3D Printed Violins – An Overhyped Crescendo?

From the early Rubec, to the Viol and onward to the world of the violin. This historic instrument has taken many paths to get to where it is today, and the realms of 3D printing are taking this age-old innovation to the next era.

But should 3D printing keep its whirring mitts away from the violin?

That’s something I’ve been pondering for quite some time.

As a violinist and designer myself, I’ve been all for others trying to take the violin that step further into the future. It’s incredibly gutsy to take something that has been refined for so many years and explore the possibilities of improvement or changing materials and manufacturing methods, but I’ve been in two minds about it.

Sifting amongst Stainer and Stradivarious copies of varying qualities to find fun repair projects, it didn’t take long to find a fair few open source violin and electric violin building kits and finished products, which have been 3D modelled and printed in plastic (PLA or Resin).

Immediately my first fear was the safety of these instruments. Could they stand the tension of strings? Thankfully that wasn’t a problem, as these kits and products have been tried and tested well to avoid this. The next important point, was how would the 3D printed acoustic violins sound?

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This is the Hovalin V2.0, created by Matt and Kaitlyn Hova. Looks cool doesn’t it? Looks pretty thick, but that’s certainly not a problem, the bigger the belly, the better it carries lower string notes. Upon having a listen and a read, it became clear what the upsides and downsides were. The sound certainly isn’t bad, though unfortunately it’s a fair few steps away from being an instrument that a professional violinist would pick first.

The upsides to this 3D printed violin are that it’s a bit more hardwearing, and you don’t need a professional luthier to put it together. The color of the filament won’t impact the sound either, like paint on acoustic violins can inhibit sound quality. However, the seamlines and print lines from the violin being printed in parts does affect where sound travels, and plastic (PLA) as a material is very different to that of wood, though printing in a wood based filament could certainly improve things.

The violin itself is also quite quiet, though I consider that a neutral point, especially when practising difficult notes…

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An older video here shows another model with a rather good quality of sound, so it’s very clear that printing violins won’t lead to a dead end, though it’ll be some years before plastic violins will be accepted into an industry and community which is well-known for upholding traditions that are hundreds of years old.

Moving onto 3D printing and electric violins.

Electric violins are pretty different to acoustic violins in a variety of ways. Instead of relying on the body to create the sound, they rely on a pickup, linked to the bridge which is then linked up to an amplifier. This means they sound different, but also means the creator can do a lot more to experiment with form and material choices, as well as muscial style. A perfect opportunity to get creative!

This is the 3Dvarius. Pretty cool right?

After gaining inspiration from the Stradivarius, this intricate piece of art looks like it belongs in a gallery, let alone on the shoulder of a violinist. A lot of time and effort has also gone into the design of the body, including looking at the plans used for making acoustic violins.

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This is the 3Dvarius, pretty cool right?

After gaining inspiration from the Stradivarius, this intricate piece of art looks like it belongs in a gallery, let alone on the shoulder of a violinist. A lot of time and effort has also gone into the design of the body, including looking at the plans used for making acoustic violins. They recently had a successful crowdfunding campaign, which raised over €53,000.

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Many places have been selling this piece as on-par with a Stradivarius violin. Yes, this 3D printed electric violin looks great, but what makes the sound of this violin, is the pickup bridge, which isn’t 3D printed. It also isn’t the first 3D printed violin either. In the video, you can hear the effects which have been added to the sound too. Personally, I love a bit of electric violin with a decent amount of overdrive, but this can’t be done with just the 3D printed body. What I can’t deny about this ‘piece’ though, is that it is particularly beautiful, and well thought out.

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Here’s the F-F-Fiddle

There’s other 3D printed electric violins on the market, though this one is far more of an interactive project, and was first showcased on Youtube in 2014. This one has a printed bridge and a has a pickup conntected to the bridge inside. This is different from the 3Dvarius, and you can hear the difference. There are a few other things which have impacted the sound quality, such as the recording of the video not being professional, and the non-3D printed equipment that it is hooked up to.

This idea of open source design, as used by the Hovalin group, the F-F-Fiddle allows users to edit the 3D model to improve an personalise it. It can also be bought as a kit or fully assembled, also like the Hovalin. This has opened doors for creative people who want to immerse themselves in the musical instrument design world but with no idea where to start.

In conclusion, 3D printed acoustic violins are making designers ponder over the possibility of different materials and methods of manufacture, though their development doesn’t have Luthiers worrying about being taken over by printers. Electric violins however, are allowing designers to explore with form and sound, and allowing them to 3D print different shapes, so long as they are ergonomically viable for a violinist. The secret to their quality of sound, lies mostly with the quality of bridge, pickup and other electronic kit that the electric violin is hooked up to.

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