:


  • FLEX
  • STANDARD
  • SUPER REVELATION
  • TRADITION
  • DUO GILDED
  • DUO SILVER PLATED
  • DUO GOLD PLATED

I could tell instantly, upon opening the case, that these ligatures were well constructed, using quality materials and an attention to the details of their construction.

I was able to keep all of these ligatures for a long time (Franck Bichon and the BG France team were very patient and understanding) and I feel I managed to thoroughly evaluate each ligature on their own merits, as well as compare their various qualities and features.

Without further ado, let's get started!


10/3/2015 Update:

TRADITION SILVER and TRADITION LACQUER ligatures were added to the roundup. I've been able to keep all the other ligatures until now (thanks again to Franck and the BG France team) and compare the two new variants to the rest of them. Jump to the TRADITION review right now!

FLEX


The BG FLEX initially seemed to me like a budget version of the STANDARD or SUPER REVELATION (and it is the least expensive ligature of the roundup), but after using it for a while, it revealed itself to have its own unique qualities.

It is constructed with a thinner synthetic fabric than the more premium equivalents although it uses the same heavy brass screw and rod system. The fabric itself serves as a cradle for the reed instead of a dedicated support system.

The lack of a clear area to rest the reed on made positioning the BG FLEX slightly less straight-forward than the others in this review. However, I also felt it encouraged me to experiment with positioning the ligature slightly off center as a result.

This ligature was significantly darker than all the others. I also felt it introduced some resistance. I have to admit this wasn't feeling as satisfying as the other ligatures in the review, however, I can see how the darker, more resistant sound could be desirable in some situations for classical or jazz players alike. It may also work great on high baffle mouthpieces which can tend to sound thin and out of control.



STANDARD


The BG STANDARD ligature is a fabric ligature with a one screw design. The material has a leather look but is NOT leather. I was told it is a proprietary material that's been tested and selected from over 200 combinations to find the one with the best properties for resilience, sound and vibration. For example, leather tends to stretch over time which won't be the case with the material used in the BG STANDARD.

The ligature is easy to put on, adjust and secure. The reed rests on a wide rubber support cradle that features a number of grooves. I feel like this design choice makes the rubber conform to the shape of a reed's vamp more naturally than if it were using a solid, flat piece of rubber. The single adjusting screw and rods are similar to the one used on the FLEX and SUPER REVELATION. I love everything about this fastening system. It fulfills its purpose without a hitch, and the solid, heavy brass stock feels like it will outlive me.

I found the BG STANDARD introduced just a hint of resistance throughout the range of the horn. It was, however, nothing dramatic and something I could easily get used to. This may even be desirable if you're looking for easier control due to the slight decrease in dynamic range and flexibility.

The ligature also dampened the extreme high frequencies of the spectrum, commonly referred to as "buzz". This works especially well on bright alto mouthpieces and helps producing a rounder, more centered tone.

This would make a great ligature for jazz alto players looking for a sound with dampened buzz and a more centered sound with a focused midrange.




SUPER REVELATION


The construction of the BG SUPER REVELATION ligature is very similar to the STANDARD reviewed above. It is made from the same thick, high quality material and one screw design. However, the support on the SUPER REVELATION ligature is radically different. Gone is the rubber support plate, replaced by a metal armature extending under the fabric on the sides of the ligature. The support system, on which the reed rests on, is a piece of string which seems to be coated with some kind of varnish - possibly to increase durability - that's supported by a metal cradle. It is clear no shortcut has been taken when designing this ligature.

The ligature is easy to put on, take off and adjust, although I had to be slightly more careful with positioning due to the thinner contact area with the reed. Even though it shares attributes with the STANDARD, the SUPER REVELATION was surprisingly more free blowing, more resonant and brighter. Altissimo response was exquisite, which is probably due the fact the design does not introduce any resistance.

