Iommi SG Tuning Changes Over the Years...Why?

Discussion in 'Epiphone SG' started by WytchCrypt, Jun 9, 2020.

  1. WytchCrypt

    WytchCrypt Active Member

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    Hi all,

    most of us Tony Iommi fanatics know that he originally played his white Strat on "Wicked World" and first SG (a right handed model he flipped upside down) on the rest of the 1st Sabbath album. Apparently his "Monkey" first appeared on "Paranoid" but like the first album, he was using standard E tuning. For "Masters of Reality" he wanted a new darker sound that took up more space so downtuned 3 steps to Db. He stayed at Db for 3 albums, "Masters of Reality", "Vol 4" & "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath". After this things get interesting and I'm looking for feedback from my fellow SG players as to why he made the next few changes.

    As far as I can tell, for "Sabotage" he returned to standard E tuning (you can definitely tell the difference in Ozzy's vocals as they sound much more strained ). From what I've read, he was still using the Monkey so it wasn't due to a change in guitar.

    For the next album, 1978's "Never Say Die" it also appears he remained in standard E but I believe he began playing the Monkey's first replacement, the John Birch SG with cross neck inlays. He certainly began using the Birch SG on tour as can be seen on several youtube vids from the '78 tour. No changes in gear or tuning I can tell for the next album, "Technical Ecstasy".

    Major changes for Tony's gear and the band of course with the next album, "Heaven and Hell". It appears Tony began using his first JayDee design, "The Old Boy" (but from what I've read only for overdubs until it became his #1 guitar for recording & touring around 1983). He also began downtuning a half step to Eb.

    As far as I know since then Tony's stayed at Eb. Anyway, while I can guess the change to Eb with the arrival of Dio was to better accomodate his vocal range (though I could be wrong), there's still the question of why he abandoned Db to move back to standard E for "Never Say Die"? Anyone know more about this? I haven't yet read his autobio, "Iron Man" so the answer could be in there...
     
  2. ChubbyFingers

    ChubbyFingers Active Member

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    Iommi lost the tips of some or all of his right fingers in an industrial accident the day he was to have quit his job and go pro musician. Being a leftie that is his fretting hand. After recovering somewhat he experimented with home made plastic finger tips. He dropped the tuning to reduce string tensions and thus finer force and pain. Hence his unique sound and the classic Sabbath dark tones.

    There are a couple of interviews he's given in recent years which cover the subject. They're on YouTube.
     
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  3. skelt101

    skelt101 Active Member

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    I just finished "Iron Man" last week! It's a quick and entertaining read. No answers for your tuning questions though. I would guess the tuning changed to fit, not only the singer, but also the style of music. Lots of changes going on throughout the '70s and early '80s. BTW, the way your post is written, it sounds like you mixed up the order of the last two Ozzy albums. "Never Say Die!" was "it" for Ozzy. (Until "13", that is...)
     
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  4. Grizzlyman

    Grizzlyman Active Member

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    Hey Wytch!
    So, as far as I know this is when and why Tony’s tunings changed over the years:
    Black Sabbath - Standard E
    Paranoid - slightly sharp standard E, I think the sharpness is due to the tape machine speed variances at the time, was meant to be in E standard
    Master of reality - C#, this was where they first started experimenting with lower tunings, Tony has alluded to it being due to wanting to get a heavier sound, a thicker sound as they were just a single guitar band, and also to help relieve the discomfort in his fingertips although his accident would have been around 6 years earlier around 1965.
    Vol. 4 - still in C# except ‘Changes’ which is a piano song
    Sabbath Bloody Sabbath - still in C#
    Sabotage - this album is still in C# believe it or not, but they started to move away from using the low C# as a root note all the time so started to vary more the key that the songs were written in. Supertzar is he exception, it’s in E probably as it uses a choir which needed their parts written down.
    Technical Ecstasy - back to E standard, Tony talks about how he wanted to bring in the keyboards and synthesisers, and writing in E helps with working with a traditional keyboard player. Also
    Never Say Die - also in E standard. This album was written with a different singer (Dave Walker from Savoy Brown, a version of Juniors Eyes can be found with him on vocals), which may have contributed to the tuning. Also the move back to E standard may have been influenced by the burgeoning punk movement in the U.K. at the time, you can hear the actual songwriting is quite different for sabbath on those last 2 Ozzy albums (before 13 of course).
    Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were both tuned to fit Ronnie James Dio’s vocals I assume, as Tony talks about how him and Dio worked on a lot of those songs together as Dio also played guitar.
    After that it’s been a mixture of tunings, Tony Martin era used a lot of D# tunings, but not exclusively, but generally fluctuating between C#, D# and E standard.
    Hope that clears things up a bit...?
     
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  5. purple dragon

    purple dragon Member

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    I think this is really hard to find out because who know at this point and Tony has told diffrent thing about the same thing over the years.afther i rember from reading years ago.the white strat did die midway or close to the end so the recordings off the strat is not used and its all the sg on the album.i have also read that he did change his right sg with the lefty before he did record the album.so its all recorded on the monkey.tuning i have read and watch video that he did say the first album was recorded In e but afther that they did change to a half step down to eb.dont know if they did go back to e on paranoid or if its recorded In eb.and then fore masters they did go down to c#.i also belive you are right about the old boy,afther i have read and found off pic/video online he did use the oldboy AS a backup to the John birch on tour and overdubbs on recordings.posseble In other tunings on tour up to 83 and then he did change to the oldboy.also AS i can see he did have the Leo quan badass bridge on the jb and old boy first but did add a posseble custom endpice on old boy in 83 up to around late 88 early 89 whene he did change to the 456 and keep on to this day.
     
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  6. WytchCrypt

    WytchCrypt Active Member

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    Thanks for the great info everyone! A couple points in response...

    1) Some of my facts came from looking at transcriptions on Ultimate Guitar and this site which is very informative on Tony's guitar & tuning history:

    https://www.groundguitar.com/tony-iommis-guitars-and-gear/

    2) I know Never Say Die was Ozzy's last until 13...I could have worded my final paragraph better ;)
    3) I always thought Tony was in E standard for Sabotage, probably because I always think Symptom of the Universe when I think Sabotage and it's such an evil riff and plays so easily in E. Just had a look on Ultimate Guitar at a transcription of Hole in the Sky and it is in Db. Learn something new every day!
    4) Thanks Grizz for the detailed tuning history, definitely answers my questions!
    5) Thanks purple dragon for Tony's guitar/hardware history!
     
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  7. Grizzlyman

    Grizzlyman Active Member

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    Just a bit about the hardware questions, what happened around the first album is the most