Ligature for Wanne mouthpieces

I love my Theo Wanne mouthpiece. It’s absolutely the best tenor piece I have ever played. The inside geometry of the mouthpiece with the subtle baffling and big chamber combined with a very precise and well researched facing curve make for a great playing experience. Theo’s design is based on solid science backed up by years of empirical experience.

But I just don’t buy the ligature. The Wanne ligature is a refinement of the original Link ligature (which most players don’t use). Like the Francois Louis ligature, it has a pressure plate that is supposed to hold the reed in place on the table. Both Wanne and Louis make claims that this design concept allows the reed to “vibrate more freely”. Theo goes a step further and says he has improved on the concept by attaching his ligature to the mouthpiece at only two small points. This is voodoo science in my book.

Let’s try a little thought experiment. Take a flexible ruler and hold it over the side of a table, so that about 1/3 is on the table top and 2/3 hang over the side. Now hold the 1/3 portion down firmly with your hand, and pull down the free end and let it go. You will get a nice sharp  twang. Now try the same thing, but only hold the ruler to the table with a couple of fingers. If you apply enough pressure to hold the ruler steady, you will still get a good twang. If you don’t, the sound will be muffled.

You can apply this directly to the case of the reed sitting on the table of the mouthpiece. If you screw it down tight enough, the ligature will hold the reed in place, so that the business end vibrates properly. However, if you don’t, and you get vibrations of the butt end on the reed on the table, it stands to reason that the vibrations at the other end will be muffled.

To my way of thinking, the ideal situation is one where the reed and mouthpiece are a unified piece. Since that is not practical (because the reed’s vibrating characteristics deterioriate over time), the next best thing is a simple device to hold the reed firmly in place on the table, and nothing does that better that a traditional two-screw metal ligature.

In practice, my own experience bears this theory out. I had a lot of trouble with the Wanne mouthpiece in the beginning. Part of that was due to the fact that the mouthpiece’s thin rails make it very sensitive to uneven moisture in the reed. A Rico moisture control reed case solved that problem. However, beyond that I had a lot of problems with squeaking reeds  and with reeds wearing out very fast. Just to see if it made a difference, I tried a Selmer 404 ligature – a simple silver two-screw ligature and the one preferred by many Link players. This was an immediate improvement. The mouthpiece somehow feels more secure, when I am playing it. I don’t worry about some reeds squeaking anymore, and reeds seem to last longer.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who plays a Wanne Kali in rock bands. His experience has been similar. It would be nice if Theo at least acknowledged that his “enlightened” ligature isn’t for everyone and offered a traditional alternative.

2 comments on “Ligature for Wanne mouthpieces
  1. Les Arbuckle says:

    Mike,
    I like your “ruler” experiment. When I was a student of Joe Viola (1970’s) he always insisted I tighten the ligature down so as to prevent the reed from vibrating as you suggested, but also to prevent moisture from expanding the part of the reed that touches the table. If that part of the reed swells, the reed will no longer sit on the piece correctly and the tone becomes…awful… and difficult to manage.
    I had a customer that complained that his horn would start playing poorly after he had been playing for an hour or so. I checked his ligature and it was very loose. When he tightened it up, the problem went away.
    I’m not a big fan of fancy ligatures. The best I have found for a Link is the Selmer 404. It was good enough for Brecker, Grossman, Liebman, Bergonzi, et al. It’s good enough for me!
    Note to mouthpiece makers: Keep it simple!
    Les Arbuckle

  2. Mike says:

    Thank you for your comments, Les. Sorry it took me so long to reply. your description of moisture expanding the part of the reed that touches the table is exactly what happened to me. I’m glad to hear my theory confirmed!

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