June 27, 2022
Mozart aside, it is hubris to expect or announce perfection as a first product. Perfect has to be approached step-by-step, and sometimes, often, not reached. Sort of like Zeno’s paradox. I first tested, and failed to break, the Walther PPQ back in 2011. At the time, I told readers and Walther that the dual-paddle magazine release just wasn’t going to get a warm reception in America. And that if Walther made it with a regular magazine button, and sent me one to test, they’d never get it back. Well, they did that two years later, and the sample M2 they sent is still here at Gun Abuse Central. A year later they introduced the PPQ Sport, with a five-inch barrel and slide, for those who wanted to have Walther performance in practical shooting matches. The Q5 Match came about in 2015, and then the series got a steel frame in 2018. This pretty much made the PPQ series perfect. You could have anything from a poly-frame EDC pistol, with lots a 9mm onboard, to an all-steel competition gun that would not have enough recoil to disturb anyone. How to make it perfecter? Meister it.
At the 2020 SHOT show, Walther unveiled the Meister series, five variants of the PPQ M2 steel-framed pistols, each given different high-grade treatments. The bling-y one is the Black Tie, the low-profile is the Black Diamond, the fancy US-theme engraved one is the Patriot, the classic is the Vintage, and the top end of the line is the Arabesque. At the announcement, all the assembled gun writers wanted to get fingerprints on the Arabesque, mainly because it is fully engraved. Most of us, even gun writers, never get to see or handle an engraved firearm, let alone one that is fully-covered. When it came time to ask for test guns, Walther was more than happy to send a Black Tie, mostly because it was what they had on hand. I can imagine the striken looks the PR staff would get when the bosses were told “We sent Sweeney an Arabesque to test.” The thought of me hosing buckets of 9mm ammo through a $30,000 pistol would cause even the strong-willed to have to sit down.
All the steel-framed Walther PPQ models start out the same way: the slide begins as billets of steel alloy. They are then fed into CNC machining centers and bored, broached, profiled and machined to final dimensions. The frames start as forgings, and they are then broached, machined and brought to their final dimensions. The barrels begin as cylinders of steel alloy that are deep-drilled, rifled then fed into a CNC lathe for profiling to final dimensions. I’ve had the pleasure of wandering the floor of the Walther plant in Ulm, Germany, and were it not for the high ceiling and CNC machines everywhere you turn you’d think you were in some unassuming office. Not noisy, not dirty, not smelling of industrial processes, just humming white efficiency with houseplants here and there.
The slide, frame, barrel and even the magazine baseplate (Yes, that part is made out of steel also) are polished, given a Tenifer surface treatment, and polished again. The Tenifer treatment, which is a ferritic nitrocarburizing, offers two advantages. The process diffuses nitrogen and carbon into the surface of the steel, which greatly reduces the ability of oxygen to attach to the iron molecules, thus creating corrosion resistance. It also surface-hardens the steel, which also improves abrasion resistance, wear, and adds to the corrosion resistance. Most ferritic processes do not produce a color change, and the black color you see on the barrel is the black oxide done to the surface, post-ferritic treatment.
Walther Black Tie
Walther takes this a step further for the Black Tie. The four parts are then given the Stinox coating, which is a proprietary tin-nickel alloy coating done by a German company, Arthur Henninger GmbH. I asked Dr. Peter Dalhammer, Product Manager of Walther in Ulm, to tell me about Stinox. It is an electroplate tin-nickel composition that adds another layer of corrosion resistance to the substrate, and also imparts a softer feel to the surface. Yes, metal is metal, but there’s something about the process of human touch that makes some metals feel softer than others. Stinox is one of those compositions. Stinox is also so slick it makes cleaning easier, and the corrosion resistance of the passive layer makes it impervious to all known solvents, including New Jersey tap water. (I wonder what the German equivalent might be?) Depending on the application (this is also used in industrial settings for various parts that have to have great corrosion resistance) the Stinox adds only 2 to 15 μm to the surface. That’s 0.00078 of an inch to 0.00059 of an inch of added thickness. You’d need the measuring tools found only in a high-end engineering or an aerospace lab to detect that thickness. After I had test fired the Black Tie, I had to photograph it. This usually means some involved cleaning, to scrub the powder residue off. With the Stinox finish, the residue came off with a simple wipe of an old towel. Nice.
