University of Texas student Sean Riley needed a violin to play a particular piece of music, but not one with the customary four strings. The piece called for an instrument with six strings. But instead of heading to the local music store or shopping online, he opted to design and 3D-print a custom violin of his very own.

Riley – who holds both bachelor and master degrees in violin performance from the Juilliard School, and is currently a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at the University of Texas – is already the proud owner of a 240 year-old four-string violin, but The Dharma at Big Sur by John Adams was written for an instrument with two more, which drops the lower registers of such an instrument down into the range of the cello.

Six-string violins are nowhere near as common as their four-string cousins, but they can be had with a little searching. Wood Violins Viper model comes in at up to US$4,500, for example, while a Prodigy Pro costs a little less at $2,595, though cheaper instruments are available, too. Riley wanted something a little different though, so opted to create his own.

He didn't want to be restricted by the design confines of a hollow bodied, six-string version of a Stradivari or Bergonzi, so he explored an electric violin design with the help of mechanical engineering student Daniel Goodwin and art major Rebecca Milton from the university's makerspace.

The headless creation that slowly formed over the months that followed is a headless design, with the tuning pegs located at the chin rest, and has an electric violin pickup at the bridge.

The main 3D-printed body has been decorated with porcelain pieces made by Milton. Riley reports that the end result met all his expectations and that the instrument's sound is "nuanced and full bodied." You can judge for yourself in the video below.

And if you want to see and hear this musical work of art in person, Riley is set to give his first recital using the 3D-printed six-string violin at Austin's Jessen Auditorium on February 22.

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