Olaf Diegel of ODD Guitars playing one of his Les Paul inspired 3D printed guitars. Source: ODD Guitars
Olaf Diegel of ODD Guitars playing one of his Les Paul inspired 3D printed guitars. Source: ODD Guitars

In this interview with Olaf Diegel, creator and head of ODD Guitars, WhiteClouds talks shop about 3D printing, his instruments' design and creation, working with 3D Systems and more!

How did you first get the idea to design a 3D printed guitar?

I started the guitars mainly just too see if it could be done; as a bit of a challenge to myself. I have always had an interest in music and have been using 3D printing since the mid-90s. I just wanted to see if the technology had gotten good enough to print a real instrument— not just a prototype. And it has!

How did you begin working with 3D Systems?

When I started out, I had a small 3D printer that was only good enough to make a small-bodied guitar, roughly the size of a Steinberger. When I started blogging about them the response was tremendous! 3D Systems contacted me and asked how they could get involved. The timing was excellent as I just happened to have designed a full-sized guitar body, the Atom, and I was looking for someone to print it for me. From there the relationship evolved quite naturally. The guitars were starting to sell beyond my ability to keep up with demand so having 3D Systems produce them and sell them for me was a good match as it allowed me to concentrate on the designs.

Did you do all the design work yourself?

Yep, I do all the design work myself using SolidWorks as the CAD program.

From a manufacturing point of view, how do you get paint and lacquer inside all those little parts?

It took me a while to figure out how to color my guitars. I now use a hybrid coloring systems involving dye and paint. Because I can’t get paint and lacquer to all the little nooks and crannies inside the guitars, I first dye them a base color. That gets all the fine details that can’t be painted to the right color. Then I spray them the right color on all the bits that the paint can physically reach, then several coats of satin lacquer over the top. I also have an artist friend, Ron van Dam, do the air-brush jobs on those with the more complex paint jobs.

What kind of responses have you received from musicians playing your instruments?

Always excellent. When they first hear that the guitar is made of plastic they always look a bit dubious but once they actually give them a try they are always amazed by how good they actually sound.

How do you balance design and tone? Do you ever have to sacrifice one for the other?

These are solid-bodied electric guitars so the body has ‘relatively’ little impact on the tone. The body construction does affect sustain (how long the string vibrates for) but, by inserting a slab of wood inside the guitar between the neck and bridge, I achieve the same sustain (and tone) characteristics as on any wood solid body guitar with a smallish body.

As a drummer, I am curious what the 3D printed drum kit sounds like. It seems that all those holes would decompress the sound, making its tone rather open. I’ve seen the 3D Printshow Band videos but the kit isn’t featured there.

The drums really surprised me. I was expecting them to have a really sharp attack but no sustain because of all the holes. When I hold a 3D printed tom next to a regular wooden tom there is surprisingly little difference. I have seen some other conventional drum kits that also have holes in them. For example, Gretsch makes a kit where the bass drum is made in 2 sections that can be moved apart and leaves a gap between the 2 halves. I’m not the first to put holes in the drum shells.

In what ways do you see 3D printing helping musicians and instrument designers in the future?

To my mind the 3 big advantages that 3D printing gives instrument manufacturers are the ability to make extremely complex shapes that just couldn’t be manufactured with traditional technologies, it allows every instrument to be extensively customized for the musician at no extra cost, as all the customization is don’t in a digital world before you hit the print button and, finally, it allows you to go into production with almost no capital investment, or stock to keep on-hand. You just manufacture your parts as you need them, when you need them.