If asked to list the fields in which additive manufacturing (AM) has had a big impact most people probably wouldn’t think to add music. 3D printed instruments are a thing, as are reproductions of vinyl records, and MakerBot is making the mixtape cool again by printing out a cassette tape body for a flash drive filled with music.
Artiphon is using AM to help create and share music with the introduction of the INSTRUMENT 1, a music machine that has carved out a new product category the company has dubbed the multi-instrument. With assistance from an iPhone or iPod, the INSTRUMENT 1 can be strummed like a guitar or banjo, placed on a musician’s shoulder like a violin, or placed flat across the lap to produce steel drum and drum pad sounds.
The INSTRUMENT 1 is the creation of Mike Butera, Artiphon founder and CEO. With a background as a touring musician and a Ph.D. in sound studies, including research into the phenomenology of listening, Butera decided to combine his academic and practical musical skills to produce a new kind of instrument. The decision eventually led to the INSTRUMENT 1.
“The spark came one night while playing music with friends after a dinner party in Nashville,” explains Butera. “Several people wanted to share new songs they’d written but there wasn’t a guitar in the house. Someone opened up a guitar app on their iPhone and plugged into a speaker dock, strumming the screen, trying to take the experience seriously. Though it was a pretty funny sight, it pointed directly to something very important: mobile devices can be serious instruments, but musicians need a true tactile experience for their creative process.”
Since that initial spark, the INSTRUMENT 1 has gone through five iterations of prototypes. The introduction of 3D printing and rapid prototyping, with help from RedEye, has sped up the design process and offered a sense of flexibility that wouldn’t have been possible using traditional manufacturing methods.
AM also had a hand in building end-use parts for the INSTRUMENT 1. The six-string, six-fret virtual fingerboard, pressure-sensitive strum section and the iPhone/iPod housing were all built on a Fortus 400mc with ABS-M30, a production-grade thermoplastic. The choice of AM over injection molding was based on price and, again, flexibility. It’s much more difficult (and expensive) to change the specs of a mold than it is to tweak a CAD file if changes to the design become necessary.
The INSTRUMENT 1 has been designed for professional musicians, with a craftsman-quality hardwood body, high-fidelity speakers, and other features that serious musicians and sound artists might desire. Future Artiphon releases will use the same general setup as the INSTRUMENT 1, but will be made with materials friendlier for a mass market approach.
“Our plan is to deliver the INSTRUMENT 1, the INSTRUMENT 2, and a full line of musical products that empower people to bridge the gap between musical creation and consumption,” said Butera, also adding the INSTRUMENT 1 is meant for musicians of every type. “We designed the INSTRUMENT 1 to be stylistically agnostic, meaning musicians can adapt the hardware to their own sounds and contexts. We believe in musical tools that adapt to musicians, rather than musicians having to adapt to the tools.”
The INSTRUMENT 1 is still being fine-tuned for its big launch, but Artiphon does offer a beta program for people who just can’t wait. For traveling musicians who require the use of multiple instruments but don’t feel like lugging them all around, the INSTRUMENT 1 may provide a new method for making music.
Below you’ll find a couple of videos about the INSTRUMENT 1.