3D Print a Programmable Musical Instrument





Introduction: 3D Print a Programmable Musical Instrument

This Instructable is for you to build a 3D-printed programmable musical instrument. I was inspired by the beautiful sound from a real music box so I designed, printed and assembled a 1:1 model.

This is an interesting project for us to apply mechanical engineering ideas to create a music box. I designed the model by CAD Solidworks and printed the components by UP BOX and Form 2. The mechanical motion of the device is realized by the worm-and-gear system.

In reality, I do not own a 3D Metal Printer so the "reeds" of the musical instrument do not sound very graceful. However, the project shares useful experiences about how to 3D design and fabricate a delicate musical artwork.

To build the musical instrument, the following tools and materials need to be prepared.

1. 3D Printers: UP BOX, Formlabs Form II

2. 3D Printing Materials: PLA Filament, Tough Resin, Alcohol

3. Tools: Pliers, Tweezers

In this Instructable, both the Solidworks Part Documents and the STL Files are attached.

Step 1: Mechanical Structure of the Music Box

The music box is made up of a base, a holder, reeds, a notes cylinder, the gear-and-worm system and bolts. You turn the worm driver like a rocker to actuate the motion of the gear underneath it, through which the notes wheel rotates with it. There are a series of holes on the notes wheel where you can insert rods. When the notes wheel rotates, the rods come into contact with the reeds and then vibrations of the reeds generate the sound.

Step 2: Design the Model

Firstly, we design the base and the main holder. The design can be simply achieved by extrusion and cut in Solidworks.

Secondly, we design the acoustical generator, the reeds. We create twelve pieces in the model with evenly decreasing lengths to generate tones from pitch C to pitch B. Each pair of adjacent reeds create equal temperaments. The stronger and more elastic the reeds are, the more clear and melodious the sound they usually produce. If you have a Metal 3D Printer, you will fabricate the reeds with higher quality. After printing the reeds, we should also calibrate the tones with tuner, which means we may need to modify the lengths of each reed until they sound correct.

Thirdly, we design the notes sheet. We cut a hole in a sheet and pattern this feature in Solidworks. In this step, we should make the holes perfectly match with the positions of the reeds. And then we fold the sheet and mate it with a cylinder. This function is realized by Metal-Sheet in Solidworks.

Finally, we design a pair of worm-and-gear system. We can download the parts in the Solidworks Tools Library and modify the components to the required shape and size.

Step 3: CAD Visualization of the Assembly

The base, holder and the reeds are connected by the screw joints (M2.5*0.45). When turning the worm, it drives the revolution of the gear whose motion plane is perpendicular to that of the worm. The revolution of the gear further drives the rotation of the notes cylinder by the rack joints. So eventually, with rods inserted in the corresponding holes in the notes cylinder, the reeds can generate desired sound when turning the hand shank.

Step 4: 3D Printing of the Parts

In this Instructable, the reeds are printed by UP BOX with PLA resin. It is actually not strong enough for the reeds to produce clear sound. If you can do 3D Metal Printing, then you will create and re-program a real music box by yourself!

The other parts, including the base, holder, worm, gear, notes cylinder and bolts are printed by Form 2. The base and holder are printed by castable resin. The notes cylinder is printed by tough resin so it can hold the rods firmly. The worm, gear and bolts are fabricated with clear resin and you can observe their motion more clearly.

Step 5: Final Work

Finally, we have our assembly here. It is a challenge to make such a delicate workpiece.

You can also modify the materials and size of the model to create your own music box. Enjoy the artwork.

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    26 Discussions

    It's new!

    the durability is lower than the creativity, old and conffiable! :)


    1 year ago

    Great idea. A suggestion, you can buy the reeds online, and use tough plastic on the notes wheel, and metal pins.

    Hi Tingyu Qu,

    great idea to make a 3-d copy of a music box, we have in Aistria a long tradition in these instruments,

    don't know who envented it, but longer than 200 years I'm shure. I like also the programming possibility of yours. How is the sound? If you want to hear it louder then set it on a resonator,like wooden door or on a wooden frame of a paintings or classic guitars body e.s. o.

    All the best


    1 reply

    Hi Martin, Thanks a lot. My model is probably a bit small so it does not sound very graceful. But sure, I will try a resonator or to enlarge the model to make better tuning. :)

    I have considered making something similar, but could not decide on suitable material for the reeds. It seems to me that there are few materials that are tunable by length and sound pleasant. Can plastic fulfill these criteria?

    1 reply

    Hi, thanks. Ideally, we should have a Metal 3D Printer. But if we just have a normal printer, then it is better that we enlarge the model and we can chosse PLA resin. ABS is not very good in this case.

    I see what you mean by programmable - by inserting the pins, i can create any music i wish. Awesome.

    There's no video of it working?

    I think the technical name is "Music Box" :-)

    There are 12 pin holes. They are just distributed in two separate layers.

    I'm not sure if I'm missing something, but your barrel appears to only have 6 holes across and there are 12 tines.

    This seems about halfway thought through and you should probably have gone further before publishing it. It appears that you have simply disassembled a musical movement, engineered the pieces to make it possible to 3d print and that is that, To make a working model you have to solve the problem of tuning the reeds and dampers, and making the cylinder so that any note can be played at each spot, and not what looks like alternate notes only, with the holes shifting over as you have there. Not to mention that it seems you didn't even try to pin the cylinder. I think it is established that we can copy stuff with 3d printing. A better project would be to change and use the unique abilities of CAD and 3d printing to make something new. As you mention, a triple size instrument sounds like a good idea and a lot of fun, or a hybrid where you have metal pins and comb sourced elsewhere, anything that makes a different and complete project.

    1 reply

    Hi, many thanks for your suggestions. I should make more creative instructables in future. But I think here we should not be too academic, since the purpose of making instructables is to share interesting ideas with our members.

    Incredible work! Well done.


    1 year ago

    Great job! I am waiting for a video!

    I'm kinda doubting this works, the reeds aren't even touching any "note bump" on the barrel for it to create the sound notes, in fact its very far from the note barrel and the bumps are holes that aren't even forming any note pattern, they're just holes, it seems like its just a moving replica of a music box, though i'm really excited for you to post a video of it working, great concept you got there, i love it! keep it up ;)

    1 reply

    Hi, thanks for comments. The idea is to design a programmable music box so we need to insert the corresponding rods to create the sound :)