Mike Walker - Guitar

“Nine years ago I was knocked over by a hit and run”, says Walker. “It broke all my right hand side – my right arm was really smashed up – I was in a wheelchair for a while. This last year I’ve been getting back into playing again and I’m very excited by that, I can feel it coming back and I truly never thought I would.”

Walker was born into a musical family. “Father was a piano player and my mother used to sing. Dad used to play in pubs and it made a living for him.” For his part, the young Walker was a late starter.

“I was never interested in music at school, I had always wanted to be an English teacher. But my brother was a rock singer who accompanied himself on guitar and it was he who encouraged me to play the instrument. I got my first guitar pretty soon after, when I was about 16 or 17.”

Completely self-taught, Walker’s major influences in the early days he says were Tal Farlow and Wes Montgomery along with Coltrane and Clifford Brown. “But I was also influenced greatly by Stan Getz’s playing.” His first guitar was a black Les Paul copy made by a company who went by the name of Avon. “Actually,” says Walker, “it was absolutely brilliant – the neck was lovely but I didn’t have it for long though. I guess it must have been traded in after about six months, because when I turned 17 I got a Gibson 335 which is the guitar that I still use for most of my work today.” But like many guitarists, Walker owns and has owned a number of instruments. “Back in the mid-1980s I bought a handmade jazz guitar made by Roger Borys – a blond, with a Kent Armstrong pickup. I saw it in a shop in Rochdale called Guitar Player. It was going for a song. I tried it and thought I’ve got to have this. It cost me £900 and it’s probably worth about £5,000 now as it’s a very sought after instrument. Then in the mid-90s when times got tough, sadly I had to let it go.”

Walker, however, sold it to a guitar-playing friend who said to him when times get better, maybe he’d have it back. “That window has just appeared,” says Walker, “so maybe I’ll be getting it back because I’ve always loved that guitar.” I ask whether his friend is likely to give it back. “He also loves that guitar and thinks that it is very pretty,” responds Walker. “But he’s not really playing that much now. He’s got an Ibanez Joe Pass guitar as well – again a very pretty guitar – so he’s not really playing my guitar. We’re both agreed that my guitar has got to go out and be seen to be being played so I’m going to get the money together and get that guitar back – a happy ending and reunion after 14 years apart.”

Walker also has a Takamine classical guitar, “the one with the built-in pickup in it. That’s lovely. Then I have a Martin HD28VS vintage reissue

acoustic guitar which is based on the old body shape and that’s a beautiful instrument too.” I’m beginning to sense that Walker’s eye is as finely tuned as his ear. “A couple of years ago I did a session for this guy and both produced and played on the album and he paid me with a guitar. It’s a Lush based on a Telecaster, but with a slightly bigger body and as I’m 6’ 4”, it’s perfect, as a standard Tele just isn’t comfortable for me to play. But I don’t play it live that much.”

So what’s Walker’s string choice? “I use Thomastik strings although I used to use D’Addario flat wounds on the Borys. I love Thomastiks because they’re very responsive and I really like the feel of them. They don’t feel brittle and malleable and they are extremely supple. They’re also long lasting and keep their tone and tuning for a very long time. At the moment I’m using round wound Thomastik Mediums, but if I’m doing a certain kind of gig that requires more rhythm, I’ll use Thomastik Techno Brite 10s. They’re light, but if somebody wants me to take a solo they’ve still got guts in them, they’ve still got resistance and combined with that suppleness it works a treat.”

Walker started his playing career with a 60w Roland Jazz Chorus, which was very quickly traded in for a Fender combo Concert amp with a 1x12. “That was a great amp,” remembers Walker. “Soon after I bought the Fender I bought a Polytone and used to run that in a stereo-like way with the Fender. Then I endorsed a Pearce solid state amp for a few years, which consequently lead me onto a Mesa Boogie Mk4 100w combo with a 1x12.” Walker’s been playing Mesa Boogie Mk4s for about 14 years now. He says his current one has a wooden case and a lattice grill.

“They’re perfect for my style. I regularly go from one kind of music to another. I’m asked to play a lot of different kinds of music – straightahead jazz, a lot of rocky/funky stuff and a combination of that with some soul stuff and crossovers of all those things – and of course blues stuff. I find it gives me a really great sound for each and every one of those genres. It’s like the jazz sound isn’t an absolute banging jazz sound with a 175 and a typical jazz amp. The Boogie covers everything in a great way and it gives me an identifiable sound with my 335.” Walker also has a hand made Swedish “boutique” amp – an ODS Mystic Blue Star. “It’s like a clone of the Dumble. It’s all valve and has an incredible sound. It’s just an amp head and I have a 2X12 Two Rock cabinet fitted with two Eminence speakers. The set-up for the amp has no reverb, so I use a TCM1 reverb unit with a TC Nova Delay pedal with it. I don’t know the setup well enough yet to take it out, but I’ve used it in the studio and it sounds fantastic. That along with my 335 is a brilliant piece of kit.”