GE Additive Education Program (AEP) participant secures $1,000 scholarship after assessing the feasibility of using 3D-printed clarinet reeds as a replacement for traditional wooden reeds 

In woodwind instruments like clarinets, oboes and saxophones, the reed acts like an oscillating valve. Working in tandem with the resonances in the air in the instrument, it produces an oscillating component of both flow and pressure.
As a clarinetist and long-time member of a marching band, Krishana Kostal - a senior at Second Chance High in South Dakota - wanted to compare the sound quality of 3D printed reeds with wooden reeds. 

krishana aep

“In particular, I wanted to learn more about 3D printed parts for musical instruments and about the sound quality of wooden reeds sound - especially when it’s cold. Playing in cold weather conditions with a wooden reed produces a sharper sound, so I wanted to test which reed had a better sound quality in a range of temperatures,” explained Krishana.

Using PLA, ABS, bamboo, and HTPLA filaments, Krishana designed and 3D-printed an assortment of clarinet reeds and analyzed their sound quality, compared to a standard wood reed, as well as tuning forks for different C octaves.  A Vernier microphone was used to assess sound quality by comparing overtones and undertones in normal and cold conditions. 

Of the four types of filament used, the bamboo filament performed best in both warm and cold temperatures.  The bamboo filament reeds had no noise and showed comparable overtones and undertones to that of the wooden reed. Reeds made from PLA and HDPLA filaments failed to produce any measureable frequencies. 
Krishana’s science fair project proved very successful and secured her a second place Grand Award, a $1,000 scholarship and a sustainability award from Ricoh. And at $0.03 to produce, the 3D-printed reeds were also significantly less expensive than a wooden reed, which can cost around two dollars each. 

“I’m pleased that I was able to produce a practical reed that lasts longer. Traditional wooden reeds are easy to break and if not cleaned and used properly can get mold on them. The ones I have produced are easily cleaned and they still maintain the necessary musical quality. I even used my bamboo filament reed at our winter concert,” added Krishana.

GE is investing $10 million over five years in educational programs to deliver polymer 3D printers to primary and secondary schools and metal 3D printers to colleges and universities around the world. Last year, more than 400 K-12 schools, including Mitchell Senior High School/ Second Chance High, each received Polar Cloud-enabled 3D printers and STEM curriculum, incorporating design with additive manufacturing and professional development.

“I would like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunities GE’s AEP is providing my students. Krishana has used 3D printing to explore the fascinating link between science, engineering and music. And her achievement also shows the rewards and satisfaction that solid, well-planned research can bring,” said Julie Olson, science teacher and NSTA/NCTM STEM ambassador at Mitchell High School.