One of the most significant parts of a saxophone is the reed. Experimenting with reeds can not only change the sound of your saxophone immensely, but it's also one of the least expensive parts of the instrument.
Constructed from reed plants, there are also synthetic reeds and hybrids available, which we'll briefly touch on in this article.
The tone and resistance of your saxophone is affected by various reeds and how they are cut. Rico and La Voz are popular reed brands, and come highly recommended to younger players. In fact, both of these brands also offer very suitable basic reeds for new players, and years later many professionals prefer these reeds as well. Due to their low cost and delicacy, Rico reeds will most likely be used by students.
Many different reed variations are available, with each having a strength marked by a number, 2 to 5 in half steps, with 5 being the hardest for Rico and 2 being the softest. La Voz, on the other hand, uses a word system; soft, medium soft, medium, medium hard, and hard. Every reed manufacturer has their own system for marking a reed from soft to hard, but normally they use a scale where the strength of the reed is determined by how high the number is.
When buying a reed, you should begin with the saxophone itself (ie. tenor, baritone or alto), then look at the brand (ie. Rico or La Voz), then choose a reed strength. When making an order, all of this information will be needed.
You'll want to know a few things before making an order.
Various other brands and special cuts are for more skilled players who like to experiment. Specifically tailored jazz cuts, hand selects, and classical reeds are available.
While the majority of saxophonists play with basic cane reeds, synthetic reeds are also used every so often. These reeds last for months, and they're fairly consistent due largely in part to the material consisting of plastics. While many sax players find synthetic reeds to be a superb alternative to traditional cane, it's also important to note there is a distinct trade off in volume control and tone.
Rico designs "plasticover" reeds as well. These cane reeds have a thin coat of plastic over them, and have a longer lasting life than regular cane reeds. However, they do trade a part of their core tone for a boost in volume, as well as essential overtones needed for the saxophones extended range. Plasticover reeds work exceptionally great for alto, tenor and baritone saxes.
There are more than enough choices to consider when searching for a saxophone reed. Of course, a beginner should never have to feel like they're in a battle with the instrument. For this reason, it's best to go with a medium strength reed, then as time passes, try other reeds, and better understand how each one can benefit your performance.