Tommy Emmanuel

William Thomas Emmanuel AM (born 31 May 1955) is an Australian-American guitarist, songwriter, and 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, releasing award-winning albums and singles. In the May 2008 and 2010 issues of Guitar Player Magazine, he was named "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in its readers' poll.[1] In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).[2] In 2011, Emmanuel was inducted into the Australian Roll of Renown.[3]

Tommy Emmanuel
Emmanuel at the Soave Guitar Festival
in Italy, May 2010
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Thomas Emmanuel
Born (1955-05-31) 31 May 1955
Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia
GenresJazz, pop, rock, country, contemporary jazz
  • Guitarist
  • singer
  • songwriter
Years active1962–present
LabelsSony, Columbia, Favored Nations
Associated actsSouthern Star Band, John Farnham, Dragon, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Martin Taylor, Hank Marvin, Gabriella Quevedo


One of six children, Emmanuel was born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, 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 six in 1961, he heard Chet Atkins playing on the radio. He vividly remembers that moment and said it greatly inspired him.[4]

By the age of six, he was a working professional musician. Recognizing the musical talents of Emmanuel and his older brother, Phil, their father created a family band, sold their 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, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school. Eventually the New South Wales Department of Education insisted that the Emmanuel children had to go to school regularly.[4][5]

After their father died in 1966, the Emmanuels settled in Parkes. Tommy Emmanuel eventually moved to Sydney, where he was noticed nationally when he won a string of talent contests in his teen years.[4][6] By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil in the group Goldrush as well as 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 it, including a 1987 tour with Tina Turner; he left the group to embark on a solo career.

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

In July 1999, Chet Atkins commented that Emmanuel was a "fearless" fingerpicking guitar player and awarded Tommy and four others (John Knowles, Marcel Dadi, Jerry Reed, and Steve Wariner) the "Certified Guitar Player" title.[7][8]

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.[6]

In December 2007, he was diagnosed with heart problems[9] 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 2009 he worked with fellow local artists, Ray Burgess, Marty Rhone, John St Peeters and John "Swanee" Swan to release a single, "Legends of the Southern Land".[10]

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

In 2012, Governor Steve Beshear awarded Emmanuel the state of Kentucky's honorific title of Kentucky Colonel.[11]

During a July 2019 concert he mentioned recently receiving American citizenship.[12]

Guitar style

Emmanuel had said that even at a young age he was fascinated by Chet Atkins's 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 finger-style 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, intrinsic sense of rhythm, and charisma 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.[6] He usually completes studio recordings in one take.

In his solo shows, he mainly plays guitars made by Maton, an Australian guitar manufacturer. He usually travels with two custom Maton EBG808 TE models and one TE1 model, both of which are Tommy Emmanuel artist signature models.[13] He has played 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.[14] Emmanuel is known for the battered and worn-down appearances of his guitars; 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 a 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 re-tuning one guitar.

Emmanuel often curls his left thumb around the neck of the guitar onto the fretboard to play some notes, rather than using only his fingers to play — contrary to how classical guitarists play, but not unusual 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 virtuoso licks and cascading harmonic progressions, he often uses a technique that imitated an electric guitar's tremolo system on acoustic guitar — 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.

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 long-standing invitation to drop by to visit.[15]

In 1997, Emmanuel and Atkins recorded as a duo and released the album The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World which was also Atkins's last album. Emmanuel and Atkins appeared together on The Nashville Network's 'Country 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,[16] Atkins presented Emmanuel with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honor Chet personally bestowed to only four guitarists.[4] 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 performed at the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society (CAAS) in July each year in Nashville.[17]

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

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.[18]


As leader


APRA Awards

The APRA Awards (Australia) are annual awards to recognise composing and song writing skills, sales, and airplay performance by its members annually.

