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The Evolution of 3D-Printed Guitars

April 27, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:16

Note: The following was authored by Olaf Diegel, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Just over two years ago, I started to design 3D-printed guitars to see if it could be done. I had been using additive manufacturing since the mid-1990s for the prototyping of products before taking them into production. I was amazed by how the technology had evolved over the past two decades. Because of my interest in music growing up, I decided to see if it had evolved to the point of being able to print an electric guitar—not a prototype, but the real thing.

I was on holiday at my parents’ home in South Africa and that’s where I started the first one. I was working on a Les Paul design, but felt little could be gained by simply taking a conventional design and reproducing it with 3D printing. We were having lunch at a restaurant in the Durban harbor, and I saw some oil on the water and was fascinated by the way it formed constantly changing coalescent patterns. That was the inspiration for my first design, the Atom guitar. Biology has been the inspiration of many of my 3D-printed guitar designs. One of the challenges is to take this inspiration from nature (referred to as biomimicry) to produce designs that are still rock ‘n roll.

I began to blog about my initial experimentation and the response was overwhelming. I then realized that a nice little business of designing and 3D printing guitars could develop. The process evolved greatly as I learned about the engineering behind making a guitar that played and sounded good. The learning curve was steep when trying to apply this knowledge to the unique advantages of 3D printing. It took more than a year for me to fully understand what I was doing, and to produce instruments that looked, played, and sounded the way they should. Since starting in 2012, I have produced 46 guitars and am constantly working on new designs that show some of what 3D printing can do.

Every time I push the limits and design something that I don’t believe is possible to make, I am amazed by how 3D printing rises to meet the challenge and produces exactly what I had envisioned. This helps to make the effort even more gratifying. My hope is that the owners of these new products also receive satisfaction by holding an instrument that few others have touched or played.

Extraordinary People

April 12, 2014

Filed under: life — Terry Wohlers @ 07:54

I have had the privilege of meeting some high achievers in the past. They have provided inspiration to me and many others. A number of them have been affiliated with NASA space program.

Alan Shepard was the first American in space, and he walked on the moon. I was lucky to be seated next to him on a flight from Denver to San Francisco in 1995. We talked about the space program, the Vomit Comet, and the Apollo 13 movie, which was released two weeks earlier.

Jim Lovell is the former astronaut that made the line “Houston, we have a problem” famous. Lovell and Gene Kranz, flight director at NASA Mission Control for the Apollo 13 mission, presented at SolidWorks World 2011. I did not get to meet Lovell, but I met Kranz. The guy, then 77, carried a look that was as tough as nails.

Former astronaut Mike Mullane flew on three space shuttle missions. He is also the author of the book Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I met Mullane at SME’s RAPID 2003 where he served as keynote speaker.

Others that I’ve been fortunate to meet:

  • James Cameron, producer of Avatar, Titanic, Aliens, The Abyss, and many other films
  • Roy Disney, longtime executive of The Walt Disney Company, which his father and uncle, Walt Disney, co-founded
  • Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group that includes more than 400 companies
  • Joel Orr, brilliant speaker, futurist, writer, and friend of 30 years
  • Tony Fadell, considered by many as the “father” of the iPod and leader of the team at Apple that developed the iPhone

I have met others, but these people are among those that stand out. In the 1980s, I had the chance to meet Steve Jobs, but didn’t, and I regret it to this day. I have never met a U.S. president, but I hope to one day.