Bringing Back The Music With A MakerBot

Malcolm Messiter is a musician whose harpsichord had started to grow a little quiet. After 43 years of use, he says the many of the parts have become brittle, and not long ago they started to break. This is a little story you’ll want to read all the way through to the end.

We often hear that MakerBots are used to create parts that manufacturers don’t ship anymore. That’s exactly the problem that Malcolm had for his 1970 Robert Goble harpsichord. He tells me in email that there are probably several thousand harpsichords made in the same time period — the 1970’s — that use plastic jacks. The jack is the part that holds the plectrum, which plucks the string when you press a key. These parts are now irreplaceable.

Well put on your MakerBot Goggles and you’ll see things a little differently. To replace all the jacks on this instrument with custom wood pieces (there are 183 of them), Malcolm would have had to shell out something like £2000. That’s $3100. And having custom plastic pieces made for the job? Forget about it.

But Malcolm has The Replicator, which can make anything, including 183 harpsichord jacks, and then 183 more. And now he has a functioning harpsichord. As far as we know, and as far as Malcolm knows, he is the first to perform this life-saving operation on a harpsichord. Like so many people on Thingiverse and others in the MakerBot world, he’s a total pioneer.

UPDATE! Malcolm tells me that, all told, these pieces average 3.62 grams when he makes them at 75% infill and one shell. MakerBot sells Natural ABS for $43 per kilogram. This means the entire repair set costs about $28.48 in materials.

Now here’s what you’ve been waiting for. Malcolm isn’t a harpsichordist. He’s an oboist with a tinkering spirit. Check out the custom iPhone stand he made (pictured above) so he could tune his harpsichord with both hands free. If he hadn’t been able to fix these jacks, then this amazing self-playing harpsichord wouldn’t work. And that would be a huge tragedy. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a little auto-Bach.