Scott Summit does unusual things on his vacations. For instance, he just spent a week up in the mountains, taking in the majestic scenery and all that, but also sitting at his laptop creating a 3D model of his ideal guitar. Then he sent the computer design to 3D Systems (DDD), which used its massive 3D printers to transform the graphic model into an actual acoustic instrument that Summit can play.
As far as anyone seems to know, this is the first 3D-printed acoustic guitar on the planet, and it raises all kinds musical possibilities. (As several readers noted, people have already made 3D printed electric guitars.)
As a kid, Summit pined after fancy guitars. “I wanted a $3,000 one like Jerry Garcia would play,” he says. At the time, Summit didn’t have the money, so he spent around $100 on wood and other parts and fashioned his own guitar. “It sounded like crap,” he says.
These days, Summit spends most of his time designing custom body parts and stylish prosthetics that get built from 3D printers. He is, in fact, one of the world’s leading 3D printing and design experts, and he decided to put those skills to use over a holiday, refining his childhood vision.
Since the acoustic guitar would be made from fused plastic, Summit figured it would have some serious shortcomings. If it actually worked, it would probably sound worse than his old $100 model. But chances were the guitar would break under the 200 pounds of string pressure that comes with tightening the strings via a tuning machine. Summit set up a video camera to record what would happen when the stringing process started. “I thought it would at least be cool if the guitar exploded,” he says.
But, no. It worked, and it sounds pretty good. “It’s rich and full and has a great tonal range,” says Summit, who’s been known to play at friends’ weddings and at dive bars.
Summit describes this version as a rough draft. He wants to start experimenting with more radical designs to see how they change the sound. Somewhere down the road he figures people will be able to use software to pick out what sort of treble, bass, or sustain they desire and then print a guitar to match those qualities. “It will arrive in the mail and sound just the way you wanted,” he says.
Earlier this year, 3D Systems acquired Summit’s body part printing startup. He’s shown the guitar to the 3D Systems crew, and they’re thinking about how to advance the idea. The one-off model used about $3,000 worth of plastic and had a headstock 3D printed with sterling silver; the plate on the neck was 3D printed out of stainless steel. “It’s sort of this salad bar of 3D printing,” Summit says.
Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.