My love affair for the acoustic guitar started when I was a teenager in the late ’60s. Though I listened to my share of electric guitar heroes such as Clapton and Hendrix, the tone that touched my soul was what Stephen Stills called “wooden music”. After hearing Doc Watson play, my life was changed. I spent countless hours trying to learn his music, both his fingerstyle and flatpicking style. What I found was, although I never became a great musician, I was totally taken by that wooden sound of the acoustic guitar.
My goal as a professional guitar maker is to live well. By this I do not mean first and foremost making a lot of money. What I do mean is that I try to do my work with honor. That means honoring those people who came before me and those that are continuing the tradition of fine luthiery. It is also important to me to have an honorable relationship with those that I do business.
My guitars are more evolutionary than they are revolutionary in design. My 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. I then add a modern neck to the formula and finish them with a beautiful varnish. I build guitars in a variety of sizes and shapes. Each is tap tuned to meet the requirements of string gauge and playing style. I am passionate about building guitars with great tone, power and dynamics.
I feel fortunate to have had one of my archtop guitars displayed at the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Blue Guitars of the Chinery Collection. At the time Scott Chinery had one of the largest guitar collections in the world. Scott threw an amazing party at the unveiling of the Blue Guitars at his mansion. There were a number of famous guitar players including Scotty Moore who is pictured here with my Blue Empress guitar.
In the development of my guitars I have brought together many years of experience. I have been involved full time in the musical instrument making business since 1973, when I began as a banjo and dulcimer maker. I started making flattop guitars in 1974. In 1979 I moved to Nashville to work for noted dealer George Gruhn. By 1984 I was running Gruhn’s six man repair shop. In 1986 I started making prototypes for new models for the Guild Guitar Company. In 1987 I was hired by Guild to be head of their R&D and custom shop. By 1988 by was supervising production as the assistant plant manager. Working for Guild was great for me, as being involved in all phases of production of some 50 guitars a day is a great way for a maker to get his chops up! In 1994 I started Walker guitars making both flattop and archtop guitars. During all the years at Gruhn’s and at Guild I continued to maintain a personal studio to create custom instruments. I feel as if the experience gained while I was working for both George Gruhn and Guild Guitars have given me unique opportunities that I simply could not have gained elsewhere.
At Gruhn’s I was deeply involved with restoration and repair of guitars. I believe that there is no better way to learn about the fine old instruments. To recreate what the original maker intended challenges you as the restorer to “get into the maker’s head.” George Gruhn commented, “Kim is one of the finest craftsmen I have ever met; his workmanship and sense of aesthetics are truly extraordinary, on par with the highest rated makers of yesterday and today.” During my years at Gruhn’s I also was able to work in close association with many other fine instrument builders such as Mark Lacey, Paul McGill, and Steven Gilchrist. Another great benefit of working at George’s was meeting and getting to talk guitar with some of the greatest players of our time.
Previous clients have included Eric Clapton and Brian May for Guild as artist models. Through the Country Music Foundation, Gruhn Guitars, and family members of the artists, I have also restored instruments that belonged to such legends as Hank Williams Sr., Merle Travis, Gene Autry, Jimmy Rodgers, Ray Whitley, and Clarence White. Other clients through association with George Gruhn are Hank Williams Jr., Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Marty Stewart, Akira Tsumura, Bela Fleck, Pat Flynn, Russ Barrenberg, Doug Green, and Harold Bradley. I have also done work for Eric Schoenberg of the Music Emporium, Stan Jay of the Mandolin Brothers Ltd., and Walter Carter, historian, author of The Martin Book, and owner of Carter Vintage Guitars.
With all my designs I like to bring together new technology available to us today as well as the proven Old World techniques. I feel that today’s guitar makers have available to us both the knowledge and materials to make the best guitars that have ever been made. The use of premium woods and materials combined with 40+ years’ experience make my guitars truly master grade instruments.