I've found that this is a great compromise between the more muted and round sound of the STANDARD, and the full sound, rich in harmonics, of the TRADITION and DUO ligatures which makes sense as the construction of the ligature is itself an hybrid.



TRADITION


It would be fair to say that the BG TRADITION is the most minimalist ligature included in this review. The design reminds of the classic ligatures of the past. The single screw design is rudimentary, yet, again, feels like it's been constructed with quality materials that will last.

The reed rests on a very simple support design consisting of two metal bars raised from the ligature itself (as opposed to soldered for example).

I found the BG TRADITION more awkward to deal with than the other ligatures included in this review, but it's fair to say that's probably because the others have to be the easiest to position, fasten and adjust I've had the pleasure to work with.

Soundwise, I felt the TRADITION favored a little less centered, more spread sound although rich in harmonics. In other words, it favored high mid and high frequencies rather than low mid or medium ones. The response was exquisite and articulation, and altissimo access was effortless.


10/3/2015 Update:

I received the two new variants of the BG TRADITION several months after originally getting my hands on the initial pieces included in this review. The original ligatures were shipped to me directly from France while these last two came from a US distributor. The reason I mention this is simply because I think it's worth noting that the level of quality hasn't changed with time or source. This speaks volumes about the quality control and consistency of products coming out from BG France.

The only difference between these variants of the BG TRADITION is the plating. Although I found it does make a difference, again, it wasn't radical, which reflects my experience with the DUO ligature and its different iterations.

I found the silver plated version emphasized the main characteristics I described in my initial review; it favors a lighter, more brilliant sound, especially compared to the DUO ligature with the same plating. I found it complemented well a more lyrical style of playing on alto.

The gold plated version of the TRADITION was more balanced tonally which may work better with brighter horns or reed cuts. It also made the upper register naturally less shrilled. That's not to say the silver plated version did but, just like a lot of things, choosing equipment can be a question of balance. For instance, my Mark VII is quite dark so the silver plated TRADITION worked remarkably well with it, and brought back some much needed liveliness in the balance. However, this ligature may not have worked as well paired with a brighter horn. The darker, slightly more focused gold lacquered version, would work well for someone who's having trouble getting a fat upper register on a particular horn.

I had no trouble navigating all registers with any of these ligatures. The silver plated version of the TRADITION ligature felt slightly less resistant overall, but it's probably fair to assume this is due to the fact it was a better match with my personal equipment and sound concept.

I have to admit testing these additional ligatures reinforced my belief that BG France is a company that delivers high quality products on a very consistent basis.



DUO


The DUO ligatures are definitely premium products. Not only the quality of the construction is irreproachable, but these ligatures are actually more complex mechanically than the ones above, or many currently available ligatures on the market. The DUO ligatures are designed to let the reed and mouthpiece speak as freely as possible, and come through fully. This is achieved through minimal points of contact on the mouthpiece and reed. This is easily demonstrated by the schematic below:




The reed rests on two knurled support bars at the bottom, while the ligature itself only touches the mouthpiece through 4 points of contact. Two are located on the side in the form of raised metal bars, and the other two are floating rubber pads on top of the mouthpiece.

These floating pads make the ligature extremely secure when it is fastened. I was able to carelessly move the mouthpiece on my Selmer alto's neck without the ligature going out of adjustment at all. In addition to these, the knurled design of the supporting bars will grip onto synthetic reeds, which have a tendency to be more slippery.

Another property of the rubber pads is that they're mounted onto rivets and are free to move onto the pivot this arrangement creates. Actually, if you look at the schematic above, you will see the whole ligature floats onto those rivets, which translates into a ligature that will more easily adapt to the shape of a mouthpiece without unnecessarily applying too much pressure. The reason for this design was to allow the mouthpiece to vibrate as much as possible with as little restriction as possible.

All three of the DUO ligatures I was provided with performed in a very similar manner with some slight variations. Mechanically, they behaved virtually identically though.

