There is a certain romance in the process of crafting an instrument. Expert luthiers have been transforming wood into complex musical forms for thousands of years, and for some, the traditional processes are hard to let go of because of the meditative relief that comes from the process of hand-crafting. This is why in scenarios where technology can better art, controversy will undoubtedly arise.
3D printer technologies are constantly adding new possibilities to every field of study; nowadays, if you draw something digitally on the computer, it can be constructed in real life with relative ease. High value items, like hearing aids or hip replacements, are now much easier and much less expensive to produce, and these same innovations are threatening to change the ways guitars and other instruments are made.
ODD Guitars is an instrument manufacturer has been creating a range of personalized and fully customizable guitars that push 3D printing technologies to their limits, and because they are printed, ODD Guitars has made human error a thing of the past. The company’s founder, Olaf Diegel, is the Professor of Product Development at Lund University of Sweden, and when he initially started doing this work, it was just for “fun.” Now, Diegel has also set up the first live concert with a band created entirely using 3D printing; the band included a guitar, bass, keyboard, and drum set. This marked the beginning of 3D printed instruments being used in the highest level of professional music (the major downside, of course, is that some of these 3D printed guitars are indestructible and cannot be broken on stage).
Not only is 3D printing technology great for rock and roll, but it can also be used to study antique instruments. The original saxophone, developed by Adolphe Sax, is just one of many antique wind instruments that presents a greater challenge because of missing parts. 3D printing has allowed for the study of that original sax to continue without harming the original instrument. Now, Adolphe Sax’s original instrument can be played to perfection once again after his sound has lain dormant for more than a century.
What makes 3D printing instruments so universal is how each design is open source. Violin-maker Hovalin has put together a design for a great sounding 3D printed acoustic instrument, a full sized violin that can be printed on a desktop-sized 3D printer. And because it was released under a Creative Commons license, the only thing necessary for use of the derivative works of the Hovalin is maintaining its open source status and credit to HOVA LLC for the design. The design can even be used for commercial use as long as 10% of gross revenue is sent back to the makers of Hovalin.
Instruments like the 3D printed guitar and violin have reshaped the future of musical instruments, because now they can take the form of any shape and still create the same output required for the professional use. Further, instruments that at one time could not be built by hand can now come alive. Though this technology is still relatively new, it grows better on a daily basis, and we may soon live in a future where each musical instrument is just as sophisticated and one-of-a-kind as the musicians that play them.
Top photo credit: IDIA Lab, screenshot