Tommy Emmanuel

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Tommy Emmanuel
Tommy Emmanuel soave.JPG
Emmanuel performing at the Soave Guitar Festival, Italy, May 2010
Background information
Born (1955-05-31) 31 May 1955 (age 63)
Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia
Genres Folk, country, blues, rock, pop, jazz, ragtime
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Guitar, lap steel guitar, drums
Associated acts Dragon (band), Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Martin Taylor, Hank Marvin
Notable instruments
Maton TE Signature model

William Thomas "Tommy" Emmanuel AM (born 31 May 1955) is an Australian virtuoso guitarist, songwriter and occasional singer, best known for his complex fingerstyle technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects on the guitar. Although originally a session player in many bands, Emmanuel has carved out his own style as a solo artist in recent years, releasing award winning albums and singles. In the May 2008 and 2010 issues of Guitar Player Magazine, he was named "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in their readers' poll.[1] In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).[2]


Emmanuel was born in Australia in 1955. He received his first guitar in 1959 at age four and was taught by his mother to accompany her playing lap steel guitar. At the age of seven in 1961 he heard a young Chet Atkins playing on the radio. He vividly remembers this moment and says it greatly inspired him.[3]

By the age of six, in 1961, he was a working professional musician. Recognizing the musical talents of Tommy and his older brother Phil Emmanuel, their father created a family band, sold the family home and took his family on the road. With the family living in two station wagons, much of Emmanuel's childhood was spent touring Australia with them, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school. The family found it difficult living on the road; they were poor but never hungry, never settling in one place. His father would often drive ahead, organize interviews, advertising and finding the local music shop where they would have an impromptu concert the next day. Eventually the New South Wales Department of Education insisted that the Emmanuel children needed to go to school regularly.[3][4]

After his father died in 1966, the family settled in Parkes. Tommy eventually moved to Sydney where he came to be noticed nationally when he won a string of talent contests in his teen years.[3][5] By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil in the group Goldrush as well doing session work on numerous albums and jingles. He gained further prominence in the late 1970s as the lead guitarist in The Southern Star Band, the backing group for vocalist Doug Parkinson. During the early 1980s, he joined the reformed lineup of leading 1970s rock group Dragon, touring widely with them, including a 1987 tour with Tina Turner. He left the group to embark on a solo career.

Throughout his career he has played with many notable artists including Chet Atkins, Eric Clapton, Sir George Martin, Air Supply, John Denver, Les Paul, Edgar Cruz, Martin Taylor and Doc Watson.

In 1994 Australian music veteran John Farnham invited him to play guitar next to Stuart Fraser from Noiseworks for the Concert For Rwanda. Emmanuel became a member of Farnham's band. He had previously been a member of Farnham's band during the early 1980s and featured on the album Uncovered.

Emmanuel and his brother Phil performed live in Sydney at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in 2000. The event was televised worldwide with an estimated 2.85 billion viewers.[5] When performing together the pair sometimes share and play just one guitar with each having one hand free.

In October 2002 he was invited to perform the Australian folk song "Waltzing Matilda" at a service at the Washington National Cathedral held for the victims of the Bali bombings.

In December 2007 he was diagnosed with heart issues[6] and was forced to take a break from his hectic touring schedule due to exhaustion, but returned to full-time touring in early 2008.

In late January 2010, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake earlier in the same month, Emmanuel announced[7] that he would be auctioning off three guitars, that he personally played and owned, on eBay, in order to raise money to donate to UNICEF in Haiti.

Tommy is currently a resident of Nashville.[8]

In November 2014, Tommy signed a new management deal with Nashville-based ABI.[9]

In 2015, he announced the formation of his own record label, CGP Sounds.[10]


In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).[2]

In 2012, due to his virtuoso status and dissemination of the "fingerstyle" method of guitar picking, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Governor Steve Beshear awarded Emmanuel the state's highest honor – the Kentucky Colonel title.[11] The fingerstyle method began in Northwestern Kentucky and was pioneered by Merle Travis.

Chet Atkins commented that Emmanuel was a "fearless" fingerpicking guitar player, and awarded Tommy and three others (John Knowles, Jerry Reed, and Steve Wariner) the "Certified Guitar Player" title. [12][13]

Musical style

Emmanuel's fingerstyle technique shown at a June 2006 performance at the City Stages venue in Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

Emmanuel has said that even at a young age he was fascinated by Chet Atkins' musical style (sometimes referred to as Travis picking) of playing bass lines, chords, melodies and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand, achieving a dynamic range of sound from the instrument. Although Emmanuel's playing incorporates a multitude of musical influences and styles, including jazz, blues, bluegrass, folk and rock, this type of country fingerstyle playing is at the core of his technique. While Emmanuel has never had formal music training, and does not read or write music, his natural musical ability and intrinsic sense of rhythm has gained him fans from all over the world. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects onstage[5] and he usually completes studio recordings in one take.

