I've played guitar since 1959 and have seen many innovations and steps forward in the evolution, construction, design and electronics, since my childhood days, of what I believe is the world’s coolest instrument.
I'm grateful to be in a position of playing an instrument that touches my soul, while making a living doing it.
It's a privileged position that I never take for granted.
This is an account of the touring and recording acoustic guitar I use, how I've set it up as well as the gear I've surrounded it with.
What guitar is "the best"?
I get asked a lot about what guitar is the best, etc.
My answer is simple: The best guitar is the one you love to play and can't put down.
Doesn't matter what it costs, who made it or where it’s from.
If you love playing it, that's the one. Some of my favorites are funky old junkies with a lot of hard years on them. Somehow they make you play differently and you end up having a different experience than you would with your five thousand dollar, hand-made masterpiece.
Building Tommy Emmanuel's Acoustic Guitar
Tommy Emmanuel's signature Maton TE acoustic guitar. (View Larger Image)
I use my Maton TE Personal Model as my main squeeze on tour and usually in the studio. It's a maple guitar with a spruce top, rosewood fingerboard and small, concert-style body size.
The body has great overall balance, comfort and playability. When I plug it into my AER amp, it's a beast. I can record with just a mic too, which also sounds incredibly good. I favor Martin SP Flexicore 12-54 strings, partly because they seem to provide the best intonation with this particular model.
Tommy Emmanual's Core Acoustic Guitar Build
They feel solid, yet easy to bend and fret with. Not all strings give you that. I like real bone saddles and nuts for a bright, yet woody tone. My action is fairly low and flat, neck straight and saddle with a little height on it.
Most people who get to feel my guitar marvel at how nice it plays. It should feel good to play, all day, all night. If you get sore hands, RSI wrist or hand problems, you could be playing a guitar that's not set up right.
So never strain. Playing should be a pleasure, not a chore.
Preamp, Pickups and Other Peripherals
The Maton AP5 Pro Pickup and preamp system used in Emmanuel's acoustic guitars. Image via Blue Bus Music
I use three Maton acoustic guitars on tour, all fitted with the latest AP5 Pro System that has onboard controls and a microphone on an arm that can be moved around inside the guitar to find the right spot.
This system ticks all the boxes for me.
I can mix the amount of Piezo vs Mic and EQ with sweepable midrange that is really flexible and musical. I usually run the levels of both pickup and mic on 10. I cover the sound hole with a rubber plug called a Feedback Buster, and crank up the microphone with no noise or feedback problems.
The External Preamp
I use an AER preamp called a "Dual Mix." I run that into the PA system as one direct signal. Then I come out of that into my AER Compact 60 amplifier. I set the EQ on the amp and pre-amp on flat so nothing is boosted. It's a big, warm tone that my FOH sound man puts into the PA system, which already sounds really good on its own, were it taking a direct line from my guitar.
Emmanuel also uses an AER dual mix preamp like the one pictured above. (View Larger Image)
Good strings that give lots of overtones really help to get the tone of my guitar to be natural and not artificial sounding. This means I don't have to do much tweaking away from the guitar itself.
Preamps and Feedback Control
Having said all this, I still prefer the sound of a good acoustic guitar with a microphone in front of it and nothing else. However, in a day of state-of-the-art PA systems, we arrive, plug in, get a sound, do a show, give our audiences a good time, pack up, get out of there and do it again the next day in a different city or country with minimum fuss and minimum equipment carried.
I hope these few words have given a small view into our world on tour, how I've built my acoustic guitar and the rig surrounding.
Thanks for this opportunity to share with you all.
Enjoy your guitars.
x TE cgp
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Firnville