Violins generally come with a woefully inadequate quantity of strings—that’s just a sad fact of music, and life in general. But, if Steve Vai can add a 7th string to his signature Ibanez, what’s stopping you from one-upping him by adding two strings to your trusty fiddle? If you have access to a 3D printer, the answer is nothing at all.
I can sense that you’re skeptical about this—for some reason—so here is some proof. UT Austin’s Doctor of Musical Arts candidate Sean Riley wanted to play a very specific composition called The Dharma at Big Sur, but it required a 6-string violin. Those are rare, and therefore expensive, so he set out to make his own.
Luckily, UT Austin has its very own makerspace located within the Fine Arts Library called The Foundry. Inside The Foundry, students and faculty can find everything they need for rapid prototyping and fabrication. There, Riley met mechanical engineering student Daniel Goodwin, and sculptor and studio art major Rebecca Milton.
Together, they formed the perfect team for designing a new instrument: Riley knew what he needed musically, Rebecca could devise a nice-looking design, and Daniel could create a CAD model and 3D print it. The result, after a year of iterative prototypes, is a sweet electric violin capable of creating some savory music. And, in the end, Riley was able to play The Dharma at Big Sur beautifully.