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Emmanuel performing at the Soave Guitar Festival, Italy, May 2010
|Born||(1955-05-31) 31 May 1955 (age 57)|
Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia
|Genres||Folk, country, blues, rock, pop, jazz|
|Instruments||Guitar, lap steel guitar|
|Maton TE Signature model|
William Thomas "Tommy" Emmanuel AM (born 31 May 1955) is an Australian guitarist and occasional singer, best known for his complex fingerstyle technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects on the guitar. In the May 2008 and 2010 issues of Guitar Player Magazine, he was named as "Best Acoustic Guitarist" in their readers' poll. In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Emmanuel was born in Australia in 1955. He received his first guitar in 1959 at age four, 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 6, in 1961, 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 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'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 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 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.
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. 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 Cathedral held for the victims of the Bali bombings.
In December 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.
In late January 2010, having been deeply touched by the tragic 2010 Haiti earthquake earlier in the same month, Emmanuel announced 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.
In June 2010 Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).
Emmanuel 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 Emmanuel 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.
Emmanuel 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. He also integrates amongst his trademark blazing runs and kaleidoscopic chord progressions a quick note / chord "dive," imitating a tremolo system effect on his fixed-bridge acoustic guitars, by pressing the palm of his right hand against the body of the guitar directly above the fret board close to the neck joint while maintaining forward pressure with his left (fretting) hand.
His main guitar is a small-bodied custom Maton EBG808 made in 2003, that is fitted with Maton's APMic pickup system (a piezo pickup and an internal microphone blend). He has given this guitar the nickname "Mouse" due to its quieter volume unplugged but massive sound when plugged into an amp or PA system. Two of his main stage guitars, notably his signature TE1 Maton dreadnought, are battered and worn due to his excessive playing and percussive techniques.
Due to a personal meeting in Johor Bahru in October 2012 all three of his famous guitars (Mouse, Yellow Mouse and Bertha) are in retirement now in Maton Museum in Australia since summer 2012. The successors of Mouse and Yellow Mouse have been built from the wood of the same tree.
Emmanuel usually keeps the EBG808 in standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E), while he tunes his second EBG808 to D-G-D-G-B-E and his TE1 to C♯-F♯-B-E-G♯-C♯. He usually uses 0.12 gauge (light) strings on his EBG808s and 0.13 gauge (medium) strings on his TE1.
As a young man in Australia, Emmanuel 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 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."
In July 1999, at the 15th Annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society Convention, Atkins presented Emmanuel with a Certified Guitar Player award, an honor Chet personally bestowed to only four 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 July each year in Nashville.
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)
"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".
Tommy Emmanuel has 10 upcoming shows:
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