This is a slick and classy finish. The slide, barrel and frame, once hand-fitted (I’ve been to the Walther plant in Ulm, the ‘smiths there are very particular) the trio are not separated. The Meister Black Tie then gets the Walther Dynamik Performance trigger package. In the world of striker-fired, polymer pistols, we’ve become accustomed to spongy, gritty, “I can live with it” trigger pulls. There are some pistolsmiths out there who can improve those triggers, but the pistols that do not have internal steel or aluminum chassis are still a struggle, for some designs, where improving the trigger pull is like pushing a rope. Well, the all-steel Meister has no such problems. The anchor and pivot points of the trigger mechanism have solid and un-moving locations and the trigger pull is as a result better. Which is like saying a modern SUV has a better ride and better performance than a 1980s pickup truck.
The grips are not grips; they are a grip. It is a one-piece wrap-around grip made out of aluminum and machined with a checkering pattern before being anodized. It is then secured to the frame with four Allen-head screws, so you have a firm grip that is firmly attached to the frame. Now the details. The slide has an adjustable rear sight, coupled with a blade front. The slide stop lever is long, giving plenty of leverage, while still being low-profile so it stays out of the way. The takedown lever is in front of it, and both levers and the sights are black, contrasting with the silver of the Sinox finished slide and frame. The magazine button is enhanced with a larger and taller magazine button, checkered, and secured to the original button with an Allen-head screw. The slide has the current Walther cocking serrations, fore and aft, which are plenty good for getting the slide cycled, but not so large or aggressive that they act as holster-shredders. The slide has slots milled through it forward of the ejection port, to reduce the weight of the slide and bring it down to the weight of the original PPQ, so it cycles with the same velocity and allows the magazine to keep up.
Speaking of the ejection port, it is large, it is also the engagement surface (on the front and rear) of the locking shoulders of the barrel. The extractor is a long piece of spring steel at the bottom back corner of the ejection port, and it engages a significant percentage of the 9mm case rim, in order to haul any and all empties, even the recalcitrant ones, out of the system. You will notice that the slides do not have any accommodation for a red-dot optic. Given that optics-ready 9mm pistols are the new hotness, I was curious, so I asked about that. I received another email from Peter Dalhammer that they had considered the matter but wanted to keep the Meister series with a classic look for now. There may be red-dot ready Meister models in the future.
The frame has a generous beavertail on the back end, to provide leverage for your hand to resist the rotation of recoil. Not that there will be much, given the 42-ounce empty weight of the Black Tie. Further aiding your grip on the Black Tie are the checkered panels on the front of the trigger guard, the frontstrap, and the three surfaces of the grip. These are done at 20 lines to the inch, and fair warning: 20 lpi is aggressive. If you have soft-y office-worker hands, you’ll have to toughen up. On the front end of the frame Walther has machined an accessory rail, in case you want to mount extras. The big gain here is that the rail also adds steel, which adds weight, and adds it in the correct location to resist recoil: forward of your hands and below the bore.
On the bottom of the frame Walther has installed a magazine well funnel, and they have left it black to contrast with the Stinox finish of the major parts. The magazine for the Meister series is the same one they use for the PPQ 9mm, but the Meister mags get an extended capacity all-steel, milled from a billet basepad, and the basepad is finished to match the pistol finish.
A brief aside here on the other models. The Black Diamond gets a black DLC finish over the Tenifer of the slide, frame and barrel, and the grips are anodized brown. It doesn’t get the mag funnel and lists for $ 2,999. The Vintage gets a color case-hardened finish on the major parts, including the magazine funnel and basepad, the markings are gold-inlaid, and the grips are wood. MSRP here is $ 3,999. The Patriot has the slide engraved with an American eagle and the Statue of Liberty is left bright. The engraving is done by Bottega Giovanelli, in Italy. The MSRP is $ 3,999. The Arabesque is the top of the line. The slide and frame are first given a coin finish, then engraved by master Engraver Dario Cortini. Even the magazine basepad is engraved, this is full coverage. The grips are Caucasian Walnut, and checkered, and the MSRP is (brace yourself) $ 30,000. No, not a typo.
So, when our editor, Vincent DeNiro, asked me to review the Walther Meister series, I figured that the Arabesque was out of the picture. What I hadn’t thought of (old habits die hard, gun writers have access to everything, right?) was that there was almost nothing to be had. No, the Arabesque was unobtainium, and had been from the start. But the shelves were stripped almost bare on everything Walther, just as they have been on every other product item that has to do with shooting. My contact emailed me right back. “I’ll check.” After a few minutes, I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to do this review at all. I mean, a quick jump to the company inventory page, check what’s there, and email me back, right? Then came the reply: “I’ve got two Black Ties for you” was the reply “one to the studio photographer, and one to you.” Whew, dodged that bullet. They do have stock. Oh rats, ammo? Luckily, I have 9mm ammo on hand, so I could carefully dip into the supply, but this was not going to be an endurance test, that was for sure.
