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For Tommy Emmanuel, Sunday's show at Songbirds Guitar Museum ticks a couple of boxes for him when it comes to music.

Though he was not aware of the particulars of the venue before our interview, he was thrilled to hear it is both an intimate space and filled with rare and vintage guitars.

"There's nothing like being in a room full of guitars," he said. "That's where I belong. I have four guitars in my bedroom."

He has others, of course, but those four stay close by. Guitars, he said, take on a special meaning for serious players, whether it's because it was your first, your pop's or granddad's or the one you used on your first hit.

If you go

› What: Tommy Emmanuel concert; Christi Lee opens.

› When: 6 p.m. Sunday.

› Where: Songbirds Guitar Museum, 35 Station St.

› Admission: $75, fully seated.

› Phone: 423-531-2473.

› Website:

"They are part of your family."

Emmanuel said he still has the guitars he played early in his career back in Australia in the '60s. Some are valuable, with familiar maker's marks and some have no brand name on them.

"I have a Martin made in 1865 in the original case and in mint condition. I don't play that one but every now and then."

He's not too fixated on brand names, however, he said.

"I don't play what doesn't blow my dress up. Some of my favorites have no brand on them. They are funky, and I love them."

Emmanuel is a virtuoso fingerstyle picker, a method that was pioneered by Merle Travis. Emmanuel was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010 and was bestowed the title of Certified Guitar Player by Chet Atkins, who called him a "fearless" fingerpicking player. Atkins gave the title to only four others: John Knowles, Marcel Dadi, Jerry Reed and Steve Wariner.

When told that Vince Gill was the ambassador for Songbirds, Emmanuel recalled a day back in the early '80s in Australia when his manager said two visiting Americans were at the venue and wondered if they could open his show.

"I didn't care," he said. "Turns out it was Albert Lee and Vince Gill."

Earlier this week, he took a visitor from Serbia to a guitar repair shop in Nashville, where he lives, and the owner showed him a couple of guitars in for work.

"They were identical-looking but played very differently. Before I knew whose they were, I said, 'I bet these are Vince's.' You could just tell the way they played."

Earlier in the year, Emmanuel recorded a live album at Ryman Auditorium. He will be playing a lot of material from that album Sunday night, in addition to some older stuff. He'll also be telling stories about his career, his songs and his guitars.

"It's a lot of fun, and I love doing it," he said.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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