(Gibson) Tony Iommi turns 65 on February 19. The Black Sabbath rifflord is a legend of rock guitar, having a huge influence on heavy metal and all riff-rock for over four decades. The title of his autobiography, Iron Man – My Journey Through Heaven and Hell, is also well-named: Iommi recently had to undergo cancer treatment to finish recording the new Black Sabbath album due summer 2013.
You'll know the numerous classic riffs Tony Iommi has written. But what about the man himself? Gibson have collected 10 things you may not know about Tony Iommi.
He grew a mustache because of spiders and fireworks As a child, Iommi was scared of spiders. A boy neighbor – "Bobby Nuisance, which is the right name for him," recalled Iommi in 2011's book Iron Man – collected large spiders, and once chased Iommi down the street with them. "I was s**tting myself and running down this gravel road when I tripped, so all the gravel went into my face and along my lip. The scar is still there now. The kids even started calling my Scarface, so I got a terrible complex about that." Later, Iommi even had a "sparkler" firework go off in his face. "As soon as I could, I grew a mustache."
Led Zeppelin's John Bonham was one of his best friends: "John was a good friend, best man at my first wedding, and he liked us," says Iommi. "Sabbath jammed through "Supernaut" [from 1972 Sabbath album Vol. 4] with John on drums once. John loved that track. Though we ended up just jamming 12-bar blues at the end. "Supernaut" got too complicated for John! He was going all over the place."
Iommi "Invented" Ultra-Light Gauge Strings: After Iommi lost his fingertips he had to apply thimbles to extend his two damaged fingers. Originally, he self-made the thimbles with the plastic bottle caps of Fairy dishwashing liquid (think Dawn, in the U.S.) His thimbles are now leather. But regular strings were still too painful too play. He bought banjo strings and used the lightest for B and high E. "This way, I managed to get rid of the low E string, using an A string instead." Iommi tried to persuade string manufacturers to make such a "complete" set but most told him, "Nobody's ever going to buy them." He wasn't successful until the U.K's Picato company agreed in 1970.
Iommi's strings had a .008" gauge for the top E. Jimmy Page, Brian May and Billy Gibbons have all since used .008" top E strings. Compare that with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pete Townshend and Malcolm Young from AC/DC who all use (or used) .012″ or heavier.
Iommi says he's been told by producers that he needed a set of thick strings to get a big sound. "I've never used a set of thick strings and I do have a big sound."
For D# (root) tuning, his gauges are .008, .008, .011 (unwound), .018 .024, and .032. For C# tuning, he uses .009, .010, .012 (unwound), .020, .032 and .042. Read the other 7 here.