Acoustic Guitarist of the Year 2018 judge Mike Dawes: “I'm not looking for technical, I'm looking for moving”

We’re currently on the search for 2018’s Acoustic Guitarist of the Year, in association with Takamine Guitars. Finalists will be selected by our panel of star judges before duking it out live on stage at the UK Guitar Show this September.

If you’re yet to enter, you still have time. Simply shoot a video of your playing, upload it to YouTube and send us the link using the form below.

To help you fine-tune your performance, we gathered Jon Gomm and Mike Dawes - two thirds of our star judging panel, which also includes Tommy Emmanuel - to discuss their own experiences of guitar competitions and to offer their own advice on what to consider when crafting your entry.

Did you ever enter any guitar competitions or battle of the bands when you were younger, and if so, how did you do?

Jon Gomm: “I'm from Blackpool, cabaret capital of Britain! So I entered a few, but they were very much ‘talent competitions’ and I would routinely get beaten by a tap dancing banjo player with a dancing dog. Fuck that. Thank god for real music.”

Mike Dawes: “I did indeed. In fact, the first contest I entered was Jimmy Page's 'Riffathon' when I was 13. It seems so long ago. I reached the semi-finals and got to meet Jimmy and Brian May – a very inspiring experience for a youngling. I remember a young man named 'Newton Faulkner' was also involved. He did alright! Although music is far more subjective than something like sport, for example, a healthy dose of drive to excel in your field can only be a positive thing. I highly encourage everyone reading this to get out and perform, release and inspire as much as possible.”

What qualities are you looking for from Acoustic Guitarist of the Year entries?

JG: “My mind is wide open. I love musicality, originality, creativity, and somebody who has truly made the guitar their voice.” 

MD: “For me, melody has always been the king. I am moved by topline and harmony, as are we all. I can't wait to hear new pieces taking inspiration from a variety of sources across the musical landscape. I am of course a big fan of solo guitar, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking to pick up some inspiration! Timekeeping is also very important, maybe the most important thing. I am looking to be totally involved from start to finish, and something that often removes listeners from the experience is dodgy rhythm!”

I would routinely get beaten by a tap dancing banjo player with a dancing dog.

Jon Gomm

What tips would you offer players looking to enter?

JG: “Be yourself. Know what you do and love, and do that, do the very essence of that. Don't try to please the judges. Don't look at me and think ‘oh, well Jon Gomm will want to see some crazy tapping nonsense’. You might think that helps you our hinders you, but in reality making assumptions about the judges will probably doom you to fail, cos you're basically underestimating us, thinking we won't understand anything outside our own style.”

MD: “Tune up, play in time, be true to your own voice and let the music lead the technique. This last point is very important. I'm not looking for technical, I'm looking for moving. Not to say the two have to be separate, a healthy balance is always a positive. Take care to play efficiently in a way that makes sense. Logical use of the fretboard in altered tunings is really pleasing to me, don't fly around if you don't have to.”

What does playing guitar mean to you?

JG: “It's what makes me normal and what makes me unique, it's what makes me able to express myself but frustrated when I can't, it's what makes me able to stand on a stage and perform to people and what makes me scared that I have to.”

MD: “To me it's an essential part of my life. At this point it is an extension of my own voice and this is something I'm really looking forward to discovering about these entrants. We can speak through the guitar, we have vibrato, we have articulation. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of other instruments, but guitar just felt right to me. It's an experience that is extremely hard to quantify.”

Enter the competition here!

6 tips for success

1. We need to see you play! No promo-style band videos please.
2. Keep it tight. Get to the point fast. Our experts are begging to be impressed so 15 minutes of noodling won’t make the grade.
3. Keep it musical. We’re all for fretboard madness and next-level sonics but not at the price of trusty musicality and genuine mastery of multiple techniques.
4. Make it impressive. Go for it. We want to see the full breadth of your skills in as tight a playing package as possible.
5. Just your best video please! Our experts are busy. Don’t make us wade through multiple entries where one would do.
6. Want to enter all three categories? ‘Guitarist’, ‘Young Guitarist’ and ‘Acoustic’ Guitarist of the Year? Yeah! Go for it.


1. All entries must be via videos uploaded to YouTube and submitted through the entry form above.
2. Young Guitarist of the Year entrants must be 16 or under on 29 September 2018.
3. Entries must be received by 23.59 (BST) on 2 July 2018.
4. Don’t call us - we’ll call you if we like what you’re doing.
5. You need to be okay with us sharing your video to our wider online audience, appearing in the magazine and playing live on stage at the UK Guitar Show in London on 29 September.
6. As ever, the judge’s decision – picking our finalists and our eventual winner – is final.


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