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The Floating Rails ligature is a one-of-a-kind product designed by the world-renowned clarinet repairman Peter Spriggs in the 1980s. The original goal of the product was to create the best ligature possible with no consideration of cost. Peter has said (on Episode 12 of the Clarineat Podcast) that if he could have achieved a product 95% as good at a third the cost he wouldn’t have done it because he wanted it to be perfect. Ironically, it is a relatively affordable option these days at just $99, with many competing ligatures far exceeding the $200 price mark. Over the years it has become a highly sought after item for professionals around the world, but in spite of its notoriety, it is only available from a small number of retailers, and is still manufactured by hand in Canada.
What’s it made out of?
Thanks to its Delrin and stainless steel construction, the Floating Rails ligature is lightweight, tarnish proof, rust proof, and very durable. Although many ligatures could pass as a piece of fine jewelry, this one puts function before all else and looks more like it walked straight out of a sci-fi movie! However, this honest approach leads to a more masculine, industrial appearance that has really grown on me.
The wire exterior floats around the entire mouthpiece through the Delrin rods, and the two floating rails allow for a perfect seal with even pressure in spite of any imperfections on the exterior reed surface. The reed is tightened to the mouthpiece with a small, textured, single-screw mechanism that applies pressure equally on both sides.
How does it play?
This design leads to an incredible amount of reed vibration, a sense of immediacy in the articulation, and brings new life to the dynamic possibilities of the instrument. The altissimo register speaks effortlessly, and the chalumeau will vibrate with such energy that it will shake the teeth right out of your head at fortissimo! You’ll want to use a mouthpiece patch (or start playing double lip?) with this ligature for sure!
Of course, the sound and feel of a ligature is very subjective. For me, I found that the sheer amount of vibration made my tone seem very bright at first, but I was surprised when I listened back to recordings and asked others for their feedback that this was not the case. Your desired sound and feel will be very different than mine, of course, but I think that this is something every clarinet player should try. There really is nothing else like it.
Could it be improved?
Peter feels that the ligature cannot be improved upon. Regarding the ligature itself, I’d have to agree (although I would love some different finishes and platings). However, I would personally have preferred a different mouthpiece cap than the included one which is a Francois Louis model. I find these fall off easily and get lost easily due to their small size. I plan on replacing it with something else for personal use, but have yet to find a product that fits properly over the ligature properly. Surely something could be designed, and at the rate today’s 3D printing technology is advancing perhaps some day I can make my own.
At first it is rather difficult to transfer the ligature between clarinets when playing in an orchestra, and on more than one occasion I found myself having to re-seat the reed entirely after the ligature had slipped off completely. However, with practice I found that tightening the ligature slightly and gripping equally around the mouthpiece with a reverse hand position eliminated this problem.
The Peter Spriggs ligature is a very well designed product that every clarinet player should try. Its unique “floating rails” design leads to an unparalleled level of reed vibration, and its quality construction will ensure many years of enjoyment. All round this is a great product, and it’s made right here in Canada!
- Extremely light
- Durable stainless steel and Delrin construction
- Will not rust or tarnish
- Allows incredible reed vibration
- Switching between instruments can be difficult at first
- I would personally prefer a different type of mouthpiece cap
- Limited distribution makes it difficult to find
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