Sandvik challenged a challenged rock legend Yngwie Malmsteen (and Tom Austin-Morgan) to try to break its smash-proof, 3D printed guitar

Yngwie Malmsteen on stage in Miami attempting to break Sandvik's unsmashable guitar
Rock stars have been smashing guitars for decades, few with more enthusiasm than Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. Global engineering company Sandvik decided to test its cutting-edge techniques by building the world’s first all-metal, unbreakable guitar and letting Malmsteen unleash his smashing skills upon it.

Sandvik engineered the smash-proof guitar to demonstrate how advanced, precise and sustainable the company’s techniques are.

“We don’t make consumer products. That’s why Sandvik is not really well known around the world,” says Phil Etheridge, web product information manager, Sandvik Materials Technology. “But, we’re inside a lot of things; we’re in the kitchen, supplying the resistance wire in your toaster, parts for aircraft, trains, cars, telephones, cameras, you name it.”

Rather than being just a quirky project, Etheridge adds that it highlights the capabilities Sandvik brings to any complex manufacturing challenge: “We’ve taken on a project with one of the best guitarists in the world. Yngwie’s been great to work with but is also quite demanding. He wants things done his way.”

Malmsteen, named one of the ten greatest electric guitar players in the world by TIME Magazine in 2009, is known as much for the fury he unleashes on his guitars as for his musical dexterity. A master of neo-classical heavy metal, Malmsteen has produced 30 albums and has been smashing guitars onstage for over 30 years.

“This guitar is a beast,” exclaims Malmsteen after admitting defeat. “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.”

Sandvik engineers teamed with renowned guitar designer Andy Holt, of Wiltshire-based Drewman Guitars, (Pictured above) to match Malmsteen’s exacting musical standards and his lightning-fast playing style.

“I’d never heard of Sandvik before, apart from that they make drill bits,” Holt recalls. “But they got in contact with us because of our expertise in building guitars from aluminium. We drew the concept and performed digital structural tests in Solidworks. The initial material choices and component designs were agreed on the first design iteration, but when Yngwie came on board we went through about ten more iterations. Despite this, we went from a pencil sketch to a fully realised design that was ready to print in twelve weeks.”

Holt says that the most challenging part of the project was that it was being printed with powder: “The biggest powder printing bed in Europe is 400 x 400mm, so we had to reduce the size of the guitar body which moves all the components nearer the neck. Also, the strings are shorter, which means that they don’t tune properly, so this took a while to overcome.”

Several different divisions of Sandvik collaborated to make the instrument. For the guitar’s 3D printed body, Sandvik used metal powder bed fusion where lasers trace a design in beds of fine titanium powder, fusing layers of the material one on top of the other.

“Additive manufacturing allows us to build highly complex designs in small production runs,” says Amelie Norrby, additive manufacturing engineer at Sandvik. “It lets us create lighter, stronger and more flexible components with internal structures that would be impossible to mill traditionally. And it is more sustainable because you only use the material you need for the component, minimising waste.”

The guitar’s neck was machined by Sandvik Coromant from a solid block of recycled stainless steel and the specially scalloped fret board was welded onto the neck. At one point in the welding process the neck warped and had to be straightened using a hydraulic press.

The next challenge was to strengthen the neck as it is the weakest point on any guitar. Drewman Guitars and Sandvik countered this by extending the neck into the guitar’s body. To reduce weight in this component, the neck was hollowed out and a 120-piece super-light lattice structure, just 0.4mm thick, was built inside the neck made from hyper-duplex steel, more commonly used in deep sea applications.

Etheridge says that standard tests aren’t relevant because it can withstand anything, making the lattice structure the strongest in the world for its weight. This guitar neck is said to have comparable strength to a solid steel neck but is just 10% the weight.

“This is how we work,” explains Norrby. “We collaborate with partners and other Sandvik divisions to create the best component or product based on the technologies and material knowledge that we have.

“Additive manufacturing, in particular, is a really high growth market where you can make truly amazing things. If you can design it then you can print it which opens up a whole new world of what we can produce. Also, what is really important for me personally is the sustainability aspect: We only use materials that end up on the component, but even in milling, any waste can be recycled and used again.”

Taking part in the project has been good for Drewman Guitars, Holt says: “I’m over the moon that I did it, it’s changed what I do here, we’re the first company in 30 years that has designed a guitar for Yngwie except Fender. And, another brand is interested in a similar project after seeing the video.”

Since finishing the project, the guitar has been sold at auction for $28,500 (£21.900), with all proceeds going to Engineers Without Borders Sweden. However, you will be able to see the guitar at the Engineering Design Show at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on 16-17 October.

Fast facts

  • The guitar body was produced by powder bed fusion, an additive manufacturing technique where lasers melt titanium powder into microscopically thin layers.
  • The volume knobs and tailpiece which anchors the strings, were also created with 3D printing.
  • The guitar neck and hub were milled from one piece of stainless steel.
  • The back of the guitar’s neck is hollow and is only 1mm thick in places.
  • Made from Sandvik’s unique hyper-duplex steel, the lattice structure used inside the guitar neck is the strongest structure in the world for its weight.
  • Extra material was milled from the frets to meet Malmsteen’s preference for a scalloped fretboard.
  • Before the guitar was built, Sandvik simulated potential impact forces in the same way car makers digitally crash-test new models.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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