Review: Vandoren M|O Ligature

The short review:  I like it.

Being a newer product, I haven't seen many local stores keep these in stock.  And why should they?  Yet another ligature product from Vandoren, which comes in various colors and sizes, to take up shelf space.  The thing is, it is a good product, at a good price, and both the student/amateur and professional musician can benefit from.  I picked up the new M|O ligature back in June for the clarinet.  Prior to that, I was lucky enough to have an old Harrison ligature that was given to me, but had unfortunately gone the route of so many Harrison ligatures and snapped at a pressure point.

I do feel the ligature plays an important role in a player's overall sound.  While the ligature won't completely change your sound (they don't make jazz ligs or rock ligs), it certainly can open up the potential of the mouthpiece, and the player.  Ligatures come in various different shapes and sizes.  I generally think of them in 3 different classes.  Your basic, cheap models, usually metal and 2 screws or leather, inverted with 1 screw.  The $20-$40 class that have a bit more design and engineering to them.  And then the $40 and up class, which often look radically different from one another.  Beginners should be fine on what came with the instrument.  They haven't developed an embouchure yet that would be sensitive and can take advantage of what a good ligature has to offer.  Once you've got some years of playing under the belt is when you may demand more than your current set up can give you.  An upgraded ligature can free up vibrations of the reed, offering a better response, and can give the player more control over his or her sound.

Back to my review of this specific ligature.  One thing I like about it is how lightweight it is.  There really isn't much material to it at all, which means any pressure points have less weight behind them.  Compare this to a Windslow ligature (which I have many) or Vandoren's own Leather and Optimum lines, which can easily be described as bulky.

Another positive about the M|O lig is it's simplicity (almost).  Two contact points, one screw, that's it.  Easy on, easy off.  Some people like two screw ligatures because you can adjust the pressure on the top or bottom, and while that may be true for them, personally I've never noticed a huge difference.  There aren't any extra plates to test (Vandoren's Leather and Optimum ligs) or various cushions arrangement possibilities (Windslow).  I'll address why I say simplicity (almost) in the negatives.

Another positive of these ligatures is the price.  I was almost shocked to find out they start as low as $40, and they come with a nice plastic cap.  There are some options that can kick the price to $50 and above, mainly for the larger mouthpieces as well as gold plating.  To compare, the Optimum line has many skews with different cap offerings, which can easily drive the price upwards of $100.

Of course the main reason why I do like this ligature is that it works well.  It gets out of the way, allowing me more control of the sound.  A quick response means I don't have to blow as hard to achieve the sound I want, giving me a wider dynamic range.

There are some negatives, though mostly having nothing to do with the piece technically.  First off, the name.  Should we say "Em Oh" or "Moe"?  Or is it "Em-line-Oh"?  You can easily loose google juice by using a special character like that.  I get the idea, it is a combination of what they've learned from their Masters line and their Optimum line, but unless you follow closely Vandoren's product line, the average consumer is unlikely to, and shouldn't care.  I hope the poor branding doesn't hurt sales.

Another negative is the number of options, and lack of clear definition of said options.  The simple design should have been accompanied with similar, fewer options.  The clarinet version comes in Pewter, Black ($40 ea), Silver-plated ($50), and Gold-plated ($80).  Unfortunately, there isn't any explanation I could find in their literature which explains the difference.  Perhaps the gold-plated one is indeed twice as good as the pewter one, but odds are I'll never know.  On the saxophone side, there is gold-finish (a.k.a. gilded, $45), gold-plated ($80), and aged-gold finish coming soon (eyes roll).  An email to Dansr (Vandoren's US distributer) proved to only barely sort the issue out.  Though I only asked about the 2 variants for saxophone, the response I got was the gold-plated is slightly more focused and resistant, making the gilded slightly more spread.  Given the amount of choices we have to make on equipment, make-model, plating/lacquer, mouthpieces (tip opening, facing, chamber), and reed cuts, fewer options for ligatures would be much appreciated.  Especially if there isn't much difference between the platings.  If there is a large difference, and it's worth the extra SKU and the extra bucks, make sure the customers are well informed of the differences in all of your literature.

My last beef with Vandoren has to do with sizing.  While they do make good mouthpiece, reed, and ligature products, they really really want you to be engrossed in their universe.  Most clarinet and alto saxophone hard rubber mouthpieces are all generally the same size around and most ligatures will fit universally, though Vandoren wouldn't ever want to tell you that.  And if you ask if it will fit a Meyer or Selmer mouthpiece, they will say yes hesitantly, but immediately then recommend  you try their line of mouthpieces.  Now I don't have anything against their mouthpieces, I've played several and recommend them to my students.  They are a great and affordable solution for the advancing student.  However, Vandoren should acknowledge other mouthpieces exist, and not everybody who asks about reeds or a ligature is interested in switching mouthpieces.  It's great they love their products, but perhaps if they embrace players of other mouthpieces (and let you know what other popular brands their ligs fit), perhaps there might be a halo effect and those players may be interested in the Vandoren mouthpieces as well. 

All of that being said, I do really like this ligature and can easily recommend it to anybody looking to get more from their ligature.  The price point is good (at least for non gold-plated models) and they aren't complicated with extra plates.  It is well worth spending a little more than you might want to spend on something that holds the reed on the mouthpiece, because it really does make a difference. 

Below are links to press and information from Vandoren's website, as well as a demonstration on YouTube by Vandoren artist Antonio Hart.

Vandoren M|O interactive site

Vandoren M|O information PDF