When it comes to legendary pairings between musicians and guitars in heavy metal, few combinations are as iconic as Tony Iommi and his signature Gibson SG. The guitar that produced the otherworldly riffs of ‘Paranoid’, ‘War Pigs’, and ‘Children of the Grave’ was often lovingly referred to as “Monkey” due to the sticker that was placed on the body of the instrument. With its devilish appearance and classic tone, almost all of Black Sabbath’s music can be traced back to the SG.
It wasn’t always that way. When Iommi briefly joined Jethro Tull in the late 1960s, he was using a white Fender Stratocaster as his main guitar. Footage of Iommi using the Strat can be seen in his sole appearance with the band during The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus performance. Iommi returned to Black Sabbath and brought his Strat with him, but an equipment malfunction during the recording of the band’s first album caused him to make a switch.
“We got into doing the first track on Black Sabbath album, ‘Wicked World,’ and then my guitar started playing up, and suddenly it went off, the pickup had gone wrong,” Iommi recalled to Gibson in 2020. “And the producer was going, ‘Don’t worry, you have the other guitar.'”
That “other guitar” was an SG that Iommi had only just recently bought. But the SG he used as a replacement wasn’t his first SG. “I had the Strat up until the first album [1970’s ‘Black Sabbath’],” Iommi explained. “When we went to record that, I bought an SG prior to that. I had an SG that was right-handed, and I played it upside down – I changed the strings and played it upside down.
“And I heard about another guy in Birmingham who’ve got a left-handed guitar, and he played it upside down, so I tried to contact him. I don’t even remember how I found out about it, somebody obviously told me,” Iommi recalled. “So I arranged to meet him in a car park in Birmingham, and he brought his guitar, I brought mine, and we ended up swapping. So I had then a left-handed guitar, and in the studio when we’ve done the first album, but I was using the Strat because I was used to that, and I’d never actually use the SG more than a few minutes.”
With the Strat out of commission, Iommi had no time to worry about getting familiar with his new axe. “We only had it for a day, the studio, to record the album, so I used the Gibson, and ever since then, I never looked back,” Iommi stated. “I loved it and played that; that became the guitar that was on all the albums up until 1980.”
Watch Iommi discuss his love of the SG with Gibson down below.