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Reinventing the Ukulele

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Playing chords

Ray plays chords on the banjolele

Ray Huff has used his skills with 3D printers to create musical instruments before. He not only printed, but played, two full-sized 3D printed ukuleles. Even then, he never printed something as imaginative as the hybrid instrument Idea2Product’s lab produced. “It’s called a banjolele,” Ray said of the hybrid banjo ukulele. Ray printed the unique instrument for his nephew, Banjo, who will receive the gift on his birthday.

“People ask if it sounds good, and you can tune it and play a song on it,” Ray said as he played a series of chords on the instrument. “It’s a viable working assembly of parts.” Even though Ray has experience 3D printing playable ukuleles, he explained that the banjo component had more delicate parts that made it harder to produce. “The main body of a ukulele has a hollow base and a hole-like box, but a banjo depends on a strong, thin upper membrane.” Ray pointed out that the majority of that membrane is two layers thick, making it like a drum, which is supported by a hexagon pattern underneath.

Ray's 3D printed hybrid banjolele

Ray’s 3D printed hybrid banjolele

The drum allows the instrument to sing. Ray adjusted the four tuners along the top of the instrument, which were also printed at Idea2Product. “It has friction tuners, and I actually used two different materials to get the friction right.” Ray explained that if he had pressed two similar materials together, they would stick and prevent the tuners from moving sensitively. The two materials allow for fine, gentle tuning without sticking. The strings themselves were the only part of the instrument not printed at Idea2Product. “I have attempted to extrude nylon strings, but I would need four different sized nozzles, and the strings would need to stretch to be strong, like fishing line,” Ray said.

As Ray finished his song on the banjolele, he thought of his nephew. “He’s just turning one year old, so this will be special.”