Year Category Nominated work Result
ARIA Music Awards of 1992 Jazz Composition of the Year "Stevie's Blues" Won

ARIA Awards

The Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards, commonly known as ARIA Music Awards are held to recognise excellence and innovation and achievement across all genres of Australian music. Award nominees and winners, excluding for sales and public voted categories, are selected by the ARIA Academy comprising "judges from all sectors of the music industry - retail, radio and tv, journalists and critics, television presenters, concert promoters, agents, ARIA member record companies and past ARIA winners".[21] The inaugural ARIA Awards took place in 1987.[22]

Year Category Nominated work Result
ARIA Music Awards of 1989 Best Cover Art "Up from Down Under" Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1991 Best Adult Contemporary Album Dare to Be Different Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1992 Best Adult Contemporary Album Determination Won
Best Male Artist Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1994 Best Adult Contemporary Album The Journey Won
ARIA Music Awards of 1995 Best Adult Contemporary Album Terra Firma Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1996 Best Adult Contemporary Album Classical Gas Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 1997 Best Adult Contemporary Album Can't Get Enough Nominated
ARIA Music Awards of 2013 Best Jazz Album The Colonial & The Governor Nominated

CMAA Awards

The CMAA (Country Music Awards of Australia) is an annual awards night held in January during the Tamworth Country Music Festival since 1973.[23]

Year Category Nominated work Result
2005 Instrumental of the Year "Tall Fiddler" Won
2007 Instrumental of the Year "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag" Won

Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards is an annual award presentation by The Recording Academy to recognize achievement in the mainly English-language music industry.[24]

Year Category Nominated work Result
Grammy Awards of 1998 Best Country Instrumental Performance "Smokey Mountain Lullaby" Nominated
Grammy Awards of 2006 Best Country Instrumental Performance "Gameshow Rag/Cannonball Rag" Nominated



  • Emmanuel, Tommy (2007). "Contributor". Laugh Even Louder!. By Camp Quality. Gosford, New South Wales: Scholastic Australia Pty Limited. ISBN 978-1-74169-022-4.[25]


  1. "Bio: Tommy Emmanuel" Archived 25 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, official website
  2. "It's an Honour – Honours – Search Australian Honours". 14 June 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  3. "Roll of Renown". TCMF. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
  4. "The Official Tommy Emmanuel Web Site – Interview". 19 April 1997. Archived from the original on 10 October 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  5. "Tommy Emmanuel: c.g.p". Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  6. "Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Music Frisk. 14 February 2003. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  7. St. James, Adam. "Tommy Emmanuel: Certified Guitar Player". Archived from the original on 11 January 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  8. Thompson, Art (1 September 2009). "Steve Wariner". Guitar Player. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  9. Archived 16 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  10. Pascuzzi, Carmine. "'Legends of the Southern Land' – a new Australian anthem". MediaSearch. Archived from the original on 19 October 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  11. Music News Desk (14 January 2014). "Tommy Emmanuel to Tour United States Alongside Martin Taylor in Early 2014". Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  12. "Review: Acoustic guitarists Tommy Emmanuel, Mike Dawes dazzle Garde crowd". The Day. 19 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  13. "The Maton TE Series - Maton Guitars Australia". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  14. "Tommy Emmanuel - Maton Guitars Australia". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  15. "Just Jazz Guitar Online – Tommy Emmanuel Interview". Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  16. "The Chet Atkins Appreciation Society". 21 December 1997. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  17. Archived 9 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  18. "American Dad: "Permanent Record Wrecker"". 5 May 2014. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  19. Bman (15 November 2011). "All I Want For Christmas – Tommy Emmanuel". Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  20. "The Colonel & The Governor". CPR Entertainment. Archived from the original on 19 February 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  21. ARIA Awards - FAQs. ARIA Awards. Archived from the original on 25 January 2012.
  22. Aria Awards overview. Australian Recording Industry Association. Archived from the original on 24 January 2012.
  23. "PAST GOLDEN GUITAR AWARD WINNERS (2000s)". Country. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  24. "Grammy Awards Artist Tommy Emmanuel". Grammy. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  25. Camp Quality (2007). Laugh Even Louder!. Gosford, New South Wales: Scholastic Australia Pty Limited. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-74169-022-4.
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