Drawing: Tommy Emmanuel

Autographed drawing of guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

Australian-born guitar wizard, Tommy Emmanuel has never had any formal music training, but his natural ability, intrinsic sense of rhythm and charisma has led him to be regarded as the one of the greatest acoustic guitar players of all time. Eric Clapton said he is “the greatest guitar player I ever saw”. The 67 year-old received his first guitar at the age of four. He learned to play the instrument by accompanying his mother and by six he was working professionally with the touring family band. He remembers at that age hearing ‘Mr Guitar’ Chet Atkins play on the radio, which inspired him to become a musician. He wrote fan letters to the American legend and Chet wrote back, encouraging him to visit him in Nashville. He did just that one day in 1980. In 1997 they recorded a Grammy-nominated album, ‘The Dy Finger Pickers Took Over The World, when Chet was 73 years old. “That was a huge highlight of my career,” Tommy recalls. Chet called him one of just a handful of ‘Certified Guitar Players’. Tommy now has the initials CGP embossed on the neck of his guitars.

Fascinated by Chet Atkins musical style, Tommy is known for playing bass lines, chords, melodies and harmonies simultaneously using the thumb and fingers of the right hand. complex fingering technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects of the instrument, tapping the guitar’s sound box with his right hand. Electric guitar virtuoso Steve Vai described Tommy as, “Imagine Chet Atkins with the testosterone of Eddie Van Halen.”  His acoustic sound is alternately melodic and fiery, bringing energy and drive of rock to a good part of his playing with complex finger arrangements, most often using a thumb pick to accentuate the bass notes or to add heavy strummed chords at select points in his songs. One of my favourites is his rendition of Mason Williams ‘Classical Gas’ – check it out on YouTube. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects on stage. He usually completes studio recordings in one take. While he primarily plays instrumentals, Tommy does sing the occasional song, joking that it’s “a good way for me to clear the room.”

He has played Aussie-made Maton guitars for most of his career.

After the Covid-19 pandemic hiatus, Tommy eventually made it back to London, playing the Royal Festival Hall in February 2022, where he kindly signed my sketch for me.

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