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
and lots of extra work, unless I wanted to spend
thousands of dollars on an industrial model.
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
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
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
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
on top of each other. Each layer sits on top of the
ones under it, and all the slices put together make
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
from Cura to put the plastic wherever it needs to be
to make the finished part.
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!
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
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
instead of lying on its side like the way
these were done, most of these problems should
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
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
I think I'm on the right track, and I have some
ideas on what to do to make my covers look much
Now for cover 2.0...