By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be in show business. Now, I just want to be in the happiness business. I make music, and you get happy. That’s a good job.”
– Tommy Emmanuel
The previous spotlight found us closer to home but this week we are find ourselves just north of Sydney in a coal mining district, in the small town of Muswellbrook, New South Wales.
In 1955 one of four siblings, a true guitar virtuoso, entered into this world and he would swiftly become a solid icon within the guitar world for very good reason.
Throughout this past week I have vaguely mentioned the upcoming spotlight on this exquisite player to a number of customers over the phone and the recurring theme with every customer is they cite this exceptional and phenomenally gifted musician as one of the key guitar heroes.
An almost unassuming guitar hero without the usual expected flamboyance and theatricality, this weeks player spotlight focuses on the standout achievements and techniques of the ever popular and widely respected Mr Tommy Emmanuel.
Innovative Guitarist, Musician Extraordinaire & Virtuoso
“Songs are our teachers. They show us the depth of the human race and its unrelenting desire to create.”
– Tommy Emmanuel
As with many masters of their craft Tommy was very much an early developer in his musical journey.
Like many families back then a musical instrument would find its way into the household or some may have already been there from a past generation, his father was an engineer by trade and one day came home with an electric guitar, this was more of a fascination from the mechanical side of the instrument, Tommy’s fathers intention were to dissect the guitar to understand how it worked.
Tommy and his sibling Phil are more intrigued by the Guitars possibilities as a musical instrument and less interested by the mechanical side.
They proceeded to sneak away with the guitar when their father was out of sight as their curiosity got the better of them.
“Driven somewhat by sibling rivalry, they developed contests that were both fun and extremely educational. “We turned our backs to each other,” Tommy remembered, “and Phil would play a chord and I would have to say what the chord was, what the notes in it were.” It was competition which impacted his entire career, allowing him access to the rich interior architecture of songs. Though neither brother had any formal musical training, this self-schooling quickly transformed both into seriously sophisticated musicians.”
-Tommy Emmanuel - https://tommyemmanuel.com/bio/
Obtaining his first guitar at the age of four years old it was quite clear at this very early stage that he was extremely gifted and had a natural ability to learn and develop the instrument.
He identifies to key musical experiences that shaped his development and inspiration, initially accompanying his mother while she led on lap steel.
“I recall it was exciting to play music with my mother – everyday I looked forward to hearing the school bell, knowing that I would run across the road to our home and my mum would be waiting to play. She showed me some songs that were simple and easy to remember. She taught me how a song is constructed, to know the difference between the verse and the chorus and the bridge, and to look out for key changes. I think I learned the importance of melody against chords through learning all these songs.”
Tommy Emmanuel Interview
His other recognition and long-standing influence is remembering when he first experienced Chet Atkins who has remained a long-standing influence in both music and life.
“I heard Chet on the radio and it sounded better than anything I’d ever heard. There was a power and great tone in his playing, and at the same time, it was very commercial-sounding for its day. Everybody was attracted to Chet’s records. I recall thinking, “I want to do that.” He sounded better than everyone else.
He was a guy who loved life and loved people and was fascinated by human achievement. He taught me to appreciate the cleverness of some people and to not forget the simpler things of life. His positive attitude and humble approach with me and everybody else around him, made life seem like it was full of possibilities.”
Tommy Emmanuel Interview
A key and very interesting development within his musical journey was believing that their father would be disappointed or upset by the secretive musical development of Tommy and his sibling Phil.
It was in fact the opposite reaction their father was overjoyed that his sons were able to play music so much so his positivity to court it was a reaction not seen by many back then or today.
Their father went full steam ahead and encourage the other siblings to join together and form a musical group, they were bona fide child prodigies brother Chris was enlisted on drums and sister Veronica was to be the lap steel player.
Level of dedication and inspiration by their father was yet to go up another step, he formed the band into a family business sold the house and vowed to live on “The Road”.
“They joyously rocked hip guitar instrumentals such as “Apache” by The Shadows, featuring Hank Marvin on guitar, who both Phil and Tommy adored and emulated. They called themselves “The Emmanuel Quartet”. But when people kept mistaking them for a classical string quartet, they changed the name to The Midget Surfaries.
They entered a band competition, and easily surpassed all contenders to take first prize. On a national TV appearance they burned through “Apache” with such aplomb that the producer told their dad he should take the band on the road.”
Tommy Emmanuel - https://tommyemmanuel.com/bio/
“Anytime you talk to any of his fans, whether musicians or civilians, invariably they will speak of not one but two qualities that define his greatness.
