3D Printed guitar guru Olaf Diegel’s 2013 vision

Olaf Diegel is the world’s 3D Printed Guitar guru, marrying innovative structures and designs, with tried and tested guitar hardware. His highly customisable 3D Printed guitars made with 3D Systems caused a sensation at the 3D Print Show in London, and will be shown at The Namm Show in California for the first time this year. We talked to Olaf about his plans for 2013 and heard about some amazing new ideas.

Olaf is a long-standing design engineer, and also a bass and guitar player, with a passion for 3D printing. He is Professor of Mechatronics at Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand and runs ODD - Olaf Diegel Designs. He told us that he is always thinking about the right combination of design and sound.

There’s the aesthetic effect, but the guitars are also light as well as sturdy, and they sound good. Besides the fact that my guitars are actually reasonably nice to play, their striking, and seemingly impossible, looks make them an immediate conversation starter. The fact that I can fine-tune the weight is also good because they are not as hard on the shoulder if you play them for a long period.

Teaming up with the innovative Cubify by 3D Systems has opened up a whole new set of horizons.

Since the partnership with 3D Systems to take over the manufacture and sales of the guitars I have had the freedom to play with a few new designs. I have an ‘America’ model nearly ready to go (with a stars and stripes pattern cut through the body and a full sky-scape of New York buildings inside the body), as well as stratocaster and telecaster style designs that are coming along nicely. I have also started playing with a few ideas for entirely new shapes that will be fun.

The guitars are starting to be used by artists from different genres.

I am currently building a 5 string bass for Kenny Lee Lewis, the bass player from the Steve Miller band. Steve Stevens, the guitarist for Billy Idol has also played one of the Atom guitars and sounded absolutely awesome. Hopefully 2013 will see them featured in a few cool music videos.

The world’s first ‘3D Printed band’ - with printed instruments - made its debut at London’s 3D Print Show, and featured a Spider guitar and Hive bass by Olaf.

Here’s composer and instrumentalist Dave Marks giving a taste of an Atom guitar.

The guitar bodies are printed but they all have a wooden core.

We have a slab of wood from the neck to the bridge, which can be mahogany or maple for example with an ebony fretboard.

We use top quality hardware such as Seymour Duncan pickups, though as the guitars are custom made to order, people can have what they want. They really play well.

I now use mostly Seymour Duncan pickups on all my guitars, unless the customer asks for something different. I have a personal liking for a combination of a Seymour Duncan Jazz Humbucker in the neck position, and a Seymour Duncan JB Humbucker in the bridge position. The Spider guitar at the show had that combination. But I have also used 59 models on a few of them too.

Customising means a huge range of colour combinations, and special dyeing. People can even have their name or band’s name printed on the guitar. Hardware such as the bridge and tuning systems can all be specified.

The guitars are made using a process called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) which builds them by spreading a thin layer of nylon powder, that is then fused in the correct locations for that particular slice of the component. The layer is then dropped down a fraction of a millimeter, and another layer of powder is spread on top of the first, and the process is repeated until the component is built. The typical layer thickness is a tiny 0.1mm.

Olaf is always experimenting and has more new gear in his sights, some of which will have radically different sounds from what is currently available, especially when it comes to woodwind instruments. He will be working on these in the New Year.

One of the concepts, which I have pretty much designed in my mind, is a woodwind where I split the air into a number of channels and make them flow over different cavities which allows you to play full chords. Then the player either changes the depth of the cavities, or redirects the air, to play the melody and/or change chords. So almost like a mouth blown pipe organ, but with something a bit more interesting than straight pipes. It will definitely be a New Year’s resolution to get that underway.

Lawrence Smith Fairfax Media

There’s some pretty blue sky thinking going on when it comes to guitars too.

Next year, I will have one of my students working on a 3D printed guitar with completely mobile pickups, so the musician can find their own sweet spot for their pickups, or even change their position while playing.

To my mind, guitars are an almost perfect product for 3D printing. They are high-value enough to make it commercially viable, and musicians are very individual about how they like their instrument to look, sound and feel, and that’s exactly what 3D printing allows you to do. I have some students working on some software that will allow musicians to, relatively easily, create their own unique guitars by dragging and dropping things form a library of models onto a skeleton of the guitar. A bit like the computer game Spore Creature Creator, but for musical instruments. It should be a fun and exciting year ahead.

Olaf can conjure up any kind of guitar he wants, so we wanted to know the kind of music that inspires him.

I listen to all sorts of music, but I do have a soft spot for rockabilly and good old rock & roll - probably because you rarely need more than 4 chords, which makes it fun to play. I have a lot of guitar heroes, which probably show my age - Clapton, Knopfler, Jeff Beck - but because of my leaning towards rockabilly, Brian Setzer would probably be near the top of my list. I saw him play with the Stray Cats, in Auckland, a couple of years back and it was the best concert ever!