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Watch Tommy Emmanuel tear it up on Steve Vai's custom, Strat-style Ibanez JEM – with Vai on rhythm guitar

Tommy Emmanuel (left, foreground) jams with Steve Vai (background) at Vai Academy 6.0 in Las Vegas, Nevada
(Image credit: Tommy Emmanuel/YouTube)

Earlier this month, Steve Vai hosted the 6th edition of his annual, all-star Vai Academy workshop at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa.

Featuring electric guitar greats Nuno Bettencourt, Guthrie Govan, Larry Mitchell and Yvette Young, bass guitar wizard Billy Sheehan, acoustic guitar ace Joe Robinson, and, of course, Vai himself, the academy ran from August 4-8.

For those of us who don't attend them in person, the highlights of these workshops tend to be videos of the all-star jams that leak out one by one in the weeks after they occur, and Vai Academy 6.0 hasn't disappointed in that regard.

Earlier this week, a video of Vai jamming with Yvette Young surfaced on the interwebs, and now, a video of another one of the academy's star instructors, acoustic maestro Tommy Emmanuel, taking a rare public turn on an electric at the workshop (with Vai and Larry Mitchell backing him up on rhythm guitar to boot) has surfaced as well. You can see the brief clip below.

As if seeing Emmanuel trade his usual spellbinding, textural acoustic work for some wailing electric blues leads wasn't cool enough itself, eagle-eyed readers will notice that he's using one of Steve Vai's personal custom Ibanez JEMs.

Unlike most JEMs, the 1998 Ibanez custom six-string in Emmanuel's hands is a Strat-style model, with only single-coil pickups. 

“I enjoy Strats, but they are missing a few elements that I’m accustomed to in my JEMs,” Vai told Guitar World when showing us the guitar in question earlier this year. "So, Ibanez made me this custom JEM/Strat[-style] in September 1998." 

Vai most prominently used the guitar on Candle Power, the finger-twistin' 2020 single that would later appear on his 2022 album, Inviolate.

Seeing Emmanuel plug in is certainly a novel sight, but it's not quite unheard of. In early 2020, he engaged in a thrilling electric duel with Josh Smith and Joe Bonamassa on the latter's Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea cruise. He also famously got his shred on with Joe Satriani and Def Leppard's Phil Collen (opens in new tab) in the climactic final jam of the 2017 G4 Experience.

On the acoustic front though, Emmanuel is currently gearing up to release Accomplice Series Vol. 3, an EP of covers recorded with his fellow acoustic innovator Mike Dawes. To hear the duo's audacious, brilliantly arranged version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – premiered in June by Guitar World step right this way.

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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player (opens in new tab). Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder (opens in new tab) and Unrecorded (opens in new tab). Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.