Dr. Robert Howe, a reproductive endocrinologist by trade, is also a doctoral student in music theory and history at the University of Connecticut. One day at his practice, Robert was shown technology that would allow him to view 3D images of body parts. Interested by the idea, Robert then pondered how he could apply this technology to his passion for music and musical instruments.
Robert passed his ideas along to music professor Richard Bass and one of the University’s top 3D imaging experts, Sina Shahbazmohamadi. Their conclusion was a system that could utilize CT scans to produce 3D images of antique and delicate instruments. With those 3D images in hand, the group then devised a way to 3D print any parts that were missing from the instruments, thus enabling them to be played for the first time in decades. Shahbazmohamadi developed an interface that allows the scan to view different materials, such as metal and wood, all within one object. On July 29th, the group sought a patent for their process.
The process has already yielded beneficial results, as the group has been able to reproduce the mouthpiece from one of Adolphe Sax’s initial 19th century saxophone designs. While only three original Sax mouthpieces currently exist, the UConn team was able to fit a 3D printed plastic mouthpiece to one of their antiques. Howe tells the Associated Press that the model “is pretty darned good, and it’s an $18 piece.” The talented endocrinologist has also used his technology to play a previously unplayable recorder from 1740.
Howe believes his project is just scratching the surface of the benefits of 3D printing technology. “The universal availability of 3D printing, which is happening as we wait, will make all this work very relevant and not just for musical instruments. The ability to measure and replicate items that are difficult to measure and replicate is going to explode,” he notes.