Since The Who’s Pete Townshend smashed his first guitar on stage in the mid 1960s, the destructive performance has become something of a tradition in the music industry. And whether you see the act as an artistic expression or simply as an indulgent, even senseless, performance, there is no question that a violently smashed, splintering axe is an iconic image of rock & roll.
So what would happen if the guitar to be smashed was un-smashable? Sure, some of the catharsis might be gone, but it would make for an impressive show in itself. Thankfully, we’re not talking in hypotheticals here, as Swedish engineering company Sandvik recently utilized its metal manufacturing resources to produce the world’s first 3D printed, smash-proof guitar.
The guitar in question was designed and manufactured for Yngwie Malmsteen, a Swedish musician recognized by Time as one of the best electric guitar players of all time. The project was initiated by lifelong Malmsteen fan Henrik Loikkanen, a machining process developer at Sandvik Coromant who also plays the guitar. He wanted to see whether the company could produce a six-string that was not only fully functional, but also totally smash-proof.
Break a leg, not a neck
“We had to design a guitar that is unsmashable in all the different ways you can smash a guitar,”Loikkanen explained. “The engineering challenge was that critical joint between the neck and the body that usually cracks on a guitar.”
For this particular challenge, Sandvik engineers redesigned the guitar structure and eliminated the joint between the neck and the body by milling the neck and fretboard as a single part from solid recycled stainless steel. This approach—a first for guitar construction—meant that the neck and fretboard would extent into a rectangular hub that itself would be integrated deep into the guitar’s body.
Aside from ensuring that the fretboard and neck would not snap upon impact, Sandvik engineers also had to make sure that the guitar component would not be susceptible to distortion during the manufacturing stage. For this, an advanced simulation software was used to digitally mill the component before the physical process began.
“Precision was critical,” said Loikkanen. “Our software is built on years of experience, giving tool and the cutting data recommendations that helped us mill the fretboard down to a challenging thickness of of 1 millimeter in places.”
Another notable element integrated into the guitar to make it smash-proof was an Isotropic Lightweight Structure (ILS) made from Sandvik’s hyper-duplex steel. The steel ILS—the strongest structure for a given weight ever invented—was integrated between the guitar’s neck and fretboard using a finely tuned welding process.
While my guitar 3D prints
For the guitar’s body, the engineers had to find a way to create an exceptionally strong structure that was light enough to carry and play. The obvious solution was to 3D print the guitar body, leveraging the technology’s ability to create complex, strong and lightweight geometries.
The body of the guitar was ultimately 3D printed using a laser bed fusion technology and a fine titanium powder.
“Additive manufacturing lets us create lighter, stronger and more flexible components with internal structures that would be impossible to mill traditionally,” said Amelie Norrby, an additive manufacturing engineer who worked on the project. “And it’s more sustainable because you only use the material you need for the component, minimizing waste.”
Smash the Guitar
Once the guitar components were milled, 3D printed and assembled, the impressive metal instrument was delivered to Malmsteen for a show in Florida. On stage, the Swedish guitarist played his set before commencing the ritual smashing process. After swinging the metal axe at amps, stage structures and the floor, he successfully destroyed a lot of sound equipment, but the guitar remained completely in tact.
“This guitar is a beast!” Malmsteen said after failing to smash it. “Sandvik is obviously on top of their game. They put the work in, they do their hours. I can relate to that. The result is amazing. I gave everything I had, but it was impossible to smash.”
More than just creating the world’s first 3D printed, smash-proof guitar, Sandvik aimed to showcase its expertise and capabilities in the project. Tomas Forsman, a research and development specialist at Sandvik, emphasized that the project adequately demonstrated the company’s ability to not only create a new, innovative product but to solve manufacturing challenges and meet requirements.
“Collaborating like this is a key for the future,” said Forsman. “Our customers’ challenges continue to grow more and more complex. We need to bring our expertise to work hand-in-hand with our partners and customers and keep inventing new ways of meeting those challenges.”