Restoring A Violin With 3D Printed Parts



Every family has an heirloom. It might be a watch, a book, or a stuffed pet. [Mike’s] family heirloom was an antique violin. Well, not an entire violin. This particular violin consisted of a detached neck, a body, and one tuning peg. As far as [Mike] knows, no living member of his family has heard it played.  [Mike] decided to restore it to playable condition.

[Mike’s] violin had been brought over to America when his family emigrated from France. The primary reason it has been saved is because it bears the name Stradivarius.  Stradivarius copies and tributes are plentiful in the wild. Many of the copies are now antiques and good playing instruments in their own right, though not nearly as revered as the real thing. [Mike’s] first step was to determine if his violin was a real Strad, or a copy. Luckily he was able to get in touch with the caretaker of a real Strad in Milwaukee. It turns out that the label on his violin marks it as a copy. According to the caretaker, genuine Stradivarius instruments were signed directly on the wood. The caretaker was further able to identify that [Mike’s] violin was about 100 years old, and a relatively cheap model for the time.

While it wasn’t a real Stradivarius, the violin was still an important part of [Mike’s] family history, and deserved to be played again. Rather than re-create the missing parts to perfectly match the originals, [Mike] decided to use the resources of the Milwaukee Makerspace to create 3D printed parts.

Similar violin parts were scanned at the Makerspace. The final .stl files were sent to Shapeways for printing. [Mike] sent all the parts to a luthier for final fitting and assembly. [Mike’s] family heirloom is no longer an item to be hidden away, but a living breathing instrument for a new generation to enjoy.



33 thoughts on “Restoring A Violin With 3D Printed Parts

  1. Fugly as all get out. Why didn’t they actually restore it instead of just gluing a bunch of tacky plastic parts to it? The luthier should be shot. Even a fake Strad, when (correctly) restored sounds very nice due to the age of the wood – I bet this sounds like it looks.

      1. Nobody can. There have been at least two studies that got some of the top violinists to play a mix violins ranging from brand new to multi-million dollar Stradivarius’, and none of them did better than chance at picking which were the “good” ones.

        A good violin is a good violin regardless of it’s price or heritage.

    1. I’d just like to point out that none of the parts that were replaced use glue in a standard violin. The chin piece is held on with clamping force. The tail is held on with the resistance from the strings and the pegs are typically just a very snug fit.

      1. As an honest-to-goodness luthier I applaud the idea but not the execution. It takes me considerably less time to make and fit those parts in wood than with a 3d printer. There are a great many uses for a 3d printer in a violin shop (about to reprap one for use there actually) but I wouldn’t call this one of them. The apprenticed/degree-ed/doing-this-for-a-living part of me cringes at this…but the DIYer in me jumps for joy.

        1. > As an honest-to-goodness luthier…
          > about to reprap one for use there actually

          You need to send some stuff into the tip line. There’s HaD Projects too.

          Most of the 3D printed instruments I’ve seen are… uh… not the usual way of doing things. I’d love to see what an actual pro can do with a 3D printer. Jigs and molds, maybe?

  2. This is one of the issues I have with this entire new generation of techonolgy. Sure CNC laser cutting machines and 3D printers are neat but undearneat it all I fear people will forget how to use their bare hands to make things.

    Or maybe I’ve been watching too many Roy Underhill videos.

  3. Neat fix. Making a mold of the parts might have been simpler than scanning and sending to shapeways. Smooth-On has some pretty good liquid plastic and rubber. The quality is a lot better than scanning and printing.

      1. There are a number of carbon fiber and funnily-shaped balsa violins that easily compete in “best sound” competitions. The balsa designs manually move the resonant regions around by selective reinforcement (to produce antinodes), so it is not the balsa wood’s internal structure that create the designs’ sound.

        1. Carbon fiber can sound good, but it doesn’t sound the same. They’re obviously different, and if you have an ensemble where one guy has a carbon fiber instrument and the rest of the musicians have traditional ones it sounds…weird.

  4. I think it is a beautiful piece and looks like an act of love from being hidden in pieces in a drawer to being displayed on a wall for everyone to enjoy. He did not state that he was a musician, and in fact mentioned that if he were to make it acoustically sound, he can, he didn’t ravage the piece only made it a work of Art!

      1. Not to mention the value of the piece is in it’s history for the family, by being as involved as he could be in the restoration, it’s only significantly added to the heirloom value.

  5. Greetings, Hackaday. I am Pete, and Mike is the guy who did this project. I thought I made that clear in the story submission, buy maybe not? Anyway, change all the “Peter” strings in the story to “Mike”. (We’re fellow members of Milwaukee Makerspace, btw.) Thanks!

  6. I’d love to know whether he also 3d printed the post and had the luthier replace it inside the instrument, since that would have the most drastic impact on the sound other than the bridge itself. I highly doubt the original was still standing/intact after this much time unstrung.

    1. @N8Sayer
      Note for anyone in this position: sound post isn’t just for sound, it’s for structural support! Never play–or even tune–a violin or related instrument that doesn’t have one in place.

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