Perhaps the most powerful quality of 3D printing is its ability to enable people to creatively enhance their personal interests and hobbies. For both musicians and music listeners, 3D printing has provided new and creative ways for people to add value and individuality to the way they play and experience music.
From making custom instruments and printing parts for vintage instruments, to printing vinyl records from digital files, 3D printing is changing the way people consume and play music.
Aside from allowing people to design and print custom instruments, 3D printing gives musicians the ability to personally manufacture replacement parts and accessories for older instruments. As a musician who plays and owns vintage instruments, I can tell you that it is not uncommon for parts of old instruments to break or deteriorate with age. In the event that a part becomes damaged or even unusable, it is usually expensive to replace. Also, because of the fact that many vintage instruments (like the Fender Rhodes for example) are no longer being produced, it is extremely difficult and sometimes even impossible to find replacement parts. 3D printing provides a way for people to overcome both of these problems by enabling people to design replicas of their parts and then print them on their own. With some digital design skills and a 3D printer the process of manufacturing replacement parts is relatively easy.
I have personally used 3D printing for making both temporary and replacement mouthpieces for my trumpet and flugelhorn. Much like parts in vintage instruments, brass mouthpieces can be easily lost or damaged. However, with hundreds of different digital brass mouthpiece designs available for free online, 3D printing provides an extremely convenient way of printing both a wide variety and large quantity of mouthpieces at the fraction of the price of a brand new one.
The mouthpiece pictured above is 1 ½ c mouthpiece printed using Bronzefill (a type of filament that mimics the visual properties of bronze when finished). The sound that it produces is not as resonant as a sound that a brass mouthpiece produces, but it does sound great and an untrained ear would not be able to tell the difference between the two. It is also worth experimenting with printing mouthpieces using a variety of filaments and custom cup designs to achieve different sounds. Below are audio clips showing the difference in sound between a $400 mouthpiece and a 3D printed mouthpiece.
Musicians are not the only ones that are positively affected by the benefits that 3D printing has to offer. Music listeners should be excited about the way that 3D printing is changing the way they are listening to music. One of the most interesting developments in desktop 3D printing with regard to its impact on music listeners, is the relatively limited ability for people to print vinyl records. Currently a 3D printed record only has enough room for one song per record. The sound quality that 3D printed records produce is nowhere near as good as the sound that vinyl records do at the moment and it is possible that they never will be. Regardless of how imperfect the sound quality might be at the moment, the fact that we are beginning to print records that are able to play recorded songs is a huge first step towards reaching that goal.
The advantage of being able to manufacture replacement parts is not limited to music. It is arguably the valuable application that 3D printing has in general. But the way it is changing the way that people experience music is very exciting and it will be very interesting to see what its future impact on music will be as the technology continues to progress.