The music industry is a crossroads, with physical sales drastically down and the rise of streaming culture leading to what many have called the “death of the album.” However, as long as there are human beings, there will be music. Technology might be altering the landscape of the industry, but it has also levelled the playing field, even fledgeling songwriters have access to tools that were once limited to millionaire producers. It’s now possible to produce a song from the send of an idea to the finished product without ever picking up an instrument. That being said, there’s a tactile quality to a physical instrument (not to mention appearance for live performances) that will always keep real musicians coming back for more.
With affordable 3D printing now a reality, musicians can print their own instruments at home. Whether they are designing and printing their own unique prototypes or downloading one of the many existing templates from the online community, 3D printing is a technology that could have a genuine impact on the future of the music industry. Indeed, many would argue it already has, given the examples below, all of which you should be able to print at home as long as you have a 3D printer stocked with enough filament.
Print At Home
In 2014, a competition on Reddit sought to find the best 3D printed musical instrument designs. This was one of the more interesting entries. Taking the general shape of a classic Gibson Les Paul guitar and scaling it down to suit the more demure and easily printable form of the plastic ukulele, due to its size Geoffrey's design can be printed on almost any home 3D printer.
If you've ever been on holiday to Thailand, you're probably more than familiar with the classic croaking wooden frogs sold on every street corner. Technically called a “Guiro,” the instrument has been replicated here in 3D printed form. As it's a percussion instrument, less precision is required so this might be a good starter instrument to test the waters.
Anyone who has ever played The Legend of Zelda on the N64 knows exactly what an ocarina is. This classic, simple instrument is perfect for at-home 3D printing, due to its small form factor. Indeed, there should be no assembly required. There are plenty of CAD files for ocarinas floating around online too, so you have the luxury of choice here.
Whilst printing an actual saxophone might be a little too complicated for home printers (Olaf Diegel has managed it, but more on his later), the technology has allowed saxophone players to print their own, personalised mouthpieces. One company, Syos, has taken the idea a step further, by creating a process that allows users to input their exact requirement and have their own personal mouthpiece printed and sent to them within days.
Get the Professionals in
The guitar (particularly the acoustic guitar) is an instrument with hundreds of years worth of history behind it. It is also perhaps the first instrument many of us learned to play by choice.
Guitars are complicated instruments though, so whilst you might be able to design one yourself at home, it's unlikely most commercial 3D printers would be up to the task of replicating the kind of intricacies required. Olaf Diegel has built a reputation for himself as the world's foremost designer of printed guitars, but even he needs to utilise the help of third-party printers for his more ostentatious designs.
If you didn't believe before that 3D printed instruments could match their traditional counterparts for sheer engineering beauty and craft, this should change your mind. Created by French startup company 3Dvarius, these meticulously crafted violins start at just a shade under $7,000 and are named for the famed Stradivarius upon which its design was based. Obviously, we're looking at a high-quality instrument here, which shows that 3D printing doesn't just need to be for printing prototypes or hobby instruments, it can be a legitimate production method for even the most demanding artists out there.