Top 3D Printed Musical Instruments

Here are our market research notes on all of the great 3-D printed instruments out there.  We wanted to see what types of 3-D printed instruments are being made, how they are being made and whether or not they sound any good. This is a follow up on recent posts about top lasercut instruments and top kickstarter instruments.

This image comes from Amit Zoran and his research at MIT.

Amit led a project to explore making 3-D printed musical instruments. His printed flute is the amongst the best that use this technology. The Object Connex 500 can create his flute in 15 hours with multiple materials. Afterwards, with minimal assembly and a few springs he has a fully functional flute. The process is currently cost comparable with existing flutes. But the flute isn’t quite perfect yet.

How 3-D Printing Works

The process is generally done via extrusion or sintering. Both methods gradually build up horizontal slices to create a final object. The resolution can be very high depending on the printer. Extrusion involves additively building up layers with a moving head. It usually involves plastics. Sintering is involves coating a surface with a fine powder, and then apply a laser to the harden the material that needs to be keep. It works with metals and plastics.

How to Design an Instrument 

We tried to use google sketchup to design an object, and then convert it to STL . It proved to be frustrating and error-prone. Ultimately, a professional tool like  SolidWorks will likely pay for itself in time saved, but makerbot has tutorials with various free software packages. There is no need to start with a blank canvas. Go grab the makerle from Thingaverse.

How Does it Sound ?

The next generation 3D-printed instruments are sounding good. The Makerle is using complext structures on its sound-board to give it a nice strength to weight ratio. The 3D printed violin is using contours scanned from an actual violin to provide a complex shape to its soundboard. The process lends itself to iterative design, and ideas for improving tone can evolve.  Intricate designs that match the details of the actual instruments, are rewarded with the strong tone of that instrument. Other instruments that may be simpler have a less polished tone.

But this music box on thingaverse is still fantastic, despite its tone. It can be printed on a MakerBot, and different music cylinders are available for download. This is something that people can download and print in their own home and start exploring new ideas.

How Attractive Are The Instruments ?

Musical instruments need to inspire both performers and the audience. While the music box may be inspirational to engineers folks, . Olaf Diegel creating amazing bodies for electronic guitars using 3-D printing. Unfortunately, google warns that his site Odd Guitars is infected with malware. But this interview of him talking about the future of 3D printing is fantastic.

Whats the Catch?

The time and cost of making a 3D printed object isn’t cheap. The materials and machines can be expensive.  Its often referred to as rapid prototyping. Designers can quickly get their hands on a working prototype, but for full scale production, other methods of manufacturing can be done cheaper, faster and of high quality.

Arved Jensen wrote a nice piece on create digital music, he mentions how things on a 3-D instrument aren’t as perfect as they seem. Holes don’t line up. Tuning can be difficult to get right. But the advantages of 3D-printing are massive. Designs can be shared and crowd-sourced. Geometric shapes that were never before possible can be built.

Let us know what type of instruments would you want in your own 3D printed band?

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