3D-melodica-1

Daren Banarsë is a pianist who also loves to play melodica, but didn’t appreciate the juvenile aesthetic of brightly colored plastic that the melodica usually embodies. “I started playing on one of these toy instruments, but it was frustrating. The notes wouldn’t play fast enough and the tone was shrill and inconsistent. I’d heard of 3D printing, and I thought, maybe it’s time to start exploring this amazing new technology,” he says.

When I think of 3D printed objects, I envision sculptural plastic pieces with characteristic ridges. However, Banarsë’s melodica looks and sounds so much like a sturdy old acoustic instrument that — had I not already known — it would have come as a surprise that it’s almost entirely 3D printed. The key to this is the fact that he “camouflaged” the 3D printed parts with wood and ivory that was salvaged from an old piano, giving the illusion that these materials were used throughout.

Banarsë’s printed instrument doesn’t sound juvenile at all, either. The professional-looking wooden and ivory finish is backed up by a high, crisp tone similar to that of an accordion.

Yamaha-P32D

Banarsë tore apart this Pianica in the process of building his own.

In his search for the perfect melodica, he had tried a number of models and came to the conclusion that he wanted something high quality, loud, portable, and sleek looking. Disregarding its bright blue plastic, Banarsë’s favorite model is the Yamaha Pianica. This is the model off of which he based his homemade version.

In order to design his own 3D model and subsequent print of the Yamaha melodica, Banarsë had to do quite a bit of reverse engineering. He took apart his Pianica to reveal keys, springs, the reed chamber, and reed plates. These components are all held in place by “the skeleton of the melodica, a marvel of concise and efficient design,” as Banarsë describes it. He sawed the skeleton in half for easier access to small details he needed to measure and replicate.

Figuring out what's what

Figuring out what’s what inside the Melodica.

Next, Banarsë considered buying the FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printer before opting to use the services of England-based 3D printing company 3D Alchemy. After discovering that the keys were warping under the pressure of the springs, he decided to change his material from resin to nylon. He printed the keys, turned a wooden mouthpiece on a mini lathe, and snapped it all together.

Turning the mouthpiece

Turning the mouthpiece.

To listen to a demo of this custom melodica’s sound, check out the video below. For more details on the process of building it, check out Banarsë’s posts over at Melodica World.