Plastic Fantastic?

Plastic Fantastic? Replicating Historical Musical Instruments logo

The Pitt Rivers Museum collection is home to over 7000 musical instruments from around the world, from archaeological bone flutes to electronic keyboards.

Over 400 instruments in the Pitt Rivers Museum collection are made from bone or ivory, such as ivory blast trumpets and bone flutes and they are often requested to be played by members of originating communities, researchers and students.

Unfortunately, many of these instruments are either too fragile to be played and risk being irreversibly damaged, or have been shown to be contaminated by old pesticides treatments used to prevent damage from museum pests, which now pose a health risk to anyone wanting to play them.

We would like to offer an acceptable alternative to playing historic musical instruments, with the end-user confident that we have replicated the experience of playing the instrument as authentically as possible, so it not only looks and feels like the original, but sounds like it too. 

Thanks to funding from the Oxford University IT Innovation Challenge fund we now have the opportunity test the latest in 3D printing technology to see which materials and methods can closely reproduce the sound and feel of the original.

Luckily the University of Oxford has a collection of playable historic musical instruments in the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, at Faculty of Music.

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This project will CT scan a playable 17th Century ivory flute from the Bate collection, and print a range of replicas using the latest resins and composites, using a number of different 3D printing methods.
The replicas will then be compared to the original, assessing the sound quality, appearance and playability.  

All parts of the project will be documented here along the way, highlighting all the problems or hidden pitfalls along the way to help anyone who wants to replicate ivory instruments in future.

Hear how the recorder was made, and also being played! from Pitt Rivers Museum on Vimeo.


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