Although it’s impossible to tell how long ago the first musical instrument was created, the fact that music and culture have been intertwined for millennia is indisputable. Making instruments has been done since prehistory. The modern-day maker’s tools are different, but creating instruments of beauty still has the same draw. It’s logical that one of the newer, most adaptable tools would be used to do this – 3D printers.
There are a number of 3D printed instruments in existence. Commercially, there’s ODD, which offers a variety of laser sintered custom-printed guitar bodies, with choice of neck hardware. Unfortunately they do not seem to offer models on their site. In a more classical mode, the FFFiddle is an open-source electric violin developed by David Perry of Openfab PDX. All of the violin models and assembly instructions are available on Thingiverse, but you can also buy kits if your printer can’t meet the bed size requirements. It’s actually part of several collections of instruments that Thingiverse offers, which has a variety of ukuleles, wind instruments, and less common designs (such as a waterphone).
This is far from the most creative uses of printing to make music, however. Two researchers, John Malloch and Ian Hattwick, introduced a very unique design to the world last year. Their team from McGill University developed prosthetic printed instruments that created music based on the wearer’s body movements. This is effectively a fusion of dance and musicianship. 3D printing is uniquely suited to making instruments like these, as it allows the user to easily tailor the instrument to their own bodies, like what has been done with many wearables.
In light of these innovations, it’s no surprise that a concert was held recently that entirely used 3D printed instruments. This past September, Lund University in Sweden hosted a live concert where the band members only used instruments printed by professor Olaf Diegel. Included were two guitars, a drum, and a keyboard. Members of the university’s academy of music played the instruments.
One more inspired use of printing to bring music to our ears deals less with playing music and more with how we listen to previously recorded songs. Instructables user amandaghassaei has a HOWTO providing instructions and a workflow for printing record surfaces that can be played in a 33 RPM player. The quality isn’t great, and the printer used has a very high resolution (according to the amandaghassaei, it is 600 dpi on the x-y, and 16 microns on the z axis). Still, it’s a very cool feat of ingenuity.