In the search for radical new instruments through the use of modern techniques, we've found quite a few directions to aim for. After reviewing the possibilities of Rapid Manufacturing, 3d printing is the most upcoming method which also differs the most from traditional techniques. The main difference lies in the additive nature; we can really build an instrument now, instead of forming it out of from raw materials.

In this nature of 3d printing, we can find two different, unexplored, levels we can work on; geometry and structure. The new possibilities in the geometry level come from the fact that 3d printing allows us to have control of the shapes in the inner structures of an instrument, unreachable by traditional techniques. The structure level is about material. The internal structures of the material used for musical instruments is hugely important, with 3d printing we might mimic wood like qualities in polymers.


To make good use of the new geometric possibilities 3d printing gives us, we'll need to carefully consider what kind of instrument we want to make

An inspiring video which shows what unimaginable things become possible with 3d printing


  • Making ideophones like bells and xylophone keys is a labor intensive tasks. If 3d printing could produced tuned objects, it could become a major competitor to traditional bell makers.
  • Having nearly perfect control on what material goes where, there could be better control on which modes the ideophone resonates on. Meaning bells could be made which sound more harmonic then traditional bells.
  • Woodblocks or maracas could be printed in one piece, and made of materials previously not feasible.


  • With multi-material printing, membranes could be integrated in the instrument, in locations not reachable by hand.


  • Reduces manufacturing times hugely, by printing a how instrument in one go.


  • Lighter wind instruments could be made, due to selective strengthening of the walls on the points most stressed by resonating modes.
  • Tune organ pipes to certain harmonics.
  • Making perfect Helmholtz resonators.
  • Folded up tubes for miniature bass instruments.
  • Enhance the inner workings of existing instruments with knowledge from aerodynamics.


  • Easy manufacturing of enclosures, allows for more customized interfaces on modular devices.


New possibilities in structure might be a bit less obvious then the geometry counterpart, but research in this field might make even more of a difference in the long run. The philosophy of traditional instrument builders is to work with material properties, not try to force them. With new techniques we

difference from cast or molded objects, organic structures

With 3d printing we can get precise control of internal structures, so we can make consistent products all over the world, and not vary quality with available woods and their growing conditions.
(more a materials science thing, maybe 3d printing isn't accurate enough for this.)

play with symmetry, cell structure


  • By carefully influencing the density and cohesion in a bell, more control could be gained in damping. (For instance, this bell sounds very dampened, but it does ring!)
  • In the same way, different sound 'shades' could be made in between xylophone and marimba bars.
  • The vibrating element's internal structure could be tuned to the tone it needs to be.


  • A surface could be made partly conductive, so playing interfaces could be made without moving parts or wiring.


A piece of research that could help in this topic, would be something that describes the evolution and popularization of the well known musical instruments. It would be good for instance, to see how the modern brass instruments came to be. Did they get created after advances in metal working, or was there a slow evolution from primitive wind instruments to complex valve mechanisms? Did all the family members get invented in the same period, or did the family slowly grow and made to look alike? Also how did the violin and trumpet get so popular. Do they somehow just sound better than similar instruments (and how?) or might it be something about cost or availability?

Next to some potentially helping research, this website has shown a few specific topics of research:

  • Creation of new tone materials
    • Where one would first try to mimic the properties of would with a polymer through making micro structures. Advanced research would try to make materials that resonate on specific frequencies or dampen unwanted sounds. These materials could perfectly be tested by replicating existing musical instruments.
  • Make use of new geometric properties
    • Where we try new internal shapes. Might make a tuba that can fit in your pocket.

Some interesting links to keep you going
Printing could be pirating ( (

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