Tommy Emmanuel: the 10 guitarists that blew my mind

Australian fingerstyle virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel is one of only five guitarists anointed as 'Certified Guitar Players' by his hero Chet Atkins*, and it's no surprise to see the rockabilly titan amongst his pick of the masters who have influenced his unsurpassed technique.

"Chet, of course, blew everyone’s mind when he came along," Emmanuel told us. "When I was a kid, Chet Atkins was the name on everyone’s lips; everyone wanted to be like him."

Tommy's latest release, Accomplice One, a collection of duets also features a tribute to another undisputed great, Django Reinhardt, so it seems natural to start a rundown of his personal best-of-the-best with "the Louis Armstrong of the guitar".

"In 2016 I did a guitar camp in Havana, Cuba with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo," Emmanuel said. 

"We worked up an arrangement of this famous Django Reinhardt song. We took all our guitar students to Abdala Studio to witness the recording as part of their education. You wouldn't know it but there were over 80 people sitting quietly in the room as we recorded this track live."

Accomplice One is available from 19 Jan. For details on the release and Emmanuel's typically heavy touring schedule, check out his official website.

1. Django Reinhardt

"Django created a whole genre of music that people are still listening to and trying to emulate. They call it 'gypsy jazz', but I think Django just called it jazz. Django had more good ideas than any soloist I’ve ever heard. 

"He had a great drive in his playing and a beautiful tone from his acoustic guitar. Towards the end of his life he showed us he could play bebop and play incredible inside lines like Charlie Parker. Django was the Louis Armstrong of the guitar."

2. Paco De Lucia

"Paco is the greatest guitar player I‘ve ever seen, period. His music is so deep and so beautiful. It’s almost overwhelming when you hear it live. His technique and ideas were the best I’ve ever heard of anybody, in any genre."

3. Jerry Reed

"Jerry Reed came along in the 60s. We had all grown up listening to Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, then Jerry Reed came along and here was this whole other style of playing. He didn’t sound like anybody else - his playing was completely unique. 

"I just never heard anyone like him. His playing was just on another level and it was hard to fathom what he was doing. When I finally met Jerry I asked him, 'How did you end up playing like this?' He replied to me, 'I was just trying to be like Ray Charles.'"

3. Steve Lukather

"Steve is one of the best soloists I’ve ever seen in the rock and rock fusion genre. If you want to hear some of his greatest works, I love the solo he played on Olivia Newton John’s Let’s Get Physical.

"It’s phenomenal! Nobody else could have brought to that track what he brought. All his solos on the Toto tracks are beautiful as well. The solos he played on Chicago’s Hard Habit To Break and Boz Scagg’s Breakdown Dead Ahead, they were some of the greatest solos I’ve ever heard."

4. Chet Atkins

"Chet, of course, blew everyone’s mind when he came along. When I was a kid, Chet Atkins was the name on everyone’s lips; everyone wanted to be like him. 

"His early recordings, especially a lot of his solo stuff, were so incredibly arranged and recorded. No-one had his kind of abilities. His abilities were on a level that most of us had never heard before."

5. George Benson

"George Benson came along at a time when jazz was really almost dead. He inspired a whole generation of people through pop music, but with a jazz flavour. When you go back and listen to his early records, he was playing the best bebop and the best jazz you’ve ever heard. 

"George brought so much to the genre and his soloing was amazing. The first time I saw him play I was speechless. I had to say to myself, 'What did I just see?'"

6. Larry Carlton

"Larry’s playing in the early days, when he played on Joni Mitchell records, his solos were beautiful and memorable. When he came out with his own original albums, he totally solidified himself as one of the premier soloists. 

"You listen to his solo on songs like Kid Charlemagne, they’re classic, absolutely classic. Larry Carlton almost defines that genre of fusion and rock."

7. Don Rich

"Don Rich blew my mind when I was a kid because I was so in love with the sound of his Telecaster and the way he played. 

"He was one of the biggest influences on every guitar player who played in country music. Everybody wanted to play like Don Rich: he was the man."

8. James Burton

"Right back to Dale Hawkins’s Suzy Q and Ricky Nelson’s Hello Mary Lou, those solos, if you listened to them today they’re still as good as anything I’ve ever heard in my life. I love James Burton’s playing with Elvis Presley. 

"When Elvis first came to Vegas in ‘69 for his comeback special, the solos that James played, especially in That’s Alright Mama and C.C Rider, it’s classic Telecaster playing. I love James Burton."

10. Eric Clapton

"Eric Clapton’s another guitar player that’s blown my mind many times. It’s because of his ability to create a solo that tells you a story. He never plays anything fast, it’s always well thought-out and beautifully played. 

"I think my favourite Eric Clapton recording would have to be the Ray Charles song Hard Times on The Journeyman album. His playing and singing is so stellar."

*The other four Chet Atkins Cerfitied Guitar Players are John Knowles, Jerry Reed, Steve Wariner, Paul Yandell.