Student Experiment Updates Clarinet Reeds Using 3D Printing

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As an elementary school student, I played the clarinet for a brief period of time, although “played” might be putting it a bit too nicely. “Insulted” might be a better word – I was no good at it. I mostly decided to give it a try because its name sounded like my name, which is a good enough reason for a fourth grader. It didn’t last long, and I mostly remember hating the feel of the wooden reeds we had to put in the mouthpiece, the purpose for which I didn’t understand at the time. As it turns out, those reeds are highly important to the sound of the clarinet or to other woodwind instruments like the oboe or saxophone. They act as oscillating valves, working with the resonances of air in the instrument to create an oscillating component of flow and pressure and affect the sound produced.

South Dakota high school senior Krishana Kostal is a much more dedicated clarinetist and marching band member who understands reeds and their purpose, enough that she decided to experiment with the sound differences created by reeds made of different materials than the traditional wood. And as we’ve seen, 3D printing can come into play for optimized instrument mouthpieces.

“In particular, I wanted to learn more about 3D printed parts for musical instruments and about the sound quality of wooden reeds sound – especially when it’s cold,” she explained. “Playing in cold weather conditions with a wooden reed produces a sharper sound, so I wanted to test which reed had a better sound quality in a range of temperatures.”

Kostal designed and 3D printed several different reeds using PLA, ABS, bamboo, and HTPLA filaments. She then analyzed their sound quality compared to a standard wood reed as well as tuning forks for different C octaves. She used a Vernier microphone to assess sound quality by comparing overtones and undertones in normal and cold conditions.

The bamboo filament performed the best in both warm and cold temperatures. The reeds made from bamboo made no noise and showed comparable overtones and undertones to those of the wooden reed. The reeds made from PLA and HTPLA produced no measurable frequencies. Each of them cost $0.03 to produce, compared to wooden reeds which cost around $2.00 each.

Kostal did the experiment for a science fair and earned a second place Grand Award, a $1,000 scholarship and a sustainability award from Ricoh.

“I’m pleased that I was able to produce a practical reed that lasts longer,” Kostal said. “Traditional wooden reeds are easy to break and if not cleaned and used properly can get mold on them. The ones I have produced are easily cleaned and they still maintain the necessary musical quality. I even used my bamboo filament reed at our winter concert.”

Kostal’s high school is one of the more than 400 recipients of polymer 3D printers and STEM curriculum provided by GE as part of the company’s Additive Education Program.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunities GE’s AEP is providing my students,” said Julie Olson, science teacher and NSTA/NCTM STEM ambassador at Mitchell High School. “Krishana has used 3D printing to explore the fascinating link between science, engineering and music. And her achievement also shows the rewards and satisfaction that solid, well-planned research can bring.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 

[Source/Images: GE]

BCM: The 3D Experiment: Week 6 '3D printing and physical prototyping'

BCM: The 3D Experiment: Week 6 ‘3D printing and physical prototyping’

For some time, creative technology has been at the forefront of innovation in design and technology, beautifully blurring the lines where form and functionality intersect with art. The key component in the process of finding the correct balance between design and technology in any tangible project has largely been down to the success of the prototyping phase and the reincarnations from each prototype version.  With the affordability and growth of 3D printing, developers, designers, artists and the hacker community can now quickly spin out well-formed ideas as prototypes that may not be far from the final product.

As a lover of vinyl and processing, I was really excited to hear, over a year ago, that Amanda Ghassaei had managed to 3D print a 33rpm record of Daft Punk’s Around the World using Processing and the Modelbuilder Library.

However, before we get ahead of ourselves, the sampling rate of these prototypes is 11kHz (CD quality is 44.1kHz), which is relatively low. Another aspect that is also noticeable in the 3D printed record is that the width and depth of the grooves that the needle runs along are much deeper and wider than those seen on a standard vinyl record. These aspects aside, the real genius is the technology behind the project and how the Processing algorithm is designed to analyse the raw audio data to create a file format for the 3D printer to understand and convert into a tangible prototype. 

Image source: Creative Applications

Sticking with music, another project that beautifully illustrates the cohesion between technology and 3D printing, is the rebirth of the old hand cranked music box from Left Field Labs with Music Drop. Through the website, you can personalise your own ‘Music Drop’ through an HTML5 audio sequencer that allows you to create and save your own tune. This tune is then converted into a WebGL model, exported to a file format for the 3D printer, and finally shipped out to the consumer.

The elegance in Left Field Labs’ process is how the speed and convenience of low cost 3D printing allowed them to prototype more efficiently and help refine the design and final product.

Image source: Left Field Labs

The final product that can’t be ignored is Nervous System’s Kinematics, “…a system for 4D printing that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules”.

Through the website, people can customise their own jewellery that is based on the Kinematics concept, and have their necklace, bracelet or earrings 3D printed and shipped directly to their door. The cleverness in this design process is not just in the complexity of the programming involved, but that the 3D model is printed in such a way that means it does not require assembly.  In their blog, when commenting about this particular project, the Nervous System team made reference to the design of these interlocking components and the difficulties of achieving this, and how the process of physical prototyping assisted in their refining of the concept.

Image source: Nervous System

Whilst low cost 3D printing is in its infancy, it has already made a big impact in not only the products and projects being developed, but also the process and speed at which we can prototype to help further refine initial concepts into well-formed tangible products.

In our series of posts, we have shared our experiences coming to grips with the technical side and process of physically 3D printing, spoken about the opportunities the new technology presents for our industry, how 3D printing is being used by a new breed of innovators (often for the good of humanity), and in this post, on the connection between 3D printing and other technologies. The future, as to where 3D printing goes to from here, is clearly unlimited, as many brilliant and clever minds around the globe latch onto the new technology with both hands and hang on for the ride. We’re thrilled to be taking part in that journey.

Julian Thomas, Technical Director, BCM