Tommy Emmanuel Talks Malibu Guitar Festival and More

In anticipation of the Malibu Guitar Festival, kicking off this week from May 18 - 21, we sat down with Festival performer and acoustic guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel to chat about the week’s festivities, guitars, and much more.

Now in its third year, Malibu Guitar Festival brings together some of the world’s greatest players for four days of all things guitar, along with unique jam sessions, guitar demos, and even a one-of-kind guitar themed art show.

This year’s festival will feature performances from the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, Jamtown with Donavon Frankenreiter, Cisco Adler & G Love, Hunter Hayes, John Hiatt, Steve Vai, Robby Kriger, and, of course, Mr. Emmanuel—just to name a few.

Like the idea of celebrating the guitar while taking in the picturesque Southern California coastline? You’re in luck—a few tickets are still available. Get yours now at

Now, let’s check in with Tommy Emmanuel.

Talk about a specific guitar that changed the way you play.

My first good guitar was a Maton Electric solid body guitar, the MS500. I played that guitar up until I got a Telecaster. It was the Fender Telecaster that brought me into a whole different way of playing—more country, more jazz, more blues. For me, the Telecaster was just the ultimate guitar. I could play Johnny “Guitar” Watson funky sounds. I could play Earth, Wind and Fire kind of swanky rhythm things. I could take the treble down and play jazz-sounding tunes. It was a great, great instrument. I'd say the Fender Telecaster changed my life.

Some incredible players are performing at the Malibu Guitar Festival. Can you tell us about the greatest live performance you ever saw?

That's easy! The greatest live performance by a guitar player that I ever saw was Paco de Lucia, the great flamenco player from Algeciras. I think it's probably the most emotional I've ever felt watching someone play the guitar. The music was so deep and so beautiful that it reached deep inside you with the same kind of power as if Stevie Wonder was standing right beside you singing, it was the same kind of feeling.

You are going to a remote desert island and you can take six chords with you. Which ones would you take and why?

You can play a lot of songs with D, G, A, E and C. They're the ones I would take. You can play songs by the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry—that's all you need. All you really need is three chords, and if you wanted to play some Johnny Cash tunes, you can get away with only two chords.

We all hit a wall with our playing at times. What do you do to shake things up?

I start listening to different stuff. I start listening to music that I'm not normally playing like Count Basie and Frank Sinatra and just play along with it. Other times I'll drive around playing Joe Satriani's album The Extremist really loudly in the car, or AC/DC.

I go through periods were I just listen to something different or I go through periods were I just listen to classical music. Some of Sagovia's early work is magnificent and the tone of his guitar is gorgeous, so you try all sorts of things. I never worry about hitting a wall because I know it's only going to be a minute before you move on and raise the bar again. And that is what we all have to do.

You’re on a Malibu Beach at sunset with an acoustic guitar and a mermaid. What song do you play?

"Hooked On A Feeling," or maybe just practice my scales!

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.