The Sweetest Sounds

Making a violin in the Fab Lab

Myra Saturen,

What could be sweeter than the sounds of your own violin, made from start to finish at Northampton Community College's Fab Lab?  Sean Kernan, a self-employed mechanical design engineer and instructor at the lab, knows the joy of fashioning his own violin because he has done it.

The Fab Lab is where inventors and imaginative people go to turn their ideas into real, tangible objects they can use and enjoy, whether they're nameplates for an office or a guitar inlaid with mother-of-pearl.   

Before making his violin, Kernan had produced a remarkable array of articles in the Fab Lab.  He started with a dreadnought guitar and went on to 3D printed spectacles and lenses, a gripper for Tobor the Robot Dinosaur, trophies, a lampshade, a wooden bowl, laser-cut file racks, a robotic golf putter, a multipart sculpture, and many others.  "What haven't I made?" he asks.  

Kernan's interest in creating a violin was sparked by a good friend who plays the instrument.   Additionally, "I have made 3D models of guitars and mandolins, so I had instruments on the brain," he says.  We recently got a large format printer at the lab that allows for the printing of larger objects without the need for the standard gluing and piecing together of standard 3D printing."  

The violin, made of PLA plastic, is modeled on a traditional Stradivarius shape, using Solidworks manufacturing software.  He printed the design in seven parts and epoxied them together.  Then he coated the back, sides, neck, and fretboard with an epoxy resin. Finally, he sanded it to its completed shape.  Tuning pegs, the bridge, strings, and a tailpiece came from a kit.  Using the knowledge he had acquired from guitar-building and by comparing his violin to his friend's, he set the instrument up to make it playable.  Kernan's violin is the first violin ever to be produced in the Fab Lab.   

Kernan describes his violin as quieter than standard violins because the top is thick.  He plans to 3D print another iteration out of carbon fiber filament that will have the strength and lightness to yield a louder, warmer tone.  

Creating his own violin has given Kernan great pleasure.  "It took me back to the process of building my guitar, so it was good to be in the luthier shop," he says.  "Also, I am thrilled with how it plays.  It stays in tune wonderfully, and I'm glad it's quiet enough that I don't disturb my neighbors when I practice.  It's very satisfying that people are astounded when it actually plays."  

Now Kernan is teaching himself to play his violin.  Watch the violin in action in this video.  

Come see for yourself what you can do in the Fab Lab.  The lab offers open access to state-of-the-art technologies ranging from a full metal and woodshop, spray booth, 3D printers, laser cutters, a Sound Lab, guitar-making and repair studio, cold casting, and more.   It is located at 511 E. 3rd Street, Bethlehem.  Call  610-332-8665 or email fablabncc@gmail.com  and is open Monday - Thursday, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm and Friday 9:00 am -12:00.  Other hours are available by appointment. Please call 610-332-8665 to arrange a time.