Interview with Grammy Award Winning Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

An illuminating interview with celebrated Grammy Award-winning guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, whose profound reflections shed light on his remarkable musical journey. Gain invaluable insights into his unique guitar style, signature Maton guitar model, collaborations with esteemed vocalists like Michael McDonald, and much more.

By Magesh MageshContributing Author

Article photo - Interview with Grammy Award Winning Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel

Tommy Emmanuel is a Grammy Award-winning musician with a career spanning over 5 decades. He has performed and recorded music all over the world. Tommy has also worked with James Morrison, Michael McDonald, and Molly Tuttle.

I caught up with him recently to talk about his current musical projects.

Magesh, Musicngear: Hi Tommy! You recently won a Grammy Award for recording 'Folsom Prison Blues' produced by Johnny Cash's son. How did this project come about?

I was asked to come out to the Cash Cabin (Johnny Cash’s Studio) in Hendersonville, TN. The group, The String Revolution, was recording with John Carter Cash, doing an arrangement of the classic song “Folsom Prison Blues.” I was asked to play the melody and improvise some passages around what they already had recorded.

It was an interesting arrangement, and I enjoyed playing the tune and interacting with their parts. I recorded two passes, got video footage and photos, and said goodbye.

Three months later I received a final mix, and then received the news that we had a Grammy Nomination! I was amazed but didn't think it would win.

Then I flew into LA for the Grammys, and we won! What a lovely surprise!

Your guitar style is so unique, how did you create your own sound?

My style has evolved over the last 60 years of playing. I started out as a rhythm player for my family, then heard Chet Atkins and pursued that style.

I have learned, from experience, many styles and played in many different situations that have helped me grow as a player. No one is born playing a particular way, it just happens out of your experience and needs.

I try to keep an open mind about all kinds of music, and traveling helps me to learn from many cultures and styles. I'm a songwriter who plays the guitar.

NOTHING out there in the world has a sound like the Maton pickup & mic system, it's by far, the best

Do you think it is important for young musicians to read music and understand music theory? Can you also talk about the instructional videos available on your site?

I don't read music myself; I wish I could, but I always encourage young people to learn to read music notation, arrangements, etc. Learn to sight-read and learn how to use your ears. Listen to a song you like, work it out by ear, and see if you can hear the patterns in it, the chords, the melody against the chords. It's all good training.

When I was working as a full-time studio musician, I learned to read chord charts, and with experience, I learned how to recognize chord structures and found the best / smoothest way to play what was needed in the song. I encourage all players to have a go at reading, even if you don't use it on the gig, you can still download notes for a song you're learning, and use it as a guide, a roadmap!

On my website, there is a section on my many instruction videos and courses. I have a TrueFire Channel that has hundreds of songs that are taught, explained, and demonstrated. There are also songwriting, arranging, and performing talks to help everyone who is serious about getting better at their craft!

I always encourage young people to learn to read music notation, arrangements, etc. Learn to sight-read and learn how to use your ears. Listen to a song you like, work it out by ear, and see if you can hear the patterns in it, the chords, the melody against the chords. 

Your signature model Maton guitar is so beautiful it looks like it belongs in an art gallery! What sound did you want to hear that wasn't available on other guitars?

I have been playing Maton guitars all my life. I got my first one in 1961. My brother, Phil, and I got 2 MS 500 Maton Electric guitars from our father, Hugh. Then we got an amp and had a lot of fun!

I have played the current Maton Acoustic TE Models for about 30 years now. What I couldn’t get from other guitars is a big warm sound, perfect intonation, and a particular voice that my Matons give me.

I usually tour with three guitars. My TE Personal, a cutaway Maton that I use for G6th tunings or dropped D, as well as a jumbo-sized Maton that has heavier strings on for lower tunings. Usually, a whole tone down from concert pitch, then Dropped D, so my lowest bass string is down to C.

All three guitars have the same Ap5 Pro Pickup & Mic system, so when I change guitars, I don't have to change my settings and neither does my sound man! NOTHING out there in the world has a sound like the Maton pickup & mic system, it's by far, the best.

Maton EBG808 Tommy Emmanuel

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On your album 'Accomplice Two' you recorded with legendary singer Michael McDonald. Do you approach guitar parts differently when working with a vocalist as opposed to playing instrumental music?

It was my honor to work with Michael McDonald. He has such a beautiful voice and I love his piano playing too. Whenever I work with a vocalist, I make sure to get the best for them I can, and then I find a way to get my guitar parts working around the singing.

With Michael, I tried electric parts and solo, and it was just too heavy, so I ended up getting rid of most of my backing parts and featured his piano more, then the last thing I did was play my nylon string guitar very sparsely. I kept it simple and played gently too. It seemed to be the right thing.

I also played the bass and drums on that track.

Can you talk about what projects you are currently working on?

I have a new live album recorded at The Sydney Opera House. I'm very excited about this performance as it really sounds like the listener is right in the middle of the room. It will come out later in the year. 

It is also the 20th Anniversary of my album 'Endless Road'. We have remastered it for vinyl and recorded three new tracks to add to it, and it will have the original artwork concept, so fans and new fans can get it on vinyl or download it too.

This album is a big part of my story as an artist, player, and composer. Hope all the folks out there will enjoy it.

Stream 'Endless Road: 20th Anniversary Edition' on all digital platforms here and get it on vinyl here

Connect With Tommy Emmanuel
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About Magesh Magesh

Magesh is a musician and producer who has worked with Rihanna, Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, Chris Brown, The Pussy Cat Dolls, Nelly Furtado, and Vernon Reid of Living Colour. He released an instructional drumming DVD called "Unique Beats" where he mixed the drum kit with electronics and Indian hand percussion. He recently moved from Australia to the UK to explore new musical opportunities.

Contact Magesh Magesh at

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