3D-Printed Instruments: Technology Jams Out


Personally, I think emerging music technology owes us a huge favor after the atrocious invention of auto-tune. Lucky for mankind, Olaf Diegel, a professor at Lund University’s Malmo Academy of Music in Sweden has provided humanity with the technological redemption we’ve been craving by creating the newest musical innovation: 3D-printed musical instruments.

Olaf began product development, along with the help of his students, on multiple instruments using 3D printers. The result: guitar riffs that will make you put down that Fender or Gibson you’ve been saving up for. These fully functioning instruments, which include the guitar, bass guitar, keyboard and drums, not only produce an incredible sound, additionally, they are digitally designed and later crafted using post-processing techniques offering each printed piece a unique and stunning aesthetic value.

According to Professor Diegel, the beauty of printing instruments is the ease with which adjustments can be made to the file type by using 3D Cad design software such as SolidWorks or Autodesk. Depending on what is required by the musician purchasing the instrument, Diegel can alter the image immediately should the weight, sound, or body style need correcting as to refine the finished product.

In an interview with Olaf Diegel, he goes on to explain the process in the simplest terms,  “…And that’s the beauty of 3D printing, you can just change as you go along, hit print and eleven or twelve hours later you’ve got the next version ready to go.” Learning to play the instrument is actually more difficult than creating it, from his perspective.

I admire his ability to down play the complexity and talent it takes to design separate pieces in a Cad program that must fit perfectly together, knowing the proper filament to print with, assembling the mass of printed parts, each having to be placed delicately in the proper locus, stringing, tuning and detailing in order to create the perfect look, feel and sound of every customized instrument he builds.

A group of Swedish musicians boast they are the first band to play with all 3D-printed instruments. At first, they received skepticism from other musicians because “different” quickly raises suspicions from music elitists. There were a few discussions about how the instruments could be perceived as a gimmick by audiences and show patrons. The band adores their current sound and has confidence that fans will hardly notice the difference between their old equipment and the new printed gear after hearing the music played from these instruments. There are even talks of a guitar solo battle between 3D printed and store-bought axes.

The next step for Olaf Diegel is to find a celebrity musician that will proudly play one of his printed guitars, proving to audience members, fans and critics alike that 3D-printed instruments can produce the same quality of sound as any traditional instrument of the past. He mentions Carlos Santana as being one of his ideal candidates to shred without mercy on a printed guitar. Diegel (pictured below) hopes with a little celebrity help, his custom instruments will soon become a standard in the music industry.

After the .stl or .obj file of a guitar body eventually leaks onto a site like MakerBot’s Thingiverse.com, virtually anyone with access to a 3D printer will be able to simply click print and play. The implications of readily available ways to create sophisticated instruments will surely have an incredible impact on the music industry. It might just be the perfect time to start a band.