3D Printing and Music

Just read an interesting article in The Guardian about “How 3D printing is revolutionising guitar-making,” and it seemed like the topic of 3D printing and music was worth a blog post. The Guardian article focuses on guitars being made by a professor in New Zealand.

“…Olaf Diegel, professor of mechatronics at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand…is an exponent of 3D printing. His zany guitar bodies are created using computer-aided design (CAD) software, output in one piece on an EOS 3D printer…Diegel’s guitars are catching the attention of about a dozen people a day, who are enquiring about having one for themselves. They won’t come cheap, starting at about £1000 for standard Scarab and Spider designs…Diegel, who plays guitar and has a collection of electric models, printed his first one as an experiment. “It was so good that I decided to set up a business selling them.” The 3D printer he uses limits him to making electric guitars. That’s a function both of its size – it’s too small to print an acoustic body – and the plastic it uses, which lacks the resonance of wood…”

Functional musical instruments other than guitars have been created on 3D printers. One example is a thermoplastic resin replica of a Stradivarius violin printed on an EOS laser-sintering printer. In the MIT Media Lab an Objet printer was used to build a playable flute. The CreateDigitalMusic.com article discusses how the researcher who created the flute is also working exploring development of new versions or classes of instruments:

“…MIT Media Lab researcher Amit Zoran…made a flute in 15 hours…Moreover, the 3D printer could represent new potential for instrumental research. Acoustic instrument design hasn’t produced a popular instrument, arguably, in over a century. Part of the problem is that it’s too difficult to prototype ideas. Being able to rapidly prototype a lot of variations inexpensively could mean wild, new instruments (see the fanciful multi-pipes trumpet Amit proposes)…”

A few other examples of 3D printing intersecting with music are:

  • Madison’s own Sector67 was instrumental for a project in which one of its members created “…an algorithmic audio composition, a MakerBot-printed 3D “score” of the composition, and an Arduino-powered device that coordinates the audio playback of the composition…The piece is called “Ecology No. 9″ because it is composed of sonic structures growing, evolving, reproducing, and dying in a manner roughly analogous to that of biological organisms…”
  • A different type of 3D printed music comes is demonstrated using a Fisher-Price record player to listen to a printed replica of an old style vinyl record.
  • Wired.com did an article about the AIRbudz project on Kickstarter used a 3D printer to build its earbud prototypes.
  • Another twist on music production via 3D printers is to create a file that drives the servo motors to play a tune, like the Tetris theme song or this NYC Resistor rendition of the Imperial March from Star Wars.
  • While the ‘tune’ it plays is pretty simple, this Pingbot gets additional musical points because it ‘dances’ whilst playing its song. With a bit more programming, an UberPingbot could play a more complicated song and synchronize its movements to the music.

It’s hard to say whether the July 21 3DPrintingCampWi 2012 unconference will have any sessions or demonstrations about 3D printer music, but there are certainly lots of possibilities. You’ll just have to come to Sector67 in Madison, Wisconsin, and see if you’re able to hear any additive manufacturing music. If the participants of this year’s unconference works on it, I’m sure they can either produce new 3D printer music themselves or can talk 3D printer musicians into participating in next year’s event.



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