The reed is the generator of the sound of a clarinet/saxophone through its vibration. It is crucial in determining the type and quality of sound produced. They are produced from cane which is meticulously cut and shaved to precise dimensions to produce a reed of specific cut or strength. The main reed manufacturers are Rico and Vandoren, who between them make the majority of the world’s reeds.
Are they the same?
Reeds are graded in strengths (1 being soft, 5 being hard). The stronger the reed, the thicker and harder the cane is. Students are recommended to start on a soft reed (either 1 or 1 ½). This allows for easy tone production without the need for a strong embouchure. Stronger reeds require a more developed technique, but produce a much greater tonal and dynamic range.
Reeds are cut (or profiled) to different dimensions to aid particular playing styles. For example the Vandoren java saxophone reeds were developed specifically for jazz players and are cut with a long flexible tip allowing vibration across a large surface area.