The Hovalin: Open Source 3D Printed Violin Sounds Great

[Matt and Kaitlin Hova] have created The Hovalin, an open source 3D-printed violin. Yes, there have been 3D-printed instruments before, but [The Hovas] have created something revolutionary – a 3D printed acoustic instrument that sounds surprisingly good. The Hovalin is a full size violin created to be printed on a desktop-sized 3D printer. The Hovas mention the Ultimaker 2, Makerbot Replicator 2 (or one of the many clones) as examples. The neck is one piece, while the body is printed in 3 sections. The Hovalin is also open source, released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license.

A pure PLA neck would not be stiff enough counter the tension in the strings, so [The Hovas] added two carbon fiber truss rods. A handful of other components such as tuners, and of course strings, also need to be purchased. The total price is slightly higher than a $60 USD starter violin from Amazon, but we’re betting the Hovalin is a better quality instrument than anything that cheap.

The Hovalin was released back in October. There are already some build logs in the wild, such as this one from [Emulsifide]. Like any good engineering project, the Hovalin is a work in progress. [Matt and Kaitlin] have already released version 1.0.1, and version 2.0 is on the horizon. Hearing is believing though, so click past the break to hear [Kaitlin] play her instrument.

26 thoughts on “The Hovalin: Open Source 3D Printed Violin Sounds Great

  1. I’m not convinced a plastic violin is better than a cheap starter (wood) instrument… if it was, Yamaha / Hoehner / et al would be turning them out by the truckload already, and schools would be falling all over themselves to stock up on them. Middle schoolers are hard on instruments, while instrument makers would surely favor injection-moldable over carve-and-varnish.

    The violinist sounds good though. Reminds me of the old poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand”. We rarely get a demo by someone who can actually play the thing they built : )

    1. The mastering of the video also saves a bunch, because you can suppress any offputting sounds in the editing. Live, it might sound grating like a cheap violin.

      That said, making a violin out of plastic by the traditional methods rather than 3D printing is more expensive with worse results than making it out of wood. The only reason plastic would be cheaper is because you can injection mould it rather than cut and machine it, but, the process isn’t completely size and shape accurate with shrinkage and creep, so the parts need to be designed with too large tolerances to make a good violin. The moulds for something as complex and intricate as a violin would also cost an incredible amount, and they wear out in use, which makes the tolerances problem worse.

      The first violins could turn out allright, and then as you make millions of them they’d start to turn out worse and worse.

    2. Perhaps the lack of plastic instruments is more down to public perception and what Violin tutors recommend. There are plastic brass instruments out there, e.g. the pBone

      which is a lot cheaper than a brass starter instrument, and sells like hot-cakes, but which has not been copied by Yamaha or Hoehner yet).

      1. It’s not been copied because it is not as good.

        I’m completely unsure why there is a market for pbones at all, side by side comparisons on you tube show that they don’t sound the same as brass, they are more dead and lack the ring that the metal brings.

        They are more expensive than a second hand actual brass trombone, the only place where they make some sense is in the ptuba, where they still have the same sound issues, but the cash saving is enormous.

  2. It might just be the recording – the microphone, YouTube’s processing, something like that, and if I had access to a 3D printer, I’d try one out personally for a more informed critique – but the violin seems to have a particularly sharp tone. That is, the tone is sharp as in it is precise. For a musical instrument, this is a mixed bag. The musician wants to be able to accurately, precisely, and RELIABLY produce the same pitch, but a great deal of the warmth in a violin’s sound comes from the particular resonating characteristics of the material, and artificial materials, including carbon fiber, just can’t give the same full, rich sound.

    However, that’s not to say that this violin is without a great deal of merit and value. The sound quality, by the recording, is more than good enough for student-grade instruments. In fact, the quality of my old student-grade violin isn’t really any better, all things considered. If production of the Hovalin could be made to be both time- and material-efficient, then I could see this thing catching on as a more personalized sort of learner’s instrument, the sort of thing you’d buy for a middle- or high-school student.

    1. I’m printing one of these right now out of curiosity. I haven’t played in many years but I do have a reasonable student violin to compare it to. Not sure I have the build volume for all the parts though. I might have to print the neck at school. I’m going to try ABS and PLA. I suspect the PLA will sound better.

  3. 3D printing an instrument gives amazing flexibility in tuning and design of the violin. Altering plastic composition, percent infill of hollow areas, and addition / subtraction of stiffening ribs can all alter the sound as the player chooses.

    1. Not to mention that the soundboard frequency response could be randomly modified by artificially altering its internal structure through the use of servos, muscle wires etc. driven for example by accelerometers reading the player movements, ditto for strings microtuning. A violin like that would allow much more expressiveness than the best wooden ones ever built.

  4. Is it just me, or is it real musical talent that makes that woman ungodly sexy…..

    Seriously though, this is remarkable. Breakthroughs in music have always been about making music available for the “common person.” This is the kind of thing 3d printing was made for.

  5. The basic properties of the materials require very different design details because of the viscoelastic nature of the basic material (vs. wood which is functionally elastic) and its propensity to damp acoustic vibration. Once you’re willing to work with that, you could hone in on something that sounded reasonably good per @Dave’s comments above.

  6. You should check out the type of plastic used in returnable water jugs until lately. It is a hard rigid low viscoelastic stuff. I get wonderful overtones in my drums with a decay time (-60Db) of 2 seconds, no reverb needed. The more brittle plastics are more suitable for this task. Some of that old school Styrene probably wouldn’t sound too bad, for a few years anyway.
    Hohner wake up, they have made plastic reeds for years.

  7. Difference between plastic injection and this, is that there are no joints, no screws, no glue. So “vibrationely” speaking, this is way better.
    Interresting topic, and you will always get someone to say that it’s not as good as a wooden classic stradivarius. But the thing is, people (myself included) are very attached to the instrument as a traditional piece of handcrafting with noble material, not only the sound it produces. Same goes with “state of the art ancient” and new models.

    1. Actually the body is 3 pieces and the neck 1, so it has 3 joints (I guess glued). Also the body joints are perpendicular to the strings force which is an old known mistake for string instruments. I’ve tried some plastic instruments (better manufactured than this by far) and all of them were quite acceptable for entry level market but really far from proffesional sound.
      Think about this: fingerboard made of printed pastic? no thanks

  8. What would be more interesting to me is to develop a framework to analyse and develop materials for the resonating materials;
    There are so many factors that go into high quality instruments, with different woods, grain densities, wood growth patterns and tree ages, geometries, glues, varnishes, joins, the drying time, differences in strengths between the body and neck, the strength, style, and weight balance between the various parts, the impact of maintenance techniques, frequencies, the suspected influence of long-term exposure to being played on the arrangements of many of the above components over (up to) several hundred years.

    Of course, the fact that in blinded tests (truly blinded with the instrument shrouded to the player and listeners, with multiple world-class players and reviewers) that some modern instruments are equivalent to (or at least reproduce effectively) the “Stradivarius sound” means that there is much still to discover in luthierie.

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