It’s official. We can now 3D-print anything. At this point, we’ve had 3D-printed skulls, some candy, and a few odds and ends, but Olaf Diegel has created the world’s first 3D-printed saxophone. Instruments are particularly difficult to print because so much of the sound requires the perfect usage of air, not to mention the material can really influence the sound. You can hear a few wrong notes in the video, which are a result of air escaping where it shouldn’t.
A saxophone is an incredibly complex compilation of materials and design. This prototype includes 41 components, plus the springs for all the keys, which were added by hand along with any screws. The plan is to include those as part of the key printout for the next version. He’s also planning on integrating the pads that go under the keys into the next print out, but the challenge that requires a multi-material printer.
This saxophone—an alto sax—had to be assembled over the course of a few days, but Diegal then realized he could only play one note. It was a few more weeks of tinkering and ensuring that air wasn’t escaping where it shouldn’t have been—something he is still struggling with—before it sounded anything like a regular sax. On the upside, it’s really light and weighs only 20 oz.
Diegal makes a really interesting point in the video. He says, “I designed it the way a traditional saxophone is designed and, really, what I should be doing is redesigning it for 3D printing.” It’s a really interesting concept to say that engineers are limiting themselves by only viewing potential designs based on what’s traditionally been done. If we can just put that ingrained thought aside for a moment, it could open up an entirely new industry of product design. The focus should be on the end product, not on recreating the exact same process. You’ll see that in Diegal’s future designs, where he will utilize the benefits and account for the drawbacks of 3D printing. For example, his idea of integrating the pads and keys will correct the problem of leaks. Because everything was printed (or installed) separately, it left room for air to escape. However, if he is able to design it all so it’s one piece by utilizing the 3D printer abilities, he will end up with a much more “traditional” sax. Plus, less assembly required.
This isn’t the first attempt at 3D-printing instruments. Diegal has also created a 3d-printed guitar.
In fact, the inspiration for the saxophone came from seeing a live set at Euromold done by a band made up of 3D-printed instruments.
This may never become a thing in the professional world, but it could significantly lessen costs for beginners and offer some flexibility in design.