In handling the Black Tie, right out of the box, I was struck by several things. The first one was the solidity of the Q5 Match SF. I pulled the pistol out of its box, still chilly from the delivery truck, dropped the mag, checked the chamber, and just let it hang in my hand. For a pistol that tips the scales at a smidge over two and a half pounds empty, it balances just right. And it gives the feeling of wanting to be at the range. A long time ago, when I was practicing in various martial arts (empty hand, stick, blade) I had a chance to handle an heirloom blade, a katana made some two centuries before the first B5N “Kate” took off from the Akagi in the dawn hours of December 7th. Not one of the factory-made wartime blades, but a real-deal hand-made katana. It felt heavy, compared to the blades I’d been practicing with, and the balance was….odd. A bit tip-heavy, it pulled you forward as if it wanted to cut. I found the psychological state this encouraged to be quite unsettling, so I sheathed it and handed it back to its owner, with the remark “Thanks, I never want to handle that one again.” From the look on his face, and the way he handled it, I could tell he had no idea. He was a collector, not interested in feel, use or craft.
Well, the Black Tie feels like it wants to race down a plate rack, to put you knee-deep in hot, empty brass, and that is in this instance comforting. Also, something I had overlooked in the specs was that the slide stop is ambidextrous. I was braced to not like the grip shape. Just looking at the photos, I had expected something with all the ergonomics of a 2x4, and fully expected several sharp edges to bite me before I had even busted a cap. Oh, how wrong I was. Now, your hands may differ, but for me, the Q5 Match SF frame and grip combo on the Black Tie was not just comfy, but seemed custom-fitted to my hand. I don’t want to sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, because I’m not, because the trigger is good enough to be one on a 1911. A custom 1911. Which caused the whole system to click for me: this is what a hi-cap 1911 would be like, if it had been made in Germany. The trigger had a short take-up, a crisp let-off, and a short reset. I actually wondered for a moment if Walther had hidden a hammer inside the slide, instead of a striker. So, I took the slide assembly off to check. Nope, no hammer.
Oh, and disassembly is easy. Drop the magazine and unload. Lock the slide back. The takedown lever is in front of the slide stop, on the left, now rotate the forward tip of it up. Ease the slide forward to its normal closed position, and dry-fire it. The assembly now slides off the frame. The recoil spring is a flat spring, and it is the same captured assembly as found on the regular PPQ. The slide internal is machined to accommodate the otherwise shorter assembly, a nice detail that keeps the parts inventory down.
Now, everything has to have a flaw, a shortcoming, an error or a glitch. The Mona Lisa has one eye fractionally smaller than the other. The big magazine button on the Black Tie is a small problem for me. The other Meister models have standard-sized magazine buttons. My grip, developed back when a stone axe was the common back-up weapon, has the heel of my left hand down on the grip panels of the pistol I’m shooting, On the Black Tie, if I’m not careful, I press on the button, and recoil then causes the magazine to disengage. Oops, there goes a custom, hi-cap, buffed to perfection magazine, base-first into the gravel. Luckily for me, the first time it happened I was on sand. No nicks or gouges. So, I changed my grip a bit for the plate drills, and then took care when shooting for groups. When it isn’t dropping mags, the button is gnawing at the base of my left thumb. So, should I succumb to temptation and acquire a Black Tie, I’ll have to unbolt the mag button extension.
The Black Tie ships in as classy a setup as the pistol itself. The unboxing was worthy of a video presentation, if I thought such things were anything but moronic. Inside the corrugated shipping box, padded with crumpled paper, was a coated-stock box in white, with the Walther logo and “M Meister Manufactur” on the top in silver ink. Inside, there is an attaché case like lockable box, with a pair of latches and a combination-lock central latch. Inside the box, Walther had included a slew of goodies. An explanation card on the Dynamic trigger, an owner’s manual for the steel-frame PPQ series. A safety booklet from the NSSF, a test target that was shot at fifteen yards, on the indoor range in Ulm where the Meister Black Tie was built. Whoever ‘illegible” initials are, he or she managed to put four shots into a cloverleaf hole and one shot one inch away. There’s a DVD on the PPQ armorer’s bench, telling you everything you need to know about taking the pistol apart and maintaining it. There’s a cable lock, a sight adjustment tool and a pair of Allen wrenches for the other things you might need to loosen or tighten. Oh, and nestled in the fitted padded lining of the case, the Black Tie and a pair of magazines for it. One of the magazines has a loading assist tool nestled on top of it.
