3D Printable Modular Synthesizer Control Keyboard


Tim Trzepacz of SoftEgg, creators of the Nintendo DSi music app Rhythm Core Alpha, has shared a set of design files for a 3D-printable modular synthesizer controller keyboard.

The 3D design files are Creative Commons licensed (Attribution – Non-Commercial – Share Alike), so you’re free to download, use them and mod them as you see fit.

Here’s what they have to say about the Modular Synthesizer Control Keyboard design:

Modular design allows you to print as many sections as you need. Need another octave of keys? Print all you want?  Want 5 modulation wheels? You can do it!

This design has many useful features for the DIY synthesizer designer!

The front panel has a grid embossed on the back for easy drilling of holes for knobs and sliders; never worry about the drill sliding away from you again!

The bottom includes mounting holes for screwing down circuit boards. The edges have grooves in them so that the parts will not jump out of alignment. The whole design is designed to be fastened together at the ends with threaded rods through all of the parts.

The parts are currently designed at a very small scale so that you can scale it up to any size that you need.

The file “keyboard6.stl” is an exploded view with all of the parts, and is only for an overview of the design, not for printing.

This looks like a huge project, so we’d be interested in anyone’s experiments and experience with this.

3D printable music gear is one of the trends we cited in 2010 in our 10 Predictions For Electronic Music Making In The Next Decade:

You’ll design your own instruments – in the last few years, synth “hot rodding” has grown in popularity. You can get Roland TB-303’s with mods, keyboards with customized paint jobs and custom LEDs and end panels in the exotic woods of your choice. This is going to go mainstream in the next decade, with gear manufacturers offering you the option to order your gear completely customized.

Advances in manufacturing technology are going to push this further, though. In a decade, you’ll design your own instruments, you’ll test them out virtually and they will be “printed” to your specifications.

We’re still a long way off from this prediction, but projects like these are moving this closer to reality.

18 thoughts on “3D Printable Modular Synthesizer Control Keyboard

  1. The last home 3D printer I messed with a few yeas ago still produced slightly bumpy surfaces, or maybe ridges would be more accurate. They would produce pretty uneven keys.

    I would really like to see some actual photos of printed keys, etc and details on exactly what printer he recommends for this project.

    If this requires a very high end home printer or submission to any of the print on demand type places, it would be an expensive way to go about making a keyboard.

    1. 3D prints are definitely still ridgy/lumpy, but fuming with isopropyl alcohol can go a long way towards smoothing them out. I’d be more concerned about the tensile strength of the keys and mechanical parts than with the smoothness, to be honest.

  2. … modular
    your choices are mod wheel, end cap, blank space, and keys

    the only thing I could thing to do with this is make a 25 key keyboard out 25 mod wheels
    that would be dope

  3. I’ve got friends who are constantly printing crap, and I do mean crap. Worthless printed junk can be found all over our office. They are obsessed, and the mere hint of a project has them staying up all night so they can come in the next day with some ugly plastic thing they think is the greatest. I am not showing them this article – no way.

    1. what you print is only limited to your imagination and printer capabilities…. so, if you cant think of a way to make something useful or not “ugly plastic” then you aren’t trying hard enough

  4. This sort of stuff is, to me, the problem with 3d printing. People have a habit of using it as a panacea; They try to use 3d printers for everything, rather than picking the best materials and processes for the job. Trying to make a keyboard like this will leave you with a plastic-y thing with a poor keyboard response and a lack of solidness; You’d be better working with a mix of CNC routed parts, A bit of laser cutting, a bit of 3d printing, and some standardised hardware. This, I’m afraid, is a kind of pointless exersize.

    1. A project like this isn’t a replacement for mass production – it’s intended to streamline customization and to validate ideas.

      If this design works well, the components could be mass-produced efficiently, providing a cheaper apptoach to custom controllers.

      And if the design is flawed or incomplete, anyone is free to modify it or add to it.

      1. Well we have no idea how it works or even looks, because all that we ever get is alink to this guys files for printing.

        I would really like to see an actual printed keyboard.

        As is, it’s much better and easier to simply mod an existing midi/usb board.

  5. Hyper-precision aside, I am interested in using 3d printers to create simple duplo-block style midi controllers that my 4-month can use to, for example, modulate the lfo speed of an arpeggiating synth. Keep it simple: Some potentiometers etc sent by mail, large 3d-printed blocks, buttons, and dials, and maybe throw an arduino in the mix… I’ll have him designing patches by the time he’s a toddler! At the very least, he’ll have a deeper understanding of sound — better than what a Baby Einstein toy can offer.

  6. 3-D printing makes many a lawyer rub their hands together and cackle. The battle is already fierce against it in general, because large manufacturers will oppose anything that potentially takes away from them. i.e., anything above trinkets. People shooting designs to one another through the Net, avoiding the middle men, is a potential profiteer’s nightmare. People go nuts over their “rights” before the defining criteria get half a hearing, too. There’s the matter of acquiring the building materials. Cheap plastic beads, no problem; powdered, high-grade metals of several kinds for building a whole synth? Problem. Its improved greatly over time, but it still has logistical issues to iron out.
    I’m impressed by custom prosthetics and bikes largely made 3-D-printed components, but frankly, making a truly playable synth this way seems like sci-fi at present. There are technical, legal and economy-of-scale issues that will suck the air from the room for a while before the playing field becomes more practical. Sure, I’d love to have a PB/mod controller box that was customized to my hand, but even if going the toy route is fun for kids & other explorers, I’ll stick to trusting the known manufacturers for the more complex stuff, for now.

    1. Yeah.
      And is it mono, duo or polyphonic?
      – with (poly?) after-touch ?
      – velocity sensing ?

      The electronics and key-bed hardware vary a lot with differect configurations.

      Can you print 3D springs ?

  7. This is far from a keyboard.

    With well tuned 3D printer you might get the outer shell but you need the electronics which is the largest part of a keyboard. And the electromechanics which convert presses to velocity note commands.

    Stop the 3D printing hype. And yes; I have my own 3D printer..

  8. Well, it would solve one problem I have, which is where to find a keyboard with the mod wheel on the right side. It sound like this could do it.

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