November 21, 2017 / 12:41 PM

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UConn Researchers Using 3D Printers to Make Parts for Antique Instruments, Such As Adolphe Sax's Originals Horns

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The next wave of the future is 3D printing. Every day we see a new article talking about how someone somewhere has printed a machine gun, a space shuttle, or a theme park featuring real live dinosaurs. Finally we have an article that's applicable to Music Times: Researchers at the University of Connecticut are using 3D printers to make replacement parts for antique instruments

This story is also one that involves teamwork across a variety of fields, so when they make a film version there will be an excellent montage we're sure. Robert Howe, an endocrinologist was familiar with how computers could create near exact replicas of human body parts. He was also a doctoral student of music history, so he figured why not antique instruments? Howe brought his idea to music professor Richard Bass, who reached out to Sina Shahbazmohamadi, UConn's director of 3D printing in the engineering department. 

Together they've come up with several great conclusions, not just involving the creation of new pieces. The main obstacle for those looking to make new pieces is that experts rarely get the chance to consider the inner workings of antique instruments, as the owners aren't fond of letting them be cut open and basically made worthless. The UConn trio used CT scans to examine the instruments, not harming them but still allowing the team to design new parts. 

One example: The trio looked at one of the original mouthpieces for a 19th century saxophone created by Adolphe Sax himself. Only three original mouthpieces are believed to still exist. Duplicating them could have caused damage and replicants would have been inexact, but CT scans and 3D printing can help the likelihood that the instruments can be played again, which will also help music researchers discover what older music sounded like based on the instruments used. 

Howe himself has since played a recorder dating back to 1740. 

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