A Musical Week in the 3D Printing World

Three cool musical projects emerged this week in the 3D Printing World, all taking advantage of the best aspects of 3D printing technology.

Adafruit’s MIDI Project


Being a huge Fab Lab fan, I’ve always loved the concept behind Adafruit, an online learning space for making fun things using electronics.   Founded in 2005 by MIT engineer, Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the New York City based company this week released a new DIY MIDI drum box.  For those of you who aren’t in the music world, MIDI is a technical standard developed in the 1980’s to help electronic instruments – starting with electric guitars and keyboards – to communicate with each other and computers.  It opened up an entire new world and expanded to include all kinds of musical instruments including drums.  MIDI is what allows a keyboard player to hook up a drum machine to his instrument and sound like a duo is playing.

While MIDI may not have been a good thing for keeping live musicians employed, it expanded the use of electronic instruments and opened up all kinds of home music making.  And this week Adafruit introduced the Mini OONTZ, an open source button grid controller based on the Adafruit Trellis button platform.  The mini OONTZ comprises a 3d printed case housing one trellis and 4 potentiometers ideal for a 16 button drum pad.  I love how the Adafruit OONTZ webpage includes a complete bill of materials [BOM], links to tutorials on skills you’ll need like soldering, and the .stl files for 3D Printing.  This is a cool project to teach kids about STEM subjects, with the end result being a fun activity – playing music!

3D Printing Antique Musical Instrument Replacement Parts

Combine a student who also happens to be a physician, a music professor, and the director of 3D imaging in the engineering department, and what do you get?  A novel approach to making replacement parts for antique musical instruments!


Last year University of Connecticut music history and theory Ph.D. student Dr. Robert Howe started to think about how to get replacement parts for antique musical instruments.  That he happened to also be a reproductive endocrinologist brought the wonders of medical technology to mind and got him thinking about the use of computerized tomography [CT] to make 3-D images of rare parts. Dr. Howe took his idea to UConn professor Richard Bass, and the two musicians started to work with Sina Shahbazmohamadi, an engineer and the school’s director for advanced 3-D imaging.

The field is ripe for creating replacement parts in the likeness and image of those created by the masters.  For example, there are only 3 mouthpieces in existance that were created in the 19th century by saxophone inventor, Adolph Saxe.  By 3D Printing replacements, 21st century horn players can have a more authentic experience.  The technique the trio developed also allows for study of instruments too rare to be cut open to learn about the innards.  No one, for example, is going to do “invasive surgery” on a multi-million dollar Stadivarius violin or cello!

Olaf Diegel Expands Beyond Rock Band Instruments

Speaking of the sax, Olaf Diegel, who is popular for his beautiful guitars, as well as keyboards and drum sets, is now expanding to other instruments including the sax.  Here’s a new video from the master himself on his first attempts to 3D Print more complex instruments.  In the electric guitar and piano, for example, the case of the instrument was the main thing 3D Printed while the electronics were of course off-the-shelf kit that was no different than any other instrument made by traditional methods.

A wind instrument is a whole new ball game for 3D printing as the sound is not created by electronics.  You can hear a sneak preview of the sax here in Olaf’s new video.  BTW our featured image is complements of 3D Systems Corporation, it’s Olaf’s “band” playing at a trade show!