3D printing has been around long enough for playable 3D-printed instruments to exist, but most musicians will still opt for one made using traditional methods. That could soon change, however, as researchers have found a way to design and 3D print musical instruments capable of producing unique notes that traditional instruments can’t.
Researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia, led by Dr Terumi Narushima, started with existing mathematical models that explain exactly how a wind instrument like a flute produces various notes. And using that know-how, they were able to go one step further to create a 3D model of a flute that was specially customised in terms of diameter, length, and hole placement so that it produced unique microtonal notes that are smaller than a semitone.
And these days, once you have a 3D model of something in software, you can easily turn it into a real product using a 3D printer.
Normally the only thing a 3D-printed musical instrument has going for it is maybe a cheaper price tag and a unique design. But this research actually gives the pieces a distinct advantage because they in turn give musicians and composers access to a unique sound that wasn’t available before. And because that unique sound can be first developed and honed using software, the 3D-printed version is guaranteed to sound perfect when it’s complete. These 3D-printed flutes still aren’t going to replace more traditional instruments, but because of their added value, musicians also won’t immediately turn their noses up at them.