Tommy Emmanuel needs no introduction to most of our readers. One of the greatest acoustic guitar players of all time, known worldwide for his fluid, joyful and supremely melodic finger style technique and energetic, awe-inspiring live performances. One of the most common questions we get asked at Acoustic Centre is, "How do I sound like Tommy?". Unfortunately there's no easy way to acquire his incredible talent, but we can help you get a little closer to his tone - here's our guide to the guitars and gear of Tommy Emmanuel.
The Guitar - Maton Custom Shop EBG808TE 'Tommy Personal'
It's no surprise that Tommy's touring guitar of choice would be his signature Maton Custom Shop guitar, the EBG808TE 'Tommy Personal'. An all-solid, small-body guitar with a solid Sitka Spruce top, solid Queensland Maple back-and-sides, Rosewood fretboard and mahogany neck, with subtle appointments and a distinctive 'CGP' inlay at the 12th fret - a reference to the title of 'Certified Guitar Player' bestowed upon Tommy by country legend Chet Atkins. Each Tommy Personal model is crafted entirely by Custom Shop luthier Andy Allen, who hand-picks each individual piece of timber, hand tuning and scalloping the braces to Tommy's needs.
Tommy also has a more affordable signature model in the EBG808TE and EBG808TEC similarly specced all-solid guitars built in the Maton factory rather than within the Custom Shop. These guitars will get you very close to Tommy's sound at a much more lower price.
Another guitar frequently seen on stages with Tommy is the now-discontinued Maton TE1, a signature dreadnought featuring the classic combination of Sitka Spruce soundboard and Indian Rosewood back-and-sides. While this guitar is no longer produced, the Maton EM100C Messiah is as close as it gets. Substituting a rosewood fretboard for Ebony, and with some slightly glitzier inlays and appointments, the Messiah is otherwise an exact match for the TE1.
Each of Tommy's guitars is equipped with the Maton AP5 Pro pickup system. Maton's professional-quality pickup and preamp combines an undersaddle piezo and gooseneck internal microphone, and onboard EQ and blend controls for easy adjustment mid-set. Each guitar is also fitted with a Maton feedback buster to control the onstage feedback. Here's Tommy's advice on the Maton pickup:
"When I play songs like "Over The Rainbow", I don't use much mic at all...it's mostly pickup. Because I'm playing gently, I've got the pickup on 10. When I'm playing a normal tune like "Mombasa" or something like that, how I run my 808 is, pickup on 10, the mic on 10 - that's what you do. This is how you get the sound. These pickups are designed to run flat out. If you put them at half mast, the signal doesn't sound as big. As soon as you put it on flat out, then you're going to hear everything.
All I do when I play stuff like "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", I just bring the mids up a lot...and if you play it harder, it sounds bad because it's too much reverb but when you play it gently with reverb on it, it sounds amazing!"
It's important also to consider Tommy's setup and action. His touring guitars have an unusually low string height with a very straight neck. While this is usually a recipe for string buzz and rattle, Tommy uses this to advantage, adding fret slap and growl to his tonal palette.
Strings - Martin MA540FX Flexible Core 'Tommy's Choice'
Martin's flexible core strings are designed to reduce finger fatigue and allow for larger bends than would be usual on light gauge acoustic strings. Tommy favours these strings for that exact reason, and even has his own custom gauge: the Martin MA540FX set. While these are a similar thickness to a .012 to .054 light gauge set, they have more flex and comfort than other strings. Interestingly, Tommy changes the strings on his guitar before each concert, for a spankier, brighter tone.
Pedals - Boss TU-3 Tuner and AER Pocket Tools Colourizer
Tommy runs from his guitar directly into a Boss TU-3 tuner, an industry standard pedal tuner that's easy to use and built like a tank. From here, the signal is routed to the AER Pocket Tools Colourizer, a compact preamp and DI with a detailed and musical parametric EQ. The signal from the Colourizer is sent directly to front of house via the XLR output, and this is the majority of the sound that the audience hears, blended with a little of the miced onstage amplifier.
Amplifier - AER Tommy Emmanuel Signature Compact 60
Tommy has used the AER Compact 60 for many years, for it's large amount of clean gain and crystalline clarity, leading AER to develop a signature amplifier for him. Based on the original Compact 60, the AER Compact-TE features Australian aboriginal artwork and Tommy's signature with the CGP certification carved into the sides of the cabinet. The Compact-TE further diverges from the original Compact 60 by offering its onboard effects through to the DI-Out, and by replacing the onboard Delay effect with a replica of Tommy’s original Alesis Midiverb 2 Delay / Reverb effect that defined his sound for years.
Recently, Tommy has been using the Udo Roesner Da Capo 75, a new amplifier designed by the founder of AER. The Da Capo 75 has more gain and a mellower character than the AER, but has a similar overall character and size.
Picks and Capos
Like any guitarist, Tommy's choice of picks and capos changes often, but he has used Dunlop Medium White Thumbpicks exclusively throughout his career. Flatpicks have varied between various companies and materials, but his current pick of choice is the D'Andrea ProPlec Round Triangle picks - a larger, thicker pick with exceptional warmth.
Tommy has used Paige Capos and Kyser KG6B Capos interchangeably throughout his career. While Paige Capos are no longer available in Australia, the Taylor Capo is a worthy replacement, with a very similar style and action.
Watch Tommy's full Rig Rundown on Premier Guitar below, and check out our collection of Tommy Certified gear here.
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