Spotlights

Let’s Get Saxy

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Nothing is “free,” kids are robotically trained to get into college, and inflation is just another nine letter word that taints our society (along with “president,” but that’s beside the point). But there are people who, just like 3-D printers, are revolutionizing the way we get the instruments we need to combat this costly economy.

first picWelcome to 2017. Extracurricular activities are no longer “extra,” but mandatory if a hopeful highschooler wants to have even the slightest chance of getting into college – especially a “good” one. How are normal kids expected to find their genuine passions in an artificial attempt at “out-uniquing” everyone else? Nowadays, the college “formula” incorporates a sport, a leadership position, and of course, a musical talent. In a world bursting with overachievers looking to squeeze their way through college admissions, it’s rare to come across a child who has no musical experience. Throwing it back to the good ole Renaissance times, most parents believed that sporting a musical background was necessary to supplement a “well-rounded education.” But sometimes it takes a kid a few tries to pick the perfect instrument before he can become a true Renaissance man. Even Mozart dabbled in a variety of instruments (flute, keyboard, violin, oboe – just to name a few) before he found his true passion as a pianist. Choosing and sticking with an instrument requires intense dedication, time and money. So, what happens if you pick an instrument that’s just not for you?

Meet Brian Weil.

second picA freshman from Baskin Ridge, New Jersey, Weil became immersed in the world of music at the young age of 11. Convinced by his father, a former saxophone instrumentalist, to approach the saxophone, Weil learned to love music and became fascinated by the timbre of different instruments. Ever since fourth grade, Weil knew only the saxophone, though his thoughts often wandered to the wonders of the trombone. The summer after his freshman year, Weil joined the Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra where he got the opportunity to tour Europe and perform at the Kennedy Center. To top it off, he even played with the New Jersey All State Band. Such grand experiences drove his passion for music to college.

Weil came to Duke with a fresh mind and eyes set on revolutionizing the music industry. Immediately after stepping foot onto East Campus, Weil springboarded into Duke’s mountain of resources, eventually coming across the technology that would set him on his path of musical revolution: the 3-D printer.

As an aspiring mechanical engineer, Weil has always been captivated by building things. From playing with legos to creating a hydraulic robot arm, Weil’s no novice to the construction world. Thus, when he discovered Pbone, a company that manufactures plastic trombones, Weil immediately jumped at the possibility of 3-D printing a trombone. Growing up, he had considered the prospect of playing other instruments, especially the trombone, but was unable to due to outside factors and costs.

A typical saxophone, for a beginner, typically costs around $300. A typical novice trombone amounts to around $200. Since experimenting with these two instruments would cost $500 altogether, it’s a more economically sound choice to venture just one. 3-D printing an instrument of beginner level quality would eliminate such costs and allow kids more freedom in choosing an instrument to pursue. An instrumentalist with Weil’s caliber pays around $3,000 for an understandably better grade saxophone. 3-D printing a quality tier instrument would also lessen these high costs.

His idea of 3-D printing a trombone would provide an opportunity for him to finally explore the instrument he never had the chance to play. Courtesy of the many fleeting conversations during O-Week, Weil fortuitously stumbled across Duke’s readily accessible 3-D printing lab and was immediately intrigued. It was set. Weil is proposing to 3-D print instruments to combat the taxing requirements of owning an instrument.

“Being able to create a more affordable student model instrument would encourage parents to let their children explore different instruments, because it wouldn’t put a huge dent in their wallets,” he said.

Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab Studio boasts 60 3-D printers, making Duke the leading university in 3-D technology by hosting the largest 3-D printing farm for use by students and educators. But 3-D printing the work is the easy part. It’s designing the template that’s hard. After a week of dedicating solid chunks of time to exploring the basics of SolidWorks, a 3-D design software, Weil was able to engineer promising blueprints for his quest to revolutionize the music industry. Exporting the file from SolidWorks to an .stl file enables Weil to print remotely from his computer – easy.

“Being able to create a more affordable student model instrument would encourage parents to let their children explore different instruments, because it wouldn’t put a huge dent in their wallets”

Besides his acquired knowledge of 3-D printing, Weil still maintains a strong interest in music. As a dedicated saxophone player, Weil spends a good chunk of his time immersed in the world of music, and thus is familiar with many instruments, especially those that are jazz-related.

“A trombone seemed like a good starting point as there are a lot fewer parts involved,” Weil said.

However, such an endeavour comes with its own attendant hurdles. Printing an instrument out of plastic instead of making one out of metal obviously sacrifices some of the instrument’s tone. But with such a low cost of production, perfection isn’t required. Besides, the point of Weil’s enterprise isn’t to create brand-new superior instruments, it is to open a door to musical exposure normally closed by money.

As Weil recalls from his own obstacles as a musician, “Paying for a good instrument is a huge investment, so high prices have led me to purchase slightly inferior products.”

But through Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab, he “can print an instrument that would normally sell for a couple thousand dollars for virtually nothing.”

You win some, you lose some.

That being said, at this stage of the game, it’s all still trial and error for Weil. Since Duke offers an entirely free printing farm, Weil is encouraged to continuously test his parts to see what works and how to make improvements along the way. By personally testing his instrument, Weil can tell what works, what sounds off and what needs to change.

But through Duke’s Innovation Co-Lab, he “can print an instrument that would normally sell for a couple thousand dollars for virtually nothing.”

“One of the major things I learned throughout this process is the benefit of experimenting.”

third picWith his current trombone trial, Weil is using a PVC pipe as one of the materials because he ran into some complications with the instrument’s model. He is now back to the drawing board and is figuring out how he wants to design the outer slide. After his run with the trombone, Weil hopes to then attempt a more complicated instrument – the saxophone.

“One of the major things I learned throughout this process is the benefit of experimenting.”

What started as a mere hobby may eventually start out to be a future company, but for now, Weil is taking things step by step with his eyes currently set on a successfully 3-D printed trombone. His hope is for money not to stand in the way of passion and that through 3-D printed instruments, students are given the opportunity to explore new instruments and share the love for music that Weil has cultivated.

 

Writer: Joyce Yoo

Editors: Diana Joseph and Sofia Velasquez Soler

Photography Credits: Erin Seong

Web: Noa Saint-Marc

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