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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.