3D printing lets antique musical instruments be played again

3D Printing Antique Musical Instruments

Dr. Robert Howe, a reproductive endocrinologist and a doctoral student at University of Connecticut in musical theory and history, has come up with a way to marry medical scanning technology with 3D printing in order to repair antique musical instruments so that they can be played again.

Howe learned how to use CT-scanning in his practice to make 3D scans of body parts and he soon began thinking about how it could also be used on musical instruments. Together with his musical theory professor and an engineering professor who specializes in 3D imaging, Howe began making detailed 3D scans of centuries-old instruments to not just study them from every angle, but also to then 3D print copies of parts that would allow them be played.

The technology has let them examine 18th-century horns from the inside-out, showing them to be much more complicated than was thought and a new technique that allows them to scan metal and wood at the same time has allowed them to make exact 3-D images of the mouthpiece used on one of the first saxophones made by Adolphe Sax in the 19th century.

Only three of these mouthpieces exist in the world and in order to duplicate it, the original mouthpieces would have to be measured by metal calipers which could damage the wood. After that, the part would have to be handmade through a long and costly process. 3D scanning and printing on the other hand is allowing them to make duplicates with exact dimensions without harming the instrument piece and for only about $18 a part.