Gone are the days of forking over your hard-earned cash to your local luthier. Fancy a shiny new instrument? Now you can just 3D print one.

When Matt Hova saw Autodesk’s Instagram post of David Perry playing the FFFiddle, he and his wife Kaitlyn thought “Here we were printing phone cases and pen holders when we could be making functional musical instruments!” The FFFiddle sparked Matt to dive into the “3D design rabbit hole,” as he chronicles on their blog, and thus the Hovalin was born.

“After spending the first half year designing the violin in OpenSCAD, we realized that the program was just not cut out for the job,” say the Hovas. They opted for Fusion 360 instead:

It took a few months to get up to speed with Fusion 360, but once we were there, we were able to create way more complex and elegant features. There are so many ways to make an organic shape, like a violin body, in CAD. In the end, lofting using guide rails was what allowed up to get the look and print that we were looking for. Since we were migrating from OpenSCAD to Fusion, we had a hard time letting go of the parametric mindset. While parametric design at the sketch level is very powerful, making the entire design parametric ended up being more of a hindrance. When designing with Fusion 360 we label most of our variables, but we do a lot less ‘stress testing’ of how parametric the design is.

Modelling the neck

Modelling the neck

Once the model was designed, it had to be divided in a way that accounted for the constraints of a commercial FDM printer’s build volume. “It’s a weird game that’s most parallel to the idea of cutting up a violin made out of jello so that each piece can fit in a small box and be oriented so that it would not collapse on itself,” say the Hovas. It took months of trial and error before they successfully printed the Hovalin 1.0.

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Design is an iterative process.

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The iterations leading to the Hovalin 1.0

The Hovalin has since evolved into version 2.0, which Kaitlyn now uses as her go-to instrument for gigs:

So what’s next for the Hovas and their eponymous instrument? Besides working on a new iteration that’s more globally accessible (the necessary .375″×.175″ carbon fiber rod is difficult to obtain in Europe), the Hovas are looking to school STEM and music programs.

“It’s become apparent that this project was much bigger than we initially thought,” they say. “The place where a 3D printed instrument, like a violin, could have the most impact, is not necessarily with hobbyist makers, but will school programs. We’re seeing a trend that grade school and high school music programs are being underfunded, while at the same time 3D printers are being introduced to support Math & Science programs. While some people would see this as a set back we see this as the answer. This is a solution that has never existed before, and we are exploring uncharted territory.”

The Hovas are currently working with a a few music programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, with the end goal of creating a full 3D printed curriculum featuring 3D printing violins as well as ukuleles and recorders.

The Hovalin 2.0. Photo by Daniel and Lauren Muller

The Hovalin 2.0. Photo by Daniel and Lauren Muller

You can buy a fully assembled Hovalin from their site. You can also either buy the assembly-required kit, or download the files and print your own.