Rhett Price is accustomed to recording music and performing at shows using a wooden violin that’s been around for at least two centuries. So when he recently picked up and experimented with a plastic instrument, it felt completely foreign to him.
He was even doubtful it would give off the right sound.
But once he plucked the strings of Somerville-based Formlabs Inc.’s latest musical project, a 3-D printed acoustic violin, the former Berklee College of Music student and recognizable MBTA busker was surprised by the music it was able to produce.
“Of course it doesn’t sound like a Stradivarius — but it doesn’t cost millions of dollars either. It feels great, and intonation was spot on,” said Price. “Plastic doesn’t vibrate the way wood does, but they did an incredible job of making the walls of the violin thin enough to vibrate and create a good tone, while keeping it thick enough so that the plastic won’t warp or cave in easily.”
The violin was created by Formlabs engineer Brian Chan, using the company’s high-tech “Form 2” desktop printer, and their updated “white resin,” the liquid material that hardens to create 3-D shapes based on detailed computer designs. Additional components that couldn’t be printed, like the strings, were added later.
In a post about the design and printing process published to the company’s website, Chan explains that he built a few prototypes of the violin before settling on a final product that was able to stand up to Price’s fast-moving fingers and swift-moving bow.
The company tapped Price to test the violin because of his local ties and viral YouTube videos, he said. As part of the musical partnership, Price spent the weekend working on a track for Formlabs. The company produced a video of the musician using the instrument to highlight its durability and sound.
Price said he worked with the company as they tinkered with different versions of the violin. Throughout the process, he was impressed by Formlabs’s ability to actually print a workable instrument, he said.
“I gave them input on what I thought would help the tone, weight, and volume of the violin,” he said of working with Chan. “It certainly sounds better than any other 3D-printed instrument I’ve ever heard.”
Price isn’t the only one who can take the instrument for a spin. Formlabs has posted on its website the design’s source files.