The reason why I used a DUO ligature on all the mouthpieces reviewed in the Alto Mouthpiece Roundup (except metal mouthpieces which weren't compatible) is because I felt the true nature of these pieces was allowed to come through fully. This doesn't mean the other ligatures are not as good, but they did color the sound and modified the response. Even if those variations are subtle, and mostly obvious behind the horn, comfort and confidence in your setup is essential when practicing and performing. In this sense, the DUO ligatures allow your setup - mouthpiece, reed and horn combination - to speak freely.

This translates in a very resonant sound, full of harmonics with little to no resistance. The DUO ligatures also allow a lot of flexibility, which may be a good or bad thing depending on how much control you have, and how much you want to work at it.

I've always been rather suspicious of claims stating that different plating could make a difference, especially when it comes to such a small item as a ligature but much to my surprise, each plating on the DUO ligatures sounded and felt distinct. The differences weren't night and day, but enough to mention. The silver plated ligature was the brightest of the lot, followed by the lacquered and gold plated models. Although the gold plated model was the darkest and most resonant of the three, I found the lacquered model was faintly less resistant.

The one con I'd like to mention is that all of these were quite tight at first on some mouthpieces (like the Meyer in the picture). This is probably due to the fact that the DUO ligatures for alto saxophone are designed to also fit Bb clarinet. I simply tightened the ligatures on the mouthpiece, holding a spare reed, and left them overnight. This slightly loosened them which in turn made slipping the DUO on and off, as well as adjusting them on the mouthpiece, easier.






CONCLUSION


This about wraps up the review. These ligatures from BG France are all very high quality products that spans across a wide spectrum of aesthetics and requirements.

Finally, I'd like to mention BG France offers a complete line of accessories for woodwind instruments, not just ligatures. I've personally been using the BG Microfiber Pad Dryer for a while now and couldn't recommend it enough. It's the best alternative to cigarette paper, dollar bills or powder paper (which I would personally recommend avoiding as the powder will eventually accumulate and create more problems that it will prevent). Although the BG Microfiber Pad Dryers don't last for 5 years as advertised using them still makes sense financially as I've been able to prolong the lifespan of my pads quite significantly.




I received a variety of accessories along with the ligatures which I'd like to briefly comment on: the BG Mouthpiece / Neck Swab is something I've also been personally using for a while as it does a fantastic job at absorbing moisture. It works much better than a lot of competitors' products in my experience.





Included in the package I received was also a BG Mouthpiece Pouch. I found it to be a solid storage solution for your mouthpiece. It's made of a synthetic mesh on the outside, and soft microfiber-like material on the inside. The inside fabric is soft enough that it will not damage an unprotected mouthpiece, while the size of the pouch will also allow to store one with a reed, ligature and cap on. Although the fabric is advertised as breathable, I would still recommend drying your mouthpiece for extended storage. Worth mentioning is that it is washable - nothing worse than a dirty pouch to store something that comes in contact with your mouth.





Finally, there were a variety BG Mouthpiece Cushions that came in very handy when doing the Alto Mouthpiece Roundup Review. The thick, black cushions were the best of this kind I've ever used. Most other thick pads tend to wear quickly, or puncture easily, then fall apart. Not these.
The clear ones were also of great quality although I tend to prefer patches you can easily remove and re-apply, which wasn't the case with these. This could be considered either a pro or a con depending on what you prefer. The fact these patches aren't easily removable also means they will stay in place, create a great seal against any moisture that may want to find its way under and, as a result, will remain in place for a long time.









BG France products are available for purchase through every major retailer. For more information and an overview if their complete line of woodwind accessories, check out their website. You can also find BG France on Facebook.

Any question, please comment below.




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2 comments:

  1. Very interesting! are you planning similar ligature comparisons for other brands?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not in the near future I'm afraid. Seems like my readers are generally more interested with horns or mouthpieces. Plus, I'd like to focus back on educational content.

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