3D Printing

UConn Researchers Use 3D Printing to Bring Out the Song in Antique Instruments

Playing for the first time in hundreds of years, antique musical instruments sing with the aid of 3D printing. We have written about the development before during its gestation period. Now, researchers at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have successfully resurrected instruments by printing missing parts that had been lost over time. The process is the result of inquiry from a gifted individual and collaboration between disciplines. The result is a sweet symphony once lost to history.

instrument 3d printing Robert Howe applied his drive beyond his original field, medicine, and took to studying music. The Ph.D. candidate in UConn’s School of Fine Arts proposed his idea to Richard Bass, professor of music theory in the Department of Music. Since the proposal, the two collaborated musicians and engineers at the University to apply 3D printing. They successfully implemented micro-computed tomography to explore the makeup of 18th and 19th century instruments. By working with Sina Shahbazmohamadi, now an assistant professor at Manhattan College in NY, they could utilize Shahbazmohamadi’s new method for using micro-computed tomography to examine antique wind instruments and their parts composed of wood, metal, brass, leather, and other materials.

instrument3 3d printing The process allowed the researchers to obtain near-precise measurements previously seen only in the medical community with such technology. With its advantages, the team could measure molds to the thousandths of a millimeter. Besides the ability to capture precise measurements, the technology could scan antique models and found cracks invisible to the human eye. Shahbazmohamadi says the high resolution of the micro-computed tomography equipment, which can only scan objects of a limited dimension, requires multiple scans of instrument parts.

“The machine goes up to half a micron. You can’t do it by one image session,” he said. “We had to do stitching. We did the top part, then the bottom part, and used an algorithm to stitch them together.”

instrument4 3d printing industry These imperfections, once known, could be overcome and the instruments made playable. One of the key components that needed to be printed were mouth-pieces that fit into old saxophones and other windpipe instruments.

With accurate 3D prints and imperfections fixed, the instruments could be played as they had been centuries ago. According to Eric Rice, head of UConn’s Department of Music and artistic director for the annual Connecticut Early Music Festival, learning more about the construction of antique instruments will also assist in the presentation of early music so that today’s audiences can hear works of composers such as Bach or Beethoven as they would have sounded two centuries ago.

“To figure out how these instruments were constructed and to establish why they sound the way they do and why they are as successful as instruments is important,” says Rice. “You can’t look in the historical record. This research enlists modern technology to allow a dissection of the instrument just as you would do with a mummy that you would like to learn more about but cannot take apart.”