Though musicians could probably point to numerous exquisite examples of custom instruments with relative ease, we'd wager that few would compare to those produced by Olaf Diegel. Now the Lund University professor has taken his creations to the stage for what he claims is the world's first gig using 3D-printed instruments.
Diegel has been 3D printing since the mid-90s and began his ODD Guitars3D-printed instrument company in 2011. As well as commercially-available guitars, Diegel has produced a variety of other instrument prototypes, including a drum kit and a saxophone.
"Musicians, strangely, they're very creative, but at the same time they're very conservative," says Diegel. "They first approach essentially a plastic guitar with a lot of suspicion, but then they have a play with it and they're completely amazed that it sounds and plays like a high quality electric guitar."
The concert at Lund University featured a band made up of musicians from its Malmö Academy of Music. It featured instruments created by Diegel, including electric guitars and bass guitars, a drum kit and a keyboard. Diegel explains to Gizmag that the instruments were designed using the SolidWorks 3D computer aided design software package. This allows him to edit designs much like he would if he were using a graphics package.
When his designs are complete, Diegel sends them to Cubify, the printing service arm of 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems. The final designs are printed by Cubify using industrial selective laser sintering systems, which are much more accurate and advanced than the 3D printers that can be bought for the home. Once the instruments parts have been printed and delivered to Diegel, they are assembled together with the rest of the (non-printed) instrument components.
"3D printing is still a comparatively expensive manufacturing process, so is only worth using if it adds value," Diegel tells Gizmag. "If I were making simple guitar shapes, it would be much more cost-effective to CNC machine them, for example. But the extreme complex details inside my guitars just couldn’t be made with any other manufacturing."
According to Diegel, it takes around 11 hours to print a guitar body and about the same again to paint it. A further day is spent on tasks such as assembling the components and setting the action. The whole process, including the design stage, can take from a matter of days up to a number of weeks depending on the complexity of the design.