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Designing Guitars In CAD II - 2D vs. 3D

In the previous instalment, we explored the general uses and scope of CAD. In this brief section the comparison between the uses of 2D and 3D are relevant to basic instrument design.

When one thinks of a guitar or a bass, it is easy to think that the number of angles on headstocks, non-flat shapes, radii and sticky-out bits plus various pieces on top of each other would favour 3D; modelling the instrument as a virtual item or set of items. A tangible real-world object often seems more appropriate as one possessing three dimensions. How is it that 2D is still the most appropriate design methodology for the vast majority of instrument design?

In many respects, 3D is genuinely useful and definitely relevant for instrument manufacture. As soon as CNC milling becomes part of the equation (or 3D printing of course!) mere flat 2D is no longer sufficient. Whilst basic shape and contour milling ("2.5D" or "3-axis" as opposed to true 3D) have much in common with 2D, what we are in essence doing is directly modelling a real-world item as opposed to drawing a representation of it.

The general objective for the 2D approach is to provide drawings which abstractly communicate the metrics, characteristics and specifics of the final product. Whilst a 3D representation has direct relation to the end product, 2D can be far more arbitrary in how it represents details, attributes and the processes required to reach that same thing.

To reinforce this comparison, here are two images. One is a 3D representation of a '62 Stratocaster body from a publicly-available Solidworks model, the other is an excerpt from an original Fender blueprint of the same '62 Stratocaster.

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It should be abundantly apparent that on its own, a 3D model communicates little whilst a detailed blueprint is a goldmine of abstracted specifications and measurements; a virtual instruction manual. The comparison of extremes is perhaps a little unfair in that Solidworks models can have 2D drawings produced from a modelled item. Generally it is not necessary to go up to the level of 3D modelling only to bring it back down to 2D abstractions.

Most hand-built guitar and bass designs can have their measurements, layout and specifications represented adequately in 2D and have that translate more or less directly to the final physical woodworking. Operations such as cutting the outline of a body, routing a pickup hole/control cavity, locating the bridge or even planning a neck take place in two dimensions. Whilst 3D definitely offers many powerful modelling and simulation capabilities, in the context of guitar building it is more of an addition than a replacement to "traditional" 2D.


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Designing Guitars In CAD II - 2D vs. 3D by Carl Maltby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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