You walk into your local guitar store with the intention of treating yourself to a new axe. After selecting from a few options and specifications on one of their computers you hit ‘print’. Later on, after enjoying a quick panini and latté at a nearby café you head back and pick up your new custom 3D printed guitar – fresh from the printer.
Sounds very futuristic doesn’t it? But at the rate that 3D printing is currently progressing, this could eventually become a reality. The technology is already revolutionizing manufacturing by allowing designers to create products in new and innovative ways.
What is 3D Printing?
Believe it or not, 3D printing has been around for decades – but until recently was restricted to larger scale, industrial scenarios.
An object is created by the printer, which lays down one thin layer of material at a time. Think of it like the creation of underground Stalagmite rock formations, except the printer is very specific, only laying down material where it is needed.
3D printing has several advantages over traditional manufacturing processes:
- Reduces waste material (uses around 98% of raw material)
- Energy Efficient – Up to 50% less energy
- Less time to bring a product to market
- Allows for incredibly complex designs
How Does the Printer Work?
It starts with computer aided design software (CAD), which designers will use to model a 3D blueprint of their object (or objects). This is then loaded into the printer software.
Various materials such as plastics or metal powders can be used to form the design. These materials are heated and then extracted through the print nozzle once liquefied. Very thin layers of the design are deposited one at a time as a two-dimensional cross section. Once deposited, the print material very quickly solidifies to form a solid object.
This process continues vertically until the entire design has been formed.
Image Source: 3DForged
Although most designs will be composed of some type of plastic, other materials are available. In theory you can use anything you like, as long as the material liquefies at the desired temperature and quickly becomes solid at room temperature.
Machines already exist which can print 3D food, such as chocolate, pasta and dough.
But what about guitars? A chocolate axe sounds great, but it’d snap in half easier than a Gibson headstock…
At the time of writing, MakerBot has been developing composite filaments which can be used for printing. One of these new materials is a maple wood composite, which apparently looks and feels (and smells!) just like the real thing. As for it’s tonal properties? Who knows…
Even if 3D printed materials don’t stack up to real woods now as far as ‘tone’ is concerned, it would be pretty naïve to assume that the technology won’t catch up.
Check out the video below which shows a quick demonstration of how a 3D printed guitar sounds. In this video, only the bodies are printed.
3D Printed Guitar
Although you won’t find a fully 3D printed guitar at present, companies have actually been making partially printed instruments for years.
The most widely known of these brands is probably ODD Guitars, who are based in New Zealand. At the moment only the bodies of ODD guitars are 3D printed, with the rest of the instrument consisting of traditional parts.
Check out the video below which shows my personal favorite from the ODD range – the Steampunk, complete with moving innards! To achieve this level of design complexity with traditional manufacturing methods would be hugely expensive.
Left Handed 3D Printed Guitars
For us southpaws, the 3D revolution could pave the way to unlocking a far less limiting choice of guitars – in fact, there would be no limit. Because everything is digital, the source file could simply be flipped in the software to produce a mirror image. One click.
If 3D printed guitars eventually became the norm, we’d finally realise that dream of having the exact same selection as our spoiled for choice right handed friends.
For now it’s a pipe dream, but all we have to do is be patient while the technology catches up. Which shouldn’t be a long wait…