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Tommy Emmanuel (born 31 May 1955 New South Walesmarker) is an Australian guitarist, best known for his complex fingerpicking style, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects on the guitar.


Tommy was born in the Upper Hunter in Muswellbrookmarker, New South Walesmarker, Australia. He received his first guitar in 1959 at the age of 4 - being taught by his mother to accompany her playing lap steel guitar. At the age of 7 he heard Chet Atkins on the radio. He vividly remembers this moment and says it greatly inspired him.

By the age of 9, in 1964, he was a working professional musician. Recognizing the musical talents of Tommy and his brother Phil, 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 his family, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school. The family found it difficult living on the road; they were poor and were often hungry, never settling in one place. His father would often drive ahead, organize interviews, advertising and finding the local music shop where they'd 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.

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. 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 '70s 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 and Doc Watson. Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, and Joe Satriani all say that he is the best they have ever heard which is a testament to his extraordinary abilities.

In 1994 he became a member of the John Farnham Band. Australian music veteran John Farnham invited him to play guitar next to Stuart Fraser from Noiseworks for the Concert For Rwanda.

Tommy and his brother Phil performed live in Sydneymarker at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics in 2000. The event was televised worldwide. When performing together the pair will 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 Cathedralmarker held for the victims of the Bali bombings. Over 80 Australians were killed by the terrorist attack.

Tommy tours the world, playing in both large and small venues. His concerts are extremely popular with his dedicated fans, much due to his powerful and energetic stage presence. Steve Vai has cited Emmanuel as one of the musical artists that anybody with a love of the guitar should see.

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

Musical Style

Tommy has said that even at a young age he was fascinated by Atkins’ musical style – sometimes referred to as Travis picking – of playing bass with the thumb and melody parts with the first two or three fingers at the same time. This technique became the basis of Tommy's guitar style.

While Tommy has never had formal music training, his playing ability has won him fans from all over the world. He is known to play percussion parts on the body of his guitar. As a solo performer he never plays to a set list and uses a minimum of effects. He usually completes recordings in one take.

He frequently uses his left thumb to fret bass notes on the 5th and 6th strings as well as playing chords such as Am and E with just two fingers. He uses a thumb pick mostly, a flat pick or just fingers.

His main guitar is a small-bodied custom Maton EBG808, that is fitted with a pickup and an internal condenser microphone, to which he has given the nickname "Mouse" due to its quieter volume unplugged but massive sound when plugged into an amp. Two of his three main stage guitars, notably his signature TE1 Maton dreadnought, are battered and worn on the necks and soundboards from his excessive playing and percussive techniques on them. He recently stated at a workshop during his annual festival, Tommyfest UK (2008), that all three of his stage guitars have been broken and repaired numerous times over the years.

Association with Chet Atkins

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

In July 1999, at the 15th Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention, Chet presented Tommy with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honor Atkins has bestowed on other guitarists. 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 June each year in Nashville.

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.


Tommy 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.


"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, and also was nominated that year for a Grammy for "Best Country Instrumental Performance".

In the May 2008 issue of Guitar Player Magazine, Tommy Emmanuel was named as "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in their readers poll.


  1. A Great Guitarist Comes Up From Down Under. Mark Pritcher interview. Accessed on May 7, 2008.
  2. Country Music Online interview. Accessed on May 7, 2008.
  3. MusicFrisk interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.
  4. "Oz music legend Tommy Emmanuel falls ill", posting on 'Break Hollywood', December 2007. Accessed on April 04, 2008.
  5. Just Jazz Guitar interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.
  6. Modern Guitars Magazine interview. Accessed on March 13, 2008.
  7. Tamworth Country Music Festival website. Accessed on March 13, 2008.
  8. Countrymusic. About website. Accessed on March 13, 2008.

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