As anyone who’s ever visited the mind-bogglingly awesome Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Ariz., can attest, people can make musical instruments out of just about anything. At the MIM, visitors can see ancient flutes carved from animal bones and guitars made from old gas cans, to name just two examples of mankind’s musical ingenuity.

Now, a crafty Swede named Olaf Diegel has added state-of-the-art technology to that ingenuity to launch musical instrument craftsmanship to a whole new level. His creation? A 3D printed electric guitar.
From CAD to C-A-D

A professor at the University of Lund, Diegel designed and produced the Telecaster-inspired aluminum guitar as something of test, hoping to test the limits of metal 3D printing. “[I wanted] to better understand the intricacies of the whole process,” he explained. “From ‘design for additive manufacturing’ to the actual 3D printing of the guitar, to the post-processing that is required to go from a 3D printed metal part straight off the machine to a usable [instrument].”

Dubbed the “Heavy Metal Guitar,” despite the fact that aluminum is widely known to be one of the lighter metals, the axe’s intricate design was a true test 3D printing technology. Designed using SolidWorks CAD software, it features a number of intricate details that would’ve been difficult or impossible to create by any method other than 3D printing. (Unfortunately, I could not find any public-domain photos of the instrument to share here, and I’m no thief!)
A significantly less impressive example of a 3D printed guitar.

A significantly less impressive example of a 3D printed guitar.

After Diegel completed the design, he turned the 3D printing responsibilities over to a Dutch company called Xilloc. Xilloc used an EOS M400 metal 3D printer, which utilizes powder-bed technology to print in 0.1mm-thick layers. Because of the high temperatures required to print with powdered aluminum, a support plate was used to both, um, support the build and dissipate the heat to prevent distortion. The support plate was later removed via wire EDM.

Only the body of the guitar was made from aluminum—it probably sounds pretty awful as is (aluminum doesn’t exactly resonate the way alder, ash, or other common guitar-woods do), but it would likely have been nigh unplayable had the neck been constructed in the same way.

To protect the complex details of the Heavy Metal Guitar’s design, Diegel chose to clean and finish the 3D printed body by hand. “In total, it took me about four days to remove all the support material,” he says. “Now that I have developed certain techniques and a better understanding of the support material, I could probably cut the time in half if I had to do it again.” It took Diegel an additional day to install the wiring, pickups, bridge, and neck.

Though the instrument is constructed of aluminum, if Diegel’s first riff on it wasn’t “Iron Man,” he has failed us all.