Several maker musicians have already built themselves some pretty great 3D printed guitars, but any that are truly playable were made using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) or SLA (Stereolithography) 3D printers. Guitars made using a standard FDM 3D printer would probably be far too delicate for proper use, and would most likely lack the sturdy structure needed for a great sounding guitar. But advances in 3D printing material sciences are really changing what desktop FDM 3D printers are capable of, and designers are learning that you don’t have to 3D print everything, but sometimes it is smarter to combine printed parts with standard parts to make something even better.
3D Printing Solutions Australia‘s CEO, Michael Tyson, wanted to really push the limits of the new line of advanced filaments from Polymaker and prove to his customers how versatile FDM 3D printing is becoming. Using Polymaker’s super strong PolyMax filament he was able to design, print and fabricate the body of this amazing, fully functional 3D printed electric guitar. The completed PolyMax guitar is a hybrid instrument that is made up of the 3D printed body combined with a real maple wood neck and a mahogany block mounted inside of the body.
The real wood components ensured that the guitar had a deep tone and consistent sustain, making the sound on par with traditionally manufactured instruments. The body not only needed to be designed to fit the wood and electric guitar parts that Tyson sourced, but it also had a complicated design that incorporated the four suits in a standard deck of playing cards embossed into it. Using 3D printed components reduced the cost of making his own guitar, but it also allowed Tyson to affordably and quickly alter and adjust his design as needed throughout the fabrication process. Additionally, Tyson can create a new 3D printed body for his guitar and swap it using the same sourced parts in under an hour.
“Typically, musical instruments produce prototypes using wood or metal, which is understandable but can be costly, time consuming, and leave room for error. 3D printing prototyping allows for greater control and the ability to quickly make miniscule or significant changes that are perfectly accurate. This process can eliminate countless hours of trial and error while reducing production costs and generating a quality model,” explained Tyson.
Here is some video of 3D Printing Solutions Australia’s Matt showing off the guitar and demonstrating exactly how good it sounds:
Tyson’s guitar was printed on an Up! Box 3D printer, but despite its large printing bed (255 x 205 x 205 mm/10” x 8” x 8”) the body still needed to be divided up into four individual parts. Unfortunately printing parts that large is pretty tricky, and in order for the instrument to be playable it would need to be made from a harder material like, typically, ABS. But at that size the ABS parts would be very susceptible to warping issues, even with a heated bed, which could potentially ruin the entire build. But because PolyMax has an impact strength nearly ten times harder that of standard PLA and 20% harder than ABS, Tyson had no warping issues and he says that the body is extremely durable.
Once the parts were printed, Tyson carefully glued them all together using an epoxy resin. He then started the post processing and finishing using several tricks to make the seams where the parts were joined virtually disappear. First he used a process called plastic fusion welding which involves using short lengths of filament melted and smoothed into the gaps with a Dremel hand tool. The guitar body was sanded down, given a coat of plastic primer and then a high build primer that would further eliminate any remaining striation or gaps. After yet another light sanding Tyson sprayed on the striking blue metallic paint and sealed it with some thick, clear coat lacquer.
It is vitally important that material manufacturers start to create filaments with a wide variety of uses, giving desktop 3D printer owners entirely new options for incorporating FDM 3D printed parts into their projects. Advanced materials like Polymaker’s PolyMax really extend the practicality of FDM 3D printing by increasing the amount potential uses. By making 3D printed parts almost indistinguishable from traditional parts, it allows craftsmen and artists an entirely new set of tools to help keep their crafts alive and viable.
You can find out more about the entire line of Polymaker advanced materials on their website, and you can read more about Michael Tyson’s guitar over on the 3D Printing Solutions Australia website–and download the STL files to make your own (for personal use only).