Shooting the Black Tie was both fun and uneventful. Fun, in that it was so soft in recoil it was like shooting a rimfire, and so accurate that you had to work to miss. At one point, taking shelter from the snowfall on the club’s 100-yard range, I proceeded to work over the rifle plates. I managed to shoot a full magazine, standing, on the plates without a miss. Shooting for groups was easy, and I had an idea: could I do better than the test-shooter in Ulm? I proceeded to set a target up at 15 meters (16.4 yards) and loaded up with the ammo it liked best, Hornady Critical Duty 135-grain Flextip. And viola, the first group (I’d had plenty of warm-up that day) I shot a one-hole group. A slightly ragged hole, but still, no gaps. Could I have done better? Probably, this pistol wants to shoot, but I know when to call it quits. Else I’d still be there, trying to do even better. One minor note: I had along with me a box of Federal Syntech PCC ammo. This is their 130-grain 9mm load for use in pistol-caliber carbines. While accurate, and going fast enough to easily make Minor, that load did not lock the Black Tie open, and even failed to eject empties a couple of times. Which I find curious, since it posts a Power Factor of 129. The Barnaul load, with a PF of 130, had no such problems. Oh well, there are plenty of loads to choose form (assuming you can find ammo) that a given pistol doesn’t like one particular load is not a big deal. And I have seen such things before, no need to throw any shade on Walther on this one. After all, it is formulated for use in pistol caliber carbines, right?
The Black Tie, indeed the whole Meister series, is one serious shooting machine. But what is it good for? Well, I will be the first to offer the opinion that it is a tad portly as a carry gun. Really, once you take the 42 ounces of pistol, and add 35 rounds of 9mm ammo (unless you acquire another PPQ mag, in which case you are up to 52 rounds) you are close to three and three-quarter pounds in ordnance. With 52 rounds on-board, you are over four pounds. That’s a lot to be wearing day-in and day-out. As a competition gun you will be the envy of other shooters. The 42 ounces is well under the weight limit in USPSA Production Division of 59 ounces, but you will still have to wrestle it into the “IPSC” box, which limits overall size. Remember, the pistol has to fit the box with a magazine inserted, so you may have to forgo the hi-cap Meister mags and maybe even the mag well funnel, for standard-sized ones, or you might not make the fit.
One place I can see the Black Tie being a superb fit is on bowling pins. Not the Main Event, because you can’t make a 9mm muscular enough to shove pins back three feet. But the tip-over optional event known as 9x12 just requires you knock them over. Twelve pins shot at warp-speed, and the weight of the Walther steel-frame PPQ to keep recoil under control? Again, like shooting a rimfire. I’m going to have to stop snarking about German engineering, because the Walther Meister Manufactur series is a demonstration of getting things right. And that trigger? If Walther could find a way to build that trigger for other striker-fired pistols, no one would be satisfied with whatever came on those others. Of course, that would mean not buying a Walther Meister, and really, that would be a shame. I’m sure someone will look again at the price and wonder if it is worth it. Let’s look at it this way: if you took your common, vanilla-plain striker-fired pistol, and paid a pistolsmith to build it up to something like this, I’m not sure you could escape for less. And even if you could get the fit and feel, the accuracy, the trigger, and the magazine capacity, you’d still be stuck with a polymer frame. Don’t be stuck with polymer, buy Meister Manufactur.
Walther Black Tie Specs
- Type: Recoil-operated, semiautomatic
- Caliber: 9mm
- Capacity: 17+1 rds.
- Barrel: 5 in.
- Length: 8.7 in.
- Height: 5.9 in.
- Weight: 42 oz.
- Trigger: 5 lbs., 8 oz.
- Finish: Stinox over Tenifer on Steel
- MSRP: $2,699
- Maker: Walther Arms, waltherarms.com
The essence of one of them (He came up with ten or a dozen) is this: if you are going to go from point A to point B, and each step is halfway there, you need an infinite number of steps to get from A to B. One half, one quarter, one eighth, you get the idea. So, logically, we cannot get from A to B. No, Zeno was not stupid, he knew you could, he was pointing out the problems with an absolute logical system and illogical premises. The answer to Zeno’s Paradox, from the Engineering point of view is simple: you soon get close enough that it doesn’t make any practical difference. The mathematicians have a two-word answer: The Calculus. Logic has to be tempered with common sense and experience.