The Kraken wakes, pt. 2

The fab revolution: My latest Wired magazine feature

In the current issue of Wired magazine, I wrote a feature about the “fab revolution” — the advent of cheap, easy-to-use tools for crafting physical objects, such as laser cutters and 3D milling machines. Essentially, I argue that the physical world is about to become as flexible as information. Just as computers and the Internet made bits infinitely malleable, precision-guided fab tools will make atoms easy to tweak.

To explore this idea, Wired told me to fab something using eMachineshop, a company that will take anything you design in their 3D CAD software and print a physical copy of it. Since I’ve played electric guitar since I was a teenager, I decided to design and print one. Because eMachineshop doesn’t allow you to fab chunks of wood thick enough to make a guitar, I opted to create it out of clear acrylic — kind of like a big-hair metal-band guitar from the 80s — with an unfinished aluminum pickguard. (That’s it, pictured above!)

A fun concept, but as I discovered, the art of design ain’t easy. When I visited eMachineshop to pick up the body …

At first, I’m amazed that the damn thing even exists. I’ve seen it only as a virtual object, so there’s something surreal about its abrupt teleportation from my imagination to reality. Then I realize with relief that it looks kind of cool. The clear acrylic gleams like an otherworldly brick, and the brushed aluminum has precisely the sort of industrial flavor I’d hoped for. When I lay the pickguard down on the body, every hole for the pickups and electronics is precisely where I’d specified.

There’s only one problem. “It’s kind of heavy, isn’t it?” Lewis asks delicately. He’s right. Worried that the acrylic wouldn’t be strong enough to sustain deep milling, I’d made the guitar body far thicker than I should have. When I pick it up, I realize with horror that it’s much heavier than a conventional guitar. I’m going to give myself spinal damage trying to play this thing.

You can read the entire story online for free here — though I’d also recommend you buy a print copy of the issue, because it’s got a extraordinarly cool collection of other stories.

I’m on the road now, but when I get back I’ll record some audio from the guitar to blog!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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