Olaf Diegel enjoys making music with unusual instruments. He's the designer behind a series of guitars, a set of drums, and a keyboard shell that all came out of a 3D printer. He wasn't content to rest there, though. Now he has a 3D-printed alto saxophone, an instrument that shows both the current capabilities and future promise of 3D printing.
The sax, printed from nylon, consists of 41 components, not counting screws and springs. It's incredibly light, weighing in at just over one pound. While the technical challenges of 3D-printing a saxophone were considerable, the result is an instrument that sounds quite lively. "Surprisingly to me, the sax sounds very much like a sax," Diegel writes.
Diegel used a traditional sax for the template. The whole project took about six months, with the actual assembling time taking several weeks to get the sax functioning properly.
This particular sax is a prototype. Diegel is still perfecting the mechanical function and fixing an air leakage issue that causes a couple of the notes to be out of tune. With his other instruments, such as the 3D-printed guitars, he took a lot of creative liberty with the design. He plans to do the same for future versions of the saxophone, taking advantage of the flexibility 3D offers. His guitars have come in the form of see-through beehives, spider webs, and even a steampunk design with internal gears on display.
Diegel's experiments with 3D-printed instruments have a larger purpose. "One of the reasons I was keen to undertake the project was to show that 3D printing can be used for applications beyond trinkets, phone cases, and jewelry," he writes. He enjoys combining 3D-printed parts with traditionally manufactured pieces to create hybrid designs. It's not 3D printing just for the sake of 3D printing; it's about finding the right place for 3D printing in the manufacturing chain. The side effect of this quest is a series of beautifully printed instruments which can now lay claim to a "brass" section.