Musician Edward Jay designs and builds 3D printed concertina

Eddy Jay is known widely in folk circles as an exponent of the accordion, and through playing in a duo with Will Pound.  But recently he has been developing an interesting idea and using modern technology to develop a new breed of instruments.  He has designed and built a new type of concertina, which he presented at one of the three residential weekends of the West Country Concertina Players in Somerset towards the end of last year.

3D printing has been around for a while now, but it is only recently that it has become more accessible and affordable.  Edward explains a bit more about his creation.  “My concertina is almost entirely fabricated on a 3D printer - meaning that it's made of mostly plastic. In the prototype, only the reeds and bellows are made in the traditional way, though I am quite close to fabricating these on a 3D printer too.”

“But 3D printers aren't exactly quick; to give you some idea of the speed, each part on my instrument can take between one and six hours to print. So, having a farm of printers beavering away can speed things up significantly.”  Eddy has three printers.  “It takes just two days for three printers to print all the parts for a single instrument, which I think still has a significant edge on the time required to fabricate all the parts using traditional methods.”

Eddy prints his concertinas in black, grey and red, and he has had to design, print and assemble every single part, roughly 200 of them, many of them being incredibly small, and each bringing its own challenge.  He says: “I couldn’t rely on the nineteenth-century technology of using rivets, for example. Rivets are nails which you compress at one end. But the problem with this is that if you compress it too much it grips so that the levers can’t move. And if you don’t compress enough, then they rattle.  But to get a traditional rivet that is neither too loose or too tight is a dark art. So, I’ve invented a method that does not require a rivet at all - where the plastic lever is held in place simply using the spring.”

And there is scope for the concertinas to be quite different in appearance as well.  “A lot of the printer’s materials these days, they’ve got shine on them. They’ve got glitter in them – for instance, the one I’ve made has got metal glitter in the black plastic, so when it’s under stage light, it will sparkle.  But this is not a toy at all. Every part of it is engineered properly; the stresses and strains, the tension forces and so on, everything has been accounted for. So, it won’t break. This concertina is very solid.”

“Interestingly, I’ve somehow managed to create a concertina sound, I believe due to my material choice, because 3D plastic is hollow! If you didn't know, many early concertina insides were made of balsa wood, or similar woods that were chosen rather for their lightness rather than integrity... which I believe in part gave traditional concertinas their signature sound.  So the 3D printed version I did used what is called 15% infill, which means it’s mostly space inside everything I’ve printed (like honeycomb). So, it’s very light, very strong, and it sounds remarkably like the traditional concertinas.  Also, if a part does need repairs or if a part needs replacing, for whatever reason, it is effortless to print off another one that’s identical. (Or if you had your own 3D printer I could just email you the file!)”

It took Eddy three months to build his first concertina from the time his original plans were made and published on Facebook.  He is now planning a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their development.

Details of the Kickstarter will be on Eddy’s website, where you can also see a YouTube clip of him playing his 3D concertina.