CNC Machining For Musical Instruments

Guitar CNC Machining

The music industry is a massive revenue-generating behemoth, with the sales of musical instruments alone making up for 4.5 billion dollars annually. As any musician may attest to, producing precise electric and acoustic instruments requires a fair bit of know-how and precision. That’s where CNC machining comes in, producing premium guitars, violins and so much more, for both the major mass-market producers and the smaller operations.

This article aims to look at the further advantages CNC brings to the table and examine use cases from companies and researchers.

High-Quality Instrument Reproduction

CNC machining instruments have many advantages over most other forms of manufacturing. It can be fast and dimensionally accurate, lending itself to a far better pace of mass production. Similarly, CNC machines can copy a range of shapes that consumers may desire and many shops aim to replicate the builds of classic, high-quality instruments to varying effects.

One such example from the latter category comes from a project undertaken by radiologist and two violin-makers, who set out to recreate 1704 Stradivarius violin. With the use of these in-depth tools, they were able to remake the form and precise structure of one of the most expensive violins ever. The research wasn’t just for show as it also examined the acoustic qualities and the intricate wood carving that gave the Stradivarius violins a unique sound. The project also gives violinists around the world a cheaper alternative to these classics.

Using the CT scan, they assembled 1000 CT images from which to derive the body. Then, with the aid of a CNC machine custom-made by Steve Rossow, they carved the scroll, along with the front and back plates of the violin from various different woods. Then Rossow and Waddle finished the pieces, put them together and varnished the instrument.

They were able to create a faithful replica of the instrument and copy the detailed wood structures inside it to match a faithful sound. The project illustrates how the immense precision CNC machines offer can not just copy the looks of a classic violin but help capture its acoustic qualities, which can be crucial for instruments.


Prototype Guitar

Ease-of-Use For Smaller Shops & Mass Producers Alike

The ease-of-use that CNC machining provides has allowed many shops to create their own goods with minimal labor while economizing on time and resources. The past two decades have seen CNC machining become a form of manufacturing that most guitar-makers can access. Smaller, cost-efficient CNC machines are now found in the workshops of hobbyists and guitar builders alike. This has allowed them to match a lot of the flexibility and productivity of their larger counterparts in the world of guitar manufacturing.

As a bigger company in the guitar-manufacturing realm, Taylor Guitars uses a Haas VMC to carve out the wood for their guitars. As a result, they have an impressive output, making 8 necks in about 35 minutes of cycle time. Fender, similarly, uses a VMC machine to great effect in their operations.

This also goes into the most prominent piano makers. For the same work-period as traditional manufacturing, Yamaha was able to create 20 times the number of pianos with the help of Datan’s CNC machining techniques. To a different effect, Schimmel Pianos uses CNC primarily for its accuracy, adding fine details at sizes amounting to a hundredth of a millimeter.

But in the cases of smaller shops, there are still many that follow a similar route. Thorn Guitars CNC machined its products in much the same fashion as Fender, providing high-end guitars as compared to mass-manufactured ones. On the other hand, there are shops that produce CNC guitar parts for those more interested in putting together their own axe. Shops like sell pre-CNC machined fretboards for other guitar manufacturers or hobbyists to buy. Their production is on-demand and caters to a wide range of customers.

Mixed Approaches Can Save Time & Cost

Even aside from recreating expensive classics, the art of restoring has seen some major leaps due to CNC machining. Not all makers have been privy to the larger, expensive machines but that hasn’t stopped them from achieving results by mixing and matching manual production techniques with milling technologies. This approach has also allowed makers to take the best parts of manual machining or carpentry and mix them with CNC machining. As a result, they create far more robust processes that mix these methods to produce interesting results.

In guitar manufacturing, there is a range of purposes the machine can serve depending on the maker’s needs, the required level of automation and the size of his wallet. It goes without saying, not all milling devices will be able to handle the whole body either due to size or capability restraints. The smaller devices can help engrave and carve designs or smaller components. In fact, a guitar maker might just opt for a smaller machine if he wants something for some finishing touches but also wants to retain the feeling of an artisanal instrument-making process.

If the hand-made woodcarving style of violin or guitar body is something the maker wants to keep intact, they are still smaller components that would be efficient to the machine. From fret slots to tuning knobs, smaller and cheaper machines can still pull their weight on these components, freeing up a lot of hassle.

Another example comes from the world of violin restoration, showing a truly mixed approach to producing full bodies. Fixing a violin may not always be the job for a CNC machine, as there are many details within the wood to consider with a keen eye and ear. Thus, these types of jobs are best done with more manual input, but this doesn’t discount autonomous machining entirely.

Restorers in Italy have been mixing manual gouging, preparation and scraping with CNC milling and 3D scanning to great effect. The mixed-method approach allows them to better manage and decide which parts a machine would be best suited to handle. In doing so, the violins are created with a restorer’s attention to detail and CNC machine’s precision.

Overall, there are many ways technology is used. It can supplement traditional modes of production and in some cases replace them. It also has the ability to recreate old forms or aid in realizing new ones. CNC machines will continue to be a prominent part of musical instrument production.

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