Chicago Man 3D Prints First Ever Plastic Record Cutterhead on a MakerBot Replicator 2

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c1The music world has been embracing advancements in 3D printing for quite a while now. Over the last several years we have seen 3D printed drums, guitars, flutes, and even a saxophone. It’s incredible what can be produced via digital fabrication. One area which has really garnered my attention is that of records. If you are old enough, then you remember these 7″-12″ analog forms of music storage.

Remarkably, we have seen several individuals introduce some very interesting methods of 3D printing the records themselves, as well as the equipment required to unlock the music each record holds. Just last month, in fact, we covered an amazing 3D print by a woman located in New Zealand named Oana Croitoru. Croitoru printed out a hand cranked turntable, and I have to admit it’s probably one of the coolest 3D printable designs I have seen all year.

Just as amazing as the mechanics of a hand cranked, 3D printed turntable is the process in which music is able to be transferred onto a vinyl disk simply by placing grooves into that disk. In fact, the art of cutting a record is dying a slow death, as those who perfected the process decades ago are no longer with us. Additionally, the cutterheads required for the process are rarely being manufactured any longer, and usually will cost you an arm and a leg.

“Cutterheads are a relative black hole of knowledge in the record cutting industry,” stated Todd Mariana, a man with a plan to change all this. “Very few people understand how to repair or create one. Those who do are aging. And, they depend on this knowledge to make a living. The unfortunate part is that when they pass, they take these secrets with them. I decided to embark on a quest to unlock these secrets.”c3

Todd Mariana is trying to keep the art alive, and the equipment available, and thanks to 3D printing this is all now possible. Mariana, who has been writing electronic music for the last 21 years, and currently is the owner/operator of Deep Grooves Mastering in Chicago, Illinois, has set out to 3D print a cutterhead which he hopes to eventually begin selling.

“I would never have made it this far without my 3d printer (MakerBot Replicator 2). It is my only means of fabrication,” he explained.  “I don’t have access to a metal shop, CNC, metal lathe or mill. That is the main reason why this topic is not fully exposed. Few people have even had the means to try to uncover this information. But, 3d printing has liberated me in this respect.”

Mariana is in the process of creating a cutterhead which can be then used to cut records of high quality. The majority of the device is 3D printed, with the exception of a few metal parts which include, “2 screws/washers/nuts, DSub pins and sockets for electrical connectivity, three very short lengths of sewing needle, a small piece of rubber, the record cutting stylus, 6 x Neodymium rare earth magnetic discs, 2 x Neodymium rare earth magnetic washers, 10 pieces of metal dowel used to add weight (they serve no other purpose), and two coils made from specially produced flat enameled wire.”

Coils under magnification

Coils under magnification

Mariana winds all the coils himself under magnification, aligning each turn with the last. Each coil is 4 layers and rated at 8 Ohms DC resistance. Once the entire cutterhead is printed and assembled, which certainly is not an easy process, it needs to be attached to an existing record cutter lathe.

Mariana tells us that he has gone through 11 prototypes at this point, and that within 3 to 4 months this project will finally be ready for retail. Once he begins selling his cutterheads, he will have some of the parts machined out of metal, but will primarily keep the bulk of the product plastic.

“I plan to sell them for $1500 per unit,” explained Mariana to 3DPrint.com. “To give you perspective, some mono cutterheads (not stereo like mine) that are 50 to 60 years old can sell for up to $900. The cutterhead I use to do professional vinyl mastering costs $10K if you can even find one. There is a real shortage of this critical piece in the market. No one has made a true professional cutterhead since the early 1980’s. So, it is the right time, and this is the right medium.”

As far as we can tell, and this has been somewhat confirmed by Mariana himself, this is the first ever cutterhead with all of its critical parts 3d designed (using Sketchfab) and printed.

“That is to say, I’m the first person to successfully cut audio to disc using a plastic cutterhead, explained Mariana.  “Other people are developing cutterheads that use a 3d printed frame and off-the-shelf tweeter speaker elements for their transducers.  I’m building my own transducers.  Every part of my transducers were designed by me.  And as you know (and can now see in the pictures) I even wind my own coils.  Though others have made cutterheads using a 3d printer, I’m the first to make all of the critical parts via 3d printing.”c6

Some of you may be asking yourselves why Mariana doesn’t just 3D print his records like we have seen others do in the past. After all, he seems quite knowledgeable about this method of manufacturing. Well it’s simple, the quality of sound you get off of a 3D printed record is not even close to being anything anyone would want to listen to on a regular basis.

“Because 3d printed objects are created in vertical layers, this is why printing a record will never be more than a novelty that ultimately sounds bad,” Mariana explained. “If you noticed, there is a significant and obvious background noise to the printed records. The vertical striations (layers) cause the playback stylus to move slightly, both vertically and horizontally. Any movement of the stylus results in background noise. The layer size would have to be driven down to something like 1 micron (less than half the average tip radius for a playback stylus) for this effect to be minimized. And, you would still hear something because each layer will not be 100% flat. That is why I never pursued this and instead pursued project Bladerunner. I’ve also considered constructing a record cutting device from an etching laser, but that has its own issues.”

Currently Mariana is working on version 1.b of the cutterhead, which takes approximately 7 hours to print (the main body) on his Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer. It’s quite amazing how 3D printing is able to work its way into so many vertical markets, allowing for designs, both old and new to emerge, bringing back old trends while creating new ones. Let’s hear your thoughts on Mariana’s cutterheads, in the 3D printed Record Cutterhead forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below of one of Mariana’s prototypes in action below.  Further videos can be found at his YouTube channel.

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