I always wanted to buy a 3D printer for making my own plastic pickup parts, ever since I saw an early
model years ago when I was going to machinist school. The only problem I had was the available
printers at the time simply didn't have enough resolution to print a part I could use without lots
and lots of extra work, unless I wanted to spend thousands of dollars on an industrial model.

Until now.

In June, I bought this Creality Ender 3 3D printer. The Ender 3 is a high resolution printer capable
of printing objects in many different types of plastic depending on how it's configured, ranging from
flexible plastics to ABS styrene (what guitar pickup covers and coil bobbins are made out of) to exotic
materials like carbon fiber and even wood or metal composite plastics! Best of all, the Ender 3 is a true
open source machine - meaning the machine's blueprints and even its computer's firmware source code
are all available on the Web. This means there are a growing community of Ender 3 owners modifying
and updating their own machines... making it very easy to use!

I will be setting up this machine specifically to make parts out of ABS styrene, such as pickup covers,
pickup coil bobbins, control knobs and switch tips. Before I can do this, I have to learn how to operate
it 'as it is'. The lessons I learn from doing that will teach me how to set up the machine to make my parts.

For this first test, I drew some 'proof of concept' Strat style pickup covers, and I am going to use the
black PLA plastic the machine had when I bought it. I also have a
brand new spool of white styrene
I bought specifically for making pickup covers. The plastic Fender uses to make their pickup covers
is the same ABS styrene plastic I'
m going to use, and the only difference is they get theirs in rice
shaped grains in giant tote boxes and I get mine spooled up in filament form

I'm really glad I finally got to use all them expensive Autocad classes I took in school...

I'm using Cura 4.1 as a 'slicer' program aka a 3D printer preprocessing program. This program takes
an object file I already generated using a specialized 3D drafting program like Autocad Inventor,
and 'slices' it into machine tool style G-code instructions that the Ender 3 can use to make my part.

It's easier if you think about it this way...

3D printed objects are a lot like onions. Or trees. Really.

If you cut an onion in half, you get lots of individual ring layers the whole onion is made of. You can take
the rings apart to get onion rings, and then reassemble them to make the whole onion again.

3D printed parts are like the onion in the sense that they are also made of layers - but of plastic stacked
on top of each other. Each layer sits on top of the ones under it, and all the slices put together make the
completed object.

The Cura program takes the 3D shape of the object I drew in a CAD program and 'slices' it into
individual instructions to make each layer of the finished print, including any internal supports or
other features the printer needs to make the finished form. Then, the printer uses the instructions
from Cura to put the plastic wherever it needs to be to make the finished part.

This is my Ender 3 3D printer printing a test Strat pickup cover. The one closest to the front is a
'real' one I'm using for comparisons. This is just a simple 'proof of concept' cover to show that the
idea is doable, sorta like my Angeltone One guitar I made. Depending on what I learn from these
tests, I might decide to tweak things to clean up the print or totally rewrite the whole program
and start over. That's the seriously cool thing about additive machining - part changes are done
in minutes instead of days and don't cost anything but the time to do them! Best of all, if something
you're working on doesn't turn out just start over!

This is the practice pickup cover about half done. The rectangle shapes inside the cover are
supports that get removed once the cover is done. The cover in the front and the one being
printed are in the same orientation.

The finished covers will look nothing like this one... this one is basically 'cover 1.0'.

I just wanted to see if the printer would print the basic shape without too many issues.
3D printers are a lot like paper printers, as both have high resolution print modes for things like
resumes, and also draft modes for taking notes in a hurry. This was done in 'super duper draft mode'
just to see if the idea would work

These are photos of a finished and a half finished test 'cover 1.0'. Remember that these covers were
printed in 'super speedy draft mode' and look *nothing* like the real covers I'm going to make.

I can see from the top print that that the Ender will generate the finished shape just fine,
but printing the cover lying on its side like these were just doesn't work well.
This specific print is upside down from its original printed position, and the 'wings' or squarish shaped
areas on the upper part of the rounded areas are the bed supports for the rounded areas of the cover.
The horizontal lines and 'hairs' on the top of the cover (toward you) are marks left over from the
individual layers of the print.

The half pickup cover in the front shows that the finished pickup's plastic wall thickness is OK
and the cover's magnet and screw holes print OK too. The white squarish lines are leftovers
from the supports the Ender 3 printed to hold up the uppermost part of the pickup during printing.

What did I learn? If I rewrite the file to print the cover so it's standing with the six magnet holes 'up'
 instead of lying on its side like the way these were done, most of these problems should disappear.
For reals.

I did my research, and I learned the following things about yesterday's 'cover 1.0' print at left...
besides that I printed this one waaayyy too fast.

The generally stringy look on the cover was basically caused by too much humidity during
printing (melted plastic tends to attract water in the air) and also by cooling the plastic too fast
so it didn't have a chance to stick to other layers and smooth out. In my case, it was because
my printer was in the same room as the air conditioner and the cool air blowing around chilled
and solidified the plastic before it had a chance to stick together.

The top part is a good example of a part done at the right plastic melting temperature and
deposition speed for a 'utility grade' print. There are some lines on it, but since this part was
made for strength not looks it's acceptable for its purpose.

I think I'm on the right track, and I have some ideas on what to do to make my covers look much better.

Now for cover 2.0...

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