Kim Walker — Walker Empress
Kim Walker’s guitars are more evolutionary than they are revolutionary in design. His designs are most influenced by C. F. Martin’s classic pre-war period with a bit of Gibson from the 30’s and 40’s. Walker builds guitars in a variety of sizes and shapes. Each is tap tuned to meet the requirements of string gauge and playing style.
Kim has been involved full time in the musical instrument making business since 1973, when he began as a banjo and dulcimer maker. Kim started making flattop guitars in 1974 and in 1979 he moved to Nashville to work for noted dealer George Gruhn, and in a few years was running Gruhn’s six man repair shop. In 1987, Walker was hired by Guild to be head of their R&D and custom shop, and by 1988 was supervising production as the assistant plant manager. In 1994 he founded Walker guitars making both flattop and archtop guitars. Since then Walker continued to maintain a personal studio to create custom instruments.
With all of Kim’s designs, he brings together new technology available to us today as well as the proven Old World techniques. Walker feels that today’s guitar makers have available to them both the knowledge and materials to make the best guitars that have ever been made. The use of premium woods and materials combined with nearly 50 years’ experience make Walker’s guitars truly master grade instruments.
For Kim, the opportunity to contribute to the Blue Guitar Collection was his once-in-a lifetime chance to “to transcend the usual routine of building for the commercial market and cut loose creatively. The planning, design, and gathering of materials for the Blue took four months, and construction took another five.” The final result was not only brilliantly crafted, but extremely light-weight and responsive. The guitar is crafted with a spruce top, book matched highly flamed maple back, sides, and five-piece neck. Ebony is used on the fingerboard, bridge, pickguard, tailpiece, and on the back of the headstock. Intricate abalone inlay and multi layered ivoroid binding is employed throughout the guitar. The distinguishing piece of the guitar is the headstock overlay display is a peacock, whose tail and body are composed of matched green abalone heart. The wings are figured mother-of-pearl; the rising sun, gold mother-of-pearl; the sky, dyed curly maple. While Kim chose a peacock for aesthetic reasons as a means to display the color and artistry of the shell inlay, he slyly pulled off a successful prank and told the Smithsonian staff that the peacock was an homage to “Bob Benedetto’s favorite bird,” which was then reproduced on much of the material accompanying the exhibit. We can assure you that is NOT the case. But you’ll have to go to Bob for that story.