By Mike Kramer
Inventor and musician Tim Wallis of East Peoria considers his passion for design to be both a gift and a curse. However, when all is said and done, he acknowledges that the gift far outweighs the curse.
“I can’t look at anything without wanting to streamline it,” said Wallis. “I want to know how it works, why it works and how I can make it work better. I work on designing things 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I absolutely love what I do.”
What Wallis, who has been playing the guitar since the age of 9, primarily does is design and build musical instruments.
“I always knew there was something I wanted to hear besides just a guitar. In my late teens, I started inventing string benders for guitars, which make electric six-string guitars sound like pedal steel guitars. I took typewriters apart and used the parts to make my string benders. From there, I started making my own guitars.”
In addition to his innate creativity and an ear for music, Wallis has developed, over the years, the hands of a craftsman and the technical skills of both a machinist and an electrician.
“I had to teach myself how to be a machinist,” he said. “When I started drawing my designs, I had to learn how to use CAD (Computer-Aided Design) software, which engineers use to draft pieces of machinery. I had to learn how to solder, what types of wood I could use and what strengths they have. I have no formal education for any of the skills I’ve picked up. They’ve all been self-taught.”
Wallis’ specialty is three and four-stringed lap steel guitars, which are to larger pedal steel guitars what laptop computers are to their desktop counterparts.
“Most people who make lap steels make six, eight, 10 or 12-stringed guitars,” he said.
Working with Springfield optometrist Dr. Gaylan Moushon, Wallis has developed and patented a pedal slide that allows a guitarist to coax a range of sound from a three-stringed lap steel guitar that is nearly equivalent to the gamut typical of an eight or 10-stringed pedal steel guitar.
True to his calling as an inventor, Wallis is rarely without his proverbial drawing board and often finds his inspiration in unexpected objects.
“I made a guitar on a stick, I’ve made one out of a drip pan from a stove, another out of a 45 record, and one out of an old telephone,” said Wallis. “I just look for things that inspire me and I design around them.”
His most popular design, he added, is the Fin lap steel guitar, which he designed to resemble the tailfin of a 1957 Chevrolet.
In addition to his trademarked guitars and his patented pedal slide, Wallis has invented and patented string benders, guitar tuners, the Dingo guitar stand, which folds to fit in a shirt pocket, and a violin stand that he has licensed to Hamilton Stands.
“I’ve sold all over the world,” said Wallis. “There’s hardly a country on the planet where at least one of my inventions hasn’t been sold.”
Wallis demonstrates his guitars and inventions at various guitar shows, workshops and clinics. He started the Timara Custom Shop in 1989 to sell his inventions. The company’s name is a tribute to his daughters, Timika and Sara. He has been performing as a musician since the age of 10, and currently performs with two bands in the area: Buddy Love and the Can’t Hardly Playboys and the Vinyl Brothers. Both groups play country music, but the Vinyl Brothers focus on classic country, according to Wallis.
“The Vinyl Brothers focus on the music of old, dead performers,” he said. “Either you or your career have to be dead for us to play your songs.”
Besides selling his instruments and inventions, demonstrating his inventions, and performing with local bands, Wallis has also been playing the guitar for the past several years with drummer Jimmy Willis of Peoria and bassist Polly Sampson of Lincoln on a webcast show called Guitar Pickle.
“Our band for the show is called Pickle, and the show’s name is just a play on ‘guitar pick,” said Wallis. “We’ve had close to nine million viewers since we started, and we try to bring in as many special guest performers as we can.”
Wallis’ innovations are not restricted to musical instruments and accessories. He has also designed and obtained a patent for a valve for water treatment plants.
“I love to create,” he said. “That’s my passion.”