3D printing brought this stunning six-stringed custom violin to life

3D printing can be used for bringing all manner of innovative projects to life — and University of Texas student Sean Riley’s latest creation is just one more piece of compelling evidence. Riley, an accomplished musician and classically trained violist, recently used additive manufacturing to produce an unusual six stringed violin (regular violins have four strings). It turned out great!

The project, Riley told Digital Trends, started when he discovered a violin concerto, named “The Dharma at Big Sur,” written by his favorite composer, John Adams. Sadly for Riley, it was written for a 6-string electric violin: an instrument that exists, but is incredibly difficult to acquire. Even if you are able to find one, the typical asking price is somewhere in the vicinity of $5,000, making it unaffordable for most musicians. Fortunately, Riley hooked up with mechanical engineering student Daniel Goodwin and art major Rebecca Milton to find another solution to the problem: 3D printing.

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The University of Texas at Austin Libraries
The University of Texas at Austin Libraries

“It doesn’t look like a typical violin because I consider the standard violin to be a perfect instrument,” Riley said. “There are already 3D-printed violins out there — the 3Dvarius is a beautiful example of this — but the six string violin isn’t just slapping two more strings on the instrument. Since there aren’t any 3D designs [for] what I was looking to make, Danny had to begin from scratch. The three of us worked together on each detail to the millimeter. The biggest challenge was getting three very busy people in the same room at the same time.”

Ultimately, the project was completed to everyone’s satisfaction, and Riley has now been playing the instrument for around six months. “The next step is the most important to me: I want more music written for it,” he said. “Currently I know of only one piece, ‘The Dharma at Big Sur.’ I feel it is my responsibility to expand the repertoire for the six string electric violin. That is an impact on the music world that I feel I can make.”

Riley says that disaster very nearly struck the day before the instrument’s first performance, when he accidentally broke it. This is where 3D printing demonstrated another of its skills, however. “All we had to do was press a button and, $10 of filament later, I had my violin back,” he said. His first public recital with the instrument will take place on February 22.

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