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Watch Tommy Emmanuel and Mike Dawes’ thrilling acoustic cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit

Tommy Emmanuel and Mike Dawes have teamed up for a cover of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, transforming the grunge anthem into a supernova acoustic guitar duet.

The video, which is making its official world premier on GW – right up there above this text – is a fitting way to mark the announcement of Tommy Emmanuel’s Accomplice Series Vol. 3, on which Mike Dawes joins the Australian guitar virtuoso in the studio for a handful of covers. 

Together, the pair will tackle Sting’s Fields of Gold, 1975’s By My Mistake, Somebody I Used to Know by Gotye, the video for which was revealed last year, and Slow Dancing In a Burning Room by the one and only John Mayer.

Emmanuel’s Accomplice Series has thrown up some fascinating collaborations. On Vol. 2 he worked with fingerpicking phenom Richard Smith on four tracks that saluted the influence of Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins. Vol. 1, meanwhile, saw him hook up with Rob Ickes on Dobro and Trey Hensley on guitar. 

Smells Like Teen Spirit, however, might just be the most audacious work yet. Ostensibly, Dawes is on rhythm, while Emmanuel sketches out Kurt Cobain’s vocal on his signature Maton, but those roles are kind of interchangeable. 

Dawes handles his parts on his Andreas Cuntz cutaway acoustic, with a DiMarzio acoustic guitar pickup in the soundhole, and credits his rhythm approach to his old guitar teacher, the fingerstyle whiz Stuart Ryan, who teaches guitar the BIMM Institute, in the UK.

In 2021, Total Guitar readers voted Smells Like Teen Spirit the 17th greatest guitar riff of all time, and for a generation of players it was the very first they learned. Here Dawes and Emmanuel transform it into something altogether more baroque, without forgetting the energy that made the song so vital in the first place. 

Indeed, this is an instrumental performance but of course Emmanuel can’t help singing along to the pre-chorus – that has been most people’s experience since 1991. The video was directed and edited by Joshua Britt and Neilson Hubbard for Neighborhoods Apart, recorded live by Dylan Allredge, with mixing and mastering by Marc DeSisto.  

Tommy Emmanuel’s Accomplice Series Vol. 3 (opens in new tab)is available to pre-save on digital platforms, and is set for release in September.

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Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.