The future sounds bright as the low-cost instrument could hold the key to making music accessible to all.
Many of the familiar instruments of the orchestra have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years, but every so often a space-age material of technological advance finds its way into the ancient traditions of crafting instruments. 3D printing is a cutting edge manufacturing technique that quite literally prints solid, three dimensional objects, most commonly by using thousands of thin layers of plastic to construct a computer rendered form. The technology has been used in the past to make musical instruments, either experimental designs of weird and wonderful new concepts, or more conventional models of existing instruments, including electric violins.
In 2011, 3D printing company EOS scanned and produced a 3D printed copy of a Stradivarius violin, but several elements of the instrument, including the pegbox, bridge and sound post, had to be added by a luthier after the body was completed. It was also made from medical grade polymer, used normally for 3D printed surgical applications, meaning that the cost of the instrument was significant, and while the sound quality was passable, the Strad replica couldn’t compete on quality of tone with similarly priced wooden instruments.
However now a new 3D printed acoustic violin is offering a low-cost instrument that future violinists may be able to print at home, with just strings required. Designed by Matt and Kaitlyn Hova, the design files to print the instrument are available for free from their website. Using current commercially available 3D printers the instrument cost around $300 to make (fully constructed models can be bought from the Hovalin website for $600), but as this technology develops and production costs reduce this, or similar instruments, may become increasingly used as cheap beginner instruments, allowing young musicians from disadvantaged backgrounds better access to music making.