3D Printed Mouthpieces for Modular PVC Music Instruments




Introduction: 3D Printed Mouthpieces for Modular PVC Music Instruments

About: Sasha Leitman is a composer, artist, inventor and researcher from California. She has been making musical instruments, new interfaces for musical expression and sound art installations for the last 15 years. …

There have been many instructables and online tutorials for making musical instruments out of PVC but this one is slightly different because it is not a tutorial on how to make a single instrument.

This is a system for making 3D printed mouthpieces that fit into a number of different pvc pipe and vinyl hose diameters so that you can quickly change parts and make a range of unique instruments. This is an idea that is inspired by modular construction toys like Legos, Tinker Toys, Erector sets, etc.

But in this case it is a construction kit for musical instruments!

All of the files and tutorials referenced in this instructable can be found for free here: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/wp/musicmaker/

All of the 3d print files can be found here: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/wp/musicmaker/cad-docum...

Step 1: Basic Concept

Multi-sized shank - The mouthpieces have a multi-sized outer diameter that allows them to be connected to multiple materials.

Modularity - Materials can be quickly connected and disconnected. New configurations take moments to create.

Safe and simple tools - All of the materials can be cut with inexpensive, easy-to-use tools that reduce the likelihood of injuries – no saws or drills are needed.

Free repository of files - Each mouthpiece has both a Solidworks parts file (.sldprt) and a StereoLithography (.stl) file available for download. Most mouthpieces also have OpenSCAD files available for download. 3D

Step 2: Demo Video

If you are the video watching type, here is a video that walks through a lot of this tutorial.

Step 3: Materials

The mouthpiece shank is designed to fit standard 1/2” PVC pipe, 1/2” PVC pipe couplers and a couple of sizes of vinyl tubing. It would work great with Formufit parts.

But don’t be afraid to experiment and look for things that might fit these mouth pieces in your garage/kitchen/junk-drawer or your favorite thrift-store/hardware-store/junkyard.


1/2″ PVC pipe

1/2” PVC couplers

1/2” ID Vinyl tube

3/8″ ID Vinyl tubing

3/8" Square dowel for creating holes in 1/2" tubing (explained later)


Electrical Tape

If you are in a Metric country, the mouthpieces on the website are also available in shank sizes that fit metric 15mm PVC pipe, 15mm PVC couplings and 8mm vinyl tube.

Step 4: Tools

In addition to access to a 3D printer, you will need some way to cut your pvc and tubing and perhaps cut holes into your materials.

This is a recommended set of tools for a teaching environment because they are relatively safe - it is harder to lose control of a tubing cutter than it is a saw, for example. If you already have your own set of tools that can cut through pvc and make holes in tubing, there is no need to acquire these special tools.

Recommended Tools

PVC/Tube Cutter (approx. $20USD)

Small Leather Punch (approx. $8USD)

Standard or Stubby Hammer (approx. $8USD).

Optional: Hose Cutter This is not necessary but it is one of the most useful specialty tools I own.

Step 5: Multiple Shank Outer Diameters

One of the fun things about this system is that each mouthpiece has three outer diameters so you can attach it to different materials.

The smallest outer diameter fits into 3/8" vinyl tubing (which is fun to spin around).

The medium outer diameter fits into 1/2" PVC and vinyl tubing.

The larger outer diameter fits into 1/2" PVC couplers.

Step 6: Mouthpiece Types

There are three mouthpieces:

1) Trumpet

2) Alto Saxophone

3) Whistle

All three mouthpieces should produce sound before you attach them to any pipes or tubes.

Note about the Saxaphone: The saxophone uses a standard alto sax reed that can be purchased at music stores. You could always try printing your own reed but it requires a more high-end printer than most people have. You can use either tape or a rubber band to hold the reed to the mouthpiece. Getting the reed lined up is one of the tricks of making a good sound. Play around a bit until you get it right but basically, it should be just inside the edge of the curved part of the mouthpiece.

Step 7: Print the Mouthpieces

For each mouthpiece, there is a zip file with Stl, Openscad and SolidWorks files. The whistle currently does not have a SolidWorks file.

The files can be found here: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/wp/musicmaker/cad-docum...

You should use whatever printer settings you normally use. The mouthpieces require average rigidity and smoothness but do not need to be perfect to make sound.

Step 8: Cutting PVC

Pipe Cutters are a great way to cut pipe safely.

They consist of a round bade and a jaw that has an adjustable size. You position the bade where you want to cut the pipe and then use the large knob on the tool to squeeze the blade into the materials slightly.

Spin the tool a full circle around the pipe and the blade will cut into the material.

Each time you spin the tool around the pipe, tighten the knob a half turn.

After a few repetitions of this, the pipe will be cut all the way through.

Step 9: Electrical Tape Gaskets

There are minor variations in PVC pipe. This means that some pipes and fittings will fit together snuggly and some will be loose. The same goes with the mouthpieces and the pipes and fittings.

Electrical tape makes a FANTASTIC gasket to ensure a snug fit for loose fitting parts. If you find that too parts won't stick together, wrap a few wraps of electrical tape on the part that is going to go into the other part. Depending on the looseness of the parts, you might need to add more or less tape.

This is also a great way to mate parts that are not necessarily 1/2 pvc plumbing pipe sizes - for example, items that you might have found in scavenging around your house or junkyard.

Electrical tape is great because it comes off easily and provides a smooth surface. It is also usually a thinner width than duct tape so it is easier to handle and doesn't need to be cut down to make it fit on the mouthpieces. But you can use any tape you like if you don't have electrical tape.

Step 10: Making Tone Holes

Tone Holes are how different pitches are created in brass and woodwind instruments.

But drilling holes into curved surfaces is not a trivial endeavor and requires a more advanced level of skill with tools than this project assumes.

Fortunately, the vinyl hose is ridged enough to be used in a fashion similar to the middle section of a recorder – complete with fingering holes. The finger holes can be cut using a leather punch tool and a hammer.

Insert a square dowel is into the hose to act as a sacrificial surface that prevents the punch from cutting two holes across the circumference of the hose.

Hit the leather punch a couple of times with the hammer and you should be able to create a small hole in one side of the tubing.

If you want more information on the location of tone holes, check out this tutorial:


Step 11: "Erasing" Holes With Tape

If you make a mistake or want to try a different set of hole patterns, just cover up tone holes with electrical tape. It will work almost as well as if you had never made the hole in the first place!

Step 12: Create Some Different Configurations

Make some weird stuff! Make some glorious and obnoxious noise! Do whatever you want with these mouthpieces and this system!

Step 13: Some Acoustics Lesson Plans

There are some simple acoustics lesson ideas on the tutorials page of the MusicMaker webpage.


Tutorial material is provided on: Pipe Lengths, Does Diameter Matter? Hole Patterns, Adding a Bell, Doppler Horn, and Sympathetic Vibration

Most tutorials have sections on:

Hands On Activities

Simple Explanation of the Acoustics Involved

Ideas for Further Experimentation

Some Simple Math Explained

Suggestions for Further Learning

Step 14: Common Questions

Does the three-tiered shank hurt the acoustics at all? The mouthpieces make plenty of sound and sound good. But several aspects of the design are optimized for flexibility, not perfection. As tated in the intro, these are not designed to be precision instruments with perfect sound and intonation.

Can I replace my band instrument with this mouthpiece? Not really. Real instruments are amazing works of craftsmanship and this instructable is not meant to replicate that kind of attention to detail.

Do you have any intentions to transfer this into other CAD formats? Yes but I'm not sure when I will get to it - if anyone else wants to do that, it would be awesome and I will update the files.

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