The first, predictably, is his extraordinary guitar playing. Considered by those in the know to be among this planet’s greatest guitarists, his playing is simply miraculous, as it would take three musicians, or more, to do what Tommy does solo. Who else, for example, when playing “Day Tripper,” can lay down the rhythm part, dig into the riff and sing the melody all at once on just one acoustic guitar?”
Tommy Emmanuel - https://tommyemmanuel.com/bio/
Touring as part of the family band last is it amazing six years until society whilst its hand and the children were forced to go back into more of a normal way of life with routine structure and education that have been missed out on.
The very sad passing of his father in 1966 was another turning point in his musical career as his grief intensified his development as a musician and to continue the path set out by his father.
Tommy went on do you have an incredible career in the music industry and still to this day he is at the top of his game because he always looks like he's developing and trying to digest new ways to convey his expressions via his guitar.
He has incredible outlook on music and guitar playing in general and will never lay his talents down to gifts and more to dedication hard work and perseverance.
He truly is an inspirational character to observe in interviews he has such an uplifting personality doesn't take himself too seriously and comes across in an incredibly relaxed manner for a master of the art.
“I think a person’s desires and abilities are definitely handed on through the generations, but those who do well with their abilities are the ones who are willing to put in the work and be dedicated, and who are willing to sacrifice for its fruition.”
Tommy Emmanuel Interview -https://theoriginalvangoghsearanthology.com/2014/03/12/an-interview-with-tommy-emmanuel/
Tommy has had an extensive musical career through many generations and has always been at the forefront of the world of guitarists, now in the current world of social media and online content he is just as relevant as ever.
I truly believe that he is so well received due to his incredible and increasingly complex fingerpicking style and general ability on the guitar.
He utilises every part of the great affect to communicate and relate in you are you are you know is with great extravagance and charisma.
So far within the series we have documented many players from all different backgrounds all different styles and many different generations.
Each individual preferences and comforts, long-standing guitar players within the industry know what they want know what they like and really divert for it as to keep their own consistency.
Of all the incredible place we have documented I have never come across a player so committed and so involved down to every intricate detail with history and choices.
Tommy Emmanuel is a complex and hard hitting hard wearing guitar player, so much so his iconic synonymous Maton acoustic guitars show the battle scars of the stories.
Theres always been a lot of hype and fascination around Tommy's choice of guitar, guitar string and his general set up to play live.
Fans and guitar players alike have found him very intriguing this is an amazing really for a predominantly acoustic guitar player, people are generally and naturally more wrapped up in the world of electric guitars and effects. But Tommy has this appeal that makes you think 'just how does he get that sound, that technique, and deliver that entire performance?'... there must be some tricks involved, right?!
Not likely with this Australian wizard 🧙♂️
As he has specified in many an interview great tone and great sounds don't come from the guitar all the very specific choice of strings or even plectrum for that matter. The core sound and individual signature comes from the players fingers.
Tommy always conveys replicating somebody else's equipment that works for them may not work for you so you should always choose the strings and guitar and of course plectrum that feels best for you and your goals as a guitarist and musician.
Below you can find an incredible video that truly highlights Tommy and his great personality along with his dedication to the importance of guitar strings and correct and attentive tuning.
Tommy is a guitar player that is so enjoyable to watch it just floors you! The technique is mind-blowing, the tone is absolute acoustic perfection; in my opinion and many other people's opinion clearly!
This is a phenomenal capture of his exquisite talent as a musician. The levels of melody along with the tight bass lines and impeccable sense of timing and groove is absolutely awe-inspiring.
What a sound, what a player!
So when defining his string choice it really is a matter of what works for him and his guitars, he is a very practical player and very matter-of-fact, if it works it works if it doesn't move on.
For many years he's had a first choice and has admittedly describes going through each and every brand at one stage or another but now he seems to have settled.
If one man deserves a signature set of strings it's Tommy Emmanuel.
Tommy Emmanuel's Choice
It isn’t just about flexibility; it’s about bending the note till it rings true. Flexible Core strings feel soft to the touch, making them ideal for beginners. But don’t be fooled by comfort! They are for professional players too. Just ask Tommy Emmanuel, who performs with Martin Flexible Core strings night after night. We start with the highest tensile-strength core wire, then tin-plate it on all six strings for added corrosion resistance; because what you don’t see matters! When coupled with high quality wrap wire, you get consistent true tone that you can count on song after song. With Flexible Core strings, you get total flexibility and total control.
Martin Authentic Acoustic Flexible Core strings reduce finger fatigue; they are ideal for finger-style and note bending and offer comfort without sacrificing tone.
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