As the world of 3-D printing advances, it’s becoming possible to create more and more complex shapes and systems. Now, the technology is making waves in the music world. Olaf Diegel, a professor of product development at Lund University in Sweden, recently produced the first ever 3-D printed saxophone.
The saxophone isn’t Diegel’s first foray into musical printing—the professor has created other instruments including a guitar and drums—but this prototype appears to be the most ambitious yet. He believes the technology has great potential in creating customized instruments tailored to the individual needs or aesthetic choices of each musician. The prototype of Diegel’s 3D printed alto saxophone, which he can actually play, took about six months to create using 3D modeling software.
“I first designed the saxophone in 3D CAD software. Then, I sent the model to the 3D printer which sliced it up into very thin slices, and then ‘printed’ each slice, one on top of the other until the whole sax was printed,” Diegel said in a statement. “In this case, it ‘printed’ each slice by spreading a very thin layer of plastic powder, and a laser then scanned the shape of the sax for that layer. After that, it spread another layer of powder on top of the first, and repeated the process again and again until the whole sax was done.”
The 3D printed saxophone is comprised of 41 different parts (not including springs and screws) and is a quarter the weight of a traditional metal sax. He admitted that a few notes on the instrument are out of tune due to air leaking between the parts, a flaw he is aiming to correct in future versions. For instance, the prototype was designed essentially as a clone of a traditional sax, but Diegel said a future version designed specifically for the digital manufacturing process might look different. “The next version will be even better looking, as 3D printing allows me to create shapes that would be impossible to make with traditional manufacturing,” he said. A new version is expected later this year.