Aug 10, 2016 | By Alec

Though we come across countless inspiring and innovative 3D printing projects and applications, we particularly love seeing 3D printed instruments. And you might be surprised to learn that musicians from all over the world have already transformed 3D printing into an instrument-building tool. Just take a look at this seriously cool 3D printed guitar or this amazing Australian-made 3D printed sitar. Back in 2015, Kaitlyn and Matt Hova also shared their open source, 3D printable and beautiful Hovalin acoustic violin online.

While most of the 3D printed violins are made using regular FDM 3D printers, Brian Chan's new gorgeous 3D printed violin showed that resin is more than strong enough for instruments that can withstand the rigors of playing.

In fact violinist Rhett Price, who was involved in the project, even composed and recorded a beautiful song using this remarkable and fully functional 3D printed violin. “It was an amazing opportunity to work with Brian and Formlabs on this project, and have the chance to perform on such a modern spin of an instrument I've been playing for 23 years,” Price said of the experience. “The sound quality of the violin Brian engineered was unbelievable, and the technology is absolutely incredible.”

As Chan revealed, he was especially interested in the violin for its remarkable and crucial design that has stayed virtually unchanged for centuries. “The difficulty of designing an acoustic instrument is that it needs to sound authentic, without the help of amps, filters, and other things you can use for an electric instrument. For a violin, the entire body of the instrument contributes to the sound, so the geometry, internal structure, and material properties all come into play,” the designer says.

Using an 1884 book on hand-carved violin building, the designer therefore set out to recreate the very functional body. “I wanted to design a 3D-printed violin to have the same internal structure: a hollow shell with the soundpost near one side of the bridge, and a strengthening bar of material along the inside of the front. Later, I would experiment with the dimensions of these various elements, but it was important to get the basics right,” he said. This is quite challenging, as the neck needs to provide support, while the front face of the violin needs to be flexible and light enough to allow it to vibrate.

Modeling the violin in CAD software therefore proved quite challenging. “Luckily, the violin body has four corners, while the rest of the boundaries are smooth. In Onshape, I was able to define this shape as a loft, with corners of the cross-sections located at the corners of the violin. To constrain the loft to the right shape, I used the C-shaped outlines and the centerline contour as guides,” Chan explains. The outlines of the model visible here have actually been based on the iconic Stradivarius.

But the design was not perfect, and throughout the project Chan found himself 3D printing five different models – all using the Form 2 3D printer and Formlabs’ White, Black, and Tough Resins. In fact, SLA 3D printing proved to be an excellent choice for this kind of project. “Stereolithography made sense because the violin needed to be strong enough to withstand several different directional forces, and SLA parts are isotropic, meaning that they are equally strong in every direction,” he explains. “Also, the complex geometry of the instrument demanded tight tolerances for both small and large features, which the Form 2 was able to print consistently.”

In fact, the first model slowly warped under the force of the strings, and was completely unplayable after about a month. Some carbon fiber reinforcements and thicker panels greatly improved the life expectancy of the second model, but again the neck eventually warped. What’s more, the model was found to be too heavy and not loud enough.

The violin design therefore underwent a thorough overhaul, and thanks to a reinforced neck and a much thinner front face, an actually playable model was realized. “Thinning the face resulted in a much louder sound, since the strings don’t have so much mass to vibrate. I also reinforced the neck with two bars of carbon fiber and hollowed out much of the neck and scroll to make the instrument lighter. A few trials with musicians confirmed that the instrument sounded much better, and wasn’t such a strain to hold while playing,” Chan proudly says.

The final model consists of 26 3D printed parts, all made during four or five overnight sessions on a Form 2 3D printer. Only some strings, screws, and carbon fiber rods needed to be added. Violin expert Price was also very impressed. “Once the design was finalized and I brought the violin home to write and record the track, I was extremely surprised by the sound,” Price said. “This entire project has completely challenged my perspective on what can be successfully created with a 3D printer, and it's exciting and inspiring to see things like this in my lifetime, and to be involved in the process of creating it!”

Fortunately, Chan was more than happy to share his design online, and invites everyone to recreate it at home. “The most important “object” is not the physical violin, but the design itself, which can (and will) continue to evolve,” he argues. If you’re interested, you can find the violin files here, alongside the original Onshape design. But before you do, be sure to appreciate Price’s fantastic music below. Who says a violin is just an outdated instrument?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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