His main stage guitars which he plays on his solo shows are made by Maton, an Australian guitar manufacturing company. He usually travels with two custom Maton EBG808 TE models and one TE1 model, both of which are Tommy Emmanuel artist signature models.[14] He has been playing Maton guitars for most of his career and is somewhat of an ambassador to the company due to his long-standing association with the brand.[15] Emmanuel has come to be known for the battered and worn-down appearance of his guitars. This is a result of his dynamic, energetic playing and percussive techniques; one of his signature performances, for example, involves striking the whole body of the guitar in various places with his hands or a drummer's snare-drum brush to emulate the sound of an entire percussion kit.

Emmanuel usually keeps one Maton EBG808 in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), while he tunes his second Maton EBG808 to D-G-D-G-B-E (G6 tuning) and his TE1 to C-F-B-E-G-C. He generally uses 0.12 gauge (light) strings on one EBG808 and 0.13 gauge (medium) strings on the second Maton EBG808 and on the TE1. This allows him to quickly change tuning by swapping between guitars during a show if needed, rather than spending time onstage retuning one guitar.

Emmanuel can often be seen curling his left-hand thumb around the neck of the guitar onto the fretboard to play certain notes rather than using only his fingers to play, contrary to how a classical guitarist would play, but usual for jazz and country guitarists. He frequently plays common three-finger chord shapes with just two fingers. He commonly uses a thumbpick, a flat pick (plectrum), his fingers or a combination of these in his playing, a style known as hybrid picking. Amongst his trademark rapid virtuosic licks and cascading harmonic progressions, he can also often be seen using a technique which imitates an electric guitar's vibrato system on his acoustic guitars; by pressing the palm of his right hand against the sound board of the guitar near the neck joint, while maintaining forward pressure with his left hand on the top of the headstock, the guitar neck slightly bends away from the body and consequently affects the pitch of the strings to achieve the desired sound.

Association with Chet Atkins

As a young man in Australia, Emmanuel wrote to his hero Chet Atkins in Nashville, Tennessee. Eventually Atkins replied with words of encouragement and a longstanding invitation to drop by to visit.[16]

In 1997, Emmanuel and Atkins recorded as a duo and released the album The Day Finger Pickers Took Over The World, which was also to be Atkins' last recorded album before he died. Emmanuel and Atkins appeared together on The Nashville Network's 'County Christmas' in late 1997 and on that occasion Atkins stated about him: "He is one of the greatest guitar players I've ever seen." Atkins gave Emmanuel the guitar on which Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith recorded "Guitar Boogie", one of the foundation performances of the blues guitar world, and a regular feature of Emmanuel's shows.

In July 1999, at the 15th Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention,[17] Atkins presented Emmanuel with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honor Chet personally bestowed to only four guitarists.[3] This award gains its fame from being bestowed by Atkins himself, a widely recognized leader in guitar music. The award states: "In Recognition Of His Contributions to the Art Of Fingerpicking." Tommy performs at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) in July each year in Nashville.[18]

Hank Marvin

In addition to being influenced by Chet Atkins, Emmanuel has stated that guitarist Hank Marvin was his mentor.

Popular culture

His rendition of Classical Gas by Mason Williams was used on the animated television series American Dad! in the season 10 episode entitled Permanent Record Wrecker. It was played by Roger Smith in a coffee shop guitar battle.[19]


Emmanuel released the DVD Live at Her Majesty's Theatre, Ballarat, Australia on 11 July 2006 and also the Center Stage accompanying DVD in late 2008.

Emmanuel has produced several instructional videos: Guitar Talk (1993), Up Close (1996), Emmanuel Labor (2008), Certified Gems (2012), "Fingerstyle Milestones" (2014)


"Smokey Mountain Lullaby", a duet with Chet Atkins, was nominated for the 1998 Grammy award for Country Instrumental Performance but did not win. His song "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag" won "Instrumental of the Year" at the 35th Tamworth Country Music Festival on Saturday, 27 January 2007,[22] and also was nominated that year for a Grammy for "Best Country Instrumental Performance".[23]


  1. "Bio: Tommy Emmanuel", official website
  2. 2.0 2.1 "It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours". 14 June 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "The Official Tommy Emmanuel Web Site – Interview". 19 April 1997. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Tommy Emmanuel: c.g.p". Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Music Frisk. 14 February 2003. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. [1] Archived 16 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  7. "Tommy Emmanuel's plea for his guitar auction". YouTube. 24 January 2010. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Music News Desk (14 January 2014). "Tommy Emmanuel to Tour United States Alongside Martin Taylor in Early 2014". Retrieved 25 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. St. James, Adam. "Tommy Emmanuel: Certified Guitar Player". Retrieved 25 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Thompson, Art (1 September 2009). "Steve Wariner". Guitar Player. Retrieved 25 October 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "TE Series | Maton Guitars Australia"
  15. "Tommy Emmanuel | Maton Guitars Australia"
  16. "Just Jazz Guitar Online – Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society". 21 December 1997. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. [2] Archived 9 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  20. Bman (15 November 2011). "All I Want For Christmas – Tommy Emmanuel". Retrieved 28 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "The Colonel & The Governor". CPR Entertainment. Retrieved 28 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. [3] Archived 9 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  23. "2007 Grammy Nominees in Country Music". 10 April 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links