3D Printing in Music

The introduction of 3D printing technology has made a huge impact on many industries around the world; the music industry is no exception.

So, how exactly can 3D printing be used in music?

The main application of the technology is within product development and manufacturing, allowing for infinitely customisable designs. With 3D printing, new instrument designs can be rapidly prototyped at a low cost, as well as being able to create instruments that would otherwise be impossible to manufacture by traditional means.

One example of this is a microtonal flute that was designed and created by a team at the University of Wollongong. Interest in microtonal scales is relatively recent and therefore there aren’t many instruments that can play these notes. This creates an opportunity for the use of 3D printing to create microtonal instruments that may not exist yet.

I explored the use of 3D printing in music by printing some designs and testing them out to learn more about the process. These designs included guitar picks, pick holder accessory, guitar capo and an ocarina. After playing around with the settings of the printer, I found that having a thinner layer height produced better quality prints (but took longer) and that a higher fill density and shell thickness was essential for the guitar picks and the capo to remain durable.

Everything that was printed was strong and durable and would hold up against their real-life counterparts, especially the guitar picks and ocarina. The 3D printed items were a lot cheaper than the original versions as well, costing on average one-tenth of the price of a store-bought product.

Since one of the greatest drawbacks of learning music is the initial cost of buying an instrument, 3D printing could provide a cheaper alternative for students looking to learn music. There are already designs of instruments on sites like Thingiverse.com that have been designed to be printed in separate parts that would be perfect to learn on.

There are also a few novelty applications for 3D printing, of course, including the gramophone style smartphone speaker that I printed out of curiosity. 3D printing really is only limited by your imagination!