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
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
Maton TE (Signature Model)
Martin SP Flexible Core (12 - 54)
AER Compact 60/3 Twin
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
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.
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
Maton AP5 Pro System
AER Dual Mix
Feedback Buster Soundhole Cover
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
Written by GC Editorial on Electrics and Build Guides
Mike Duncan says
I was so glad to hear that TE uses concert-sized guitars when he plays. I have 3 and hardly ever play my Martin D-35. The balance of a concert, in my estimation, is spot-on. 1 and 3/4 in. nut is also perfect for fingerstyle. I’ve seen Tommy several times and always leave amazed. I started using Dunlop medium thumbpicks, but I cut mine off, then shape and bevel them myself. Look at Martin Tallstrom’s pick.
Bobby Kittleberger says
Awesome, thanks for your input, Mike. I agree on the concert body shape. Less “bassy” than the dreadnoughts but perfect for Tommy’s style.
Gary Shilladay says
What an excellent article and from, for me, the strongest acoustic guitar player in the world!! I agree with Michael that Tommy Emmanuel and Jeff Beck would be a tour de force which would sell out anywhere they played. I would also be very interested to hear what Tommy has got to say about looper pedals and percussive playing as I believe he plays drums too. It was also very interesting to hear how he uses a mix of piezo and in-guitar mic – some adaptions for my piezo only J45 definitely required one day. Thanks to one of my true favourites of guitar for his time and knowledge.
Bobby Kittleberger says
Thanks Gary, glad you enjoyed this one.
Michael Scanlon says
Tommy can , smoke – the strings off the fingerboard and Melt any audience of guitarist into jaw dropping Awe . A dream , Tommy & Jeff Beck sit down and swap song ideas . ! ! THANKS
Bobby Kittleberger says
Agreed. Thanks Michael.
Allan KITCHINGMAN says
Thanks for the article Tommy, I have followed you for years and love your music.
I am attempting to learn guitar for enjoyment and also to assist with my business which is repairs to musical equipment such as amps, effects, keyboards, etc.
Best Regards from a fellow Aussie