At this year’s Q Awards, Tony Iommi received the Gibson Les Paul Award for his innovation with the guitar – get our new issue, on sale now, for full coverage of the ceremony. Honouring of the Black Sabbath man was in fact the latest chapter in the long-running story between Iommi and Gibson. In a guest column he explains how their SG model not only saved his playing career after a hand injury, but also Black Sabbath’s self-titled first album...
When I was young I played accordion – all my relations played accordion or drums – I didn’t particular want one, but that’s what I got. I actually wanted a set of drums but we had a tiny house so there was no room to set a kit up even if I could have afforded one. So the accordion got me rolling, but I really liked the idea of playing guitar. My mother bought me my first guitar and went from there really. I really liked playing, I’d just sit in my bedroom practising, listening to records and the radio, trying to play the particular tunes.
After my first acoustic guitar I wanted an electric, but being left-handed it was difficult to get one. Very few came into the country, though eventually I got a Strat, but I had to switch to Gibson. When we were doing the first album for Black Sabbath my Fender’s pick-up went when we were recording – and we only had a day in the studio! I had a Gibson SG that I’d never really played as a back-up, but I used that for the album and really got into it! As we recorded the first album with it, that was it. I stuck with the Gibson.
It was a really good guitar for me in fact because I’d cut the ends of my fingers off in a factory accident as a teenager. The SG was great as I was able to get up to the high frets – my fingers weren’t long enough to reach them on other models. So I really took to it.
After my accident I had to find a new way of playing. I couldn’t play chords the way I did before, so I had to come up with my own way of making a big sound. It got me into a new style of playing. I think if I hadn’t had the accident I wouldn’t be playing the way I do now – I don’t know where I would have been. I’d probably have packed up by now!
Now my old Gibson is in a case in the Hard Rock Café, New York. I had to retire it after taking it on the road so much I was worried it wouldn’t survive after all the years of battering it around. It just had a sound and feel I like. Every guitar definitely has a personality. A certain sound and feel. After years of playing the SG I did try some other models but it just didn’t feel the same, with a guitar you find the right one and you make it your own. It’s hard to replace that. Tony Iommi @tonyiommi As told to Paul Stokes
For more head to Gibson.com.