Whiz Kid: Tim Bilodeau

The Penndale eighth-grader has combined his passions of music and building to construct his own electric violin.

By Tony Di Domizio | Email the author


Tim Bilodeau pumped his foot on his effects pedal a couple times until he got it to the right setting.

He adjusted the volume on his amp, and then proceeded to do a final tuning before rocking out to “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson.

He set the volume, grabbed his bow, nestled the electric violin under his chin and jammed, albeit classically.

This Whiz Kid, an eighth-grader at Penndale, has a passion for computers and electronics. He also has a passion for the violin and orchestral performance ever since he picked up the instrument in the third grade.

Tim, an Odyssey of the Mind member, has combined his passions into one awesome invention.

He has built one electric violin nearly from scratch, and is hard at work building another one completely from scratch.

“I’m really into computers and building things. I’m not quite into the mechanics of electricity,” he said. “I’m playing with the amp and switches—I’m learning.”

In third grade, a flyer passed around school about the orchestra piqued Tim’s interest in the violin.

His passion for playing led to a recipe of classical music and rock 'n' roll.

“The electric violin is a complex musical instrument,” Tim said. “I’m not yet up to snuff to play regularly. There’s a couple of bugs in (the old violin), and that’s why I’m working on a new one.”

The electric violin hasn’t made it yet into the orchestra at Penndale, but outside of school, Tim has tested it out in the Elite Strings Orchestra. The ESO, as it’s called, has performed at Carnegie Hall and First Fridays in Lansdale. It will also play at the International Spring Festival in April.

Using inspiration from famed violinist David Garrett, who incorporates rock and alternative music into his albums, Tim took to the Internet to research electric violins.

“I saw a picture and thought it would be cool to build one,” he said.

He got a violin and dismantled the neck, fingerboard and bridge. Tim asked for a scroll saw for Christmas to help with his new passion.

“I carved most of the body myself,” he said. “I worked all the wood except for the fingerboard.”

The electric violin works the same way as an electric guitar. A pickup on the bridge picks up the vibrations made by the strings. The amp then broadcasts the sound so you can hear it.

“Using an effects pedal, I can change the sound like an electric guitar,” he said.

Tim said it takes a lot of patience to create an electric violin.

“The first one I worked on over the summer and school year,” he said. “The second one I’ve been working on for the past six months. I just want to do it.”

Tim’s passion for music has been influenced by the Elite Strings Orchestra; he said it has exposed him to diverse styles of music.

“I like rock 'n' roll and the modern stuff and classical,” he said. “In the orchestra, I am exposed to different things like fiddling, South American music and jazz.”

Tim is hoping the electric violin can erase stereotypes of its root instrument.

“There’s a stereotype for the violin, that it plays squeaky, classical music,” he said. “It can be like a guitar and play rock music and look cool, as well.”

Tim’s electric violin has influenced his private teacher, Luigi Mazzocchi, first violin in the orchestra of the Pennsylvania Ballet.

“He commissioned one,” Tim said. “He’s interested in trying it out in the future in the orchestra.”

His key to awesomeness, he said, is the passion for music.

“It’s a lot of determination and persistence,” he said. “I keep at it, and I want to do it.”

Tim’s mother, Kate, who nominated him as the Whiz Kid, said his experience in Odyssey of the Mind since the second grade has given him strong problem-solving skills.

“After many years of doing that, Tim has the skills to solve problems on his own,” she said. “I think it’s amazing. I love how he’s combined his two passions of building and music."

Got a Whiz Kid to nominate? E-mail the name and information to tony.didomizio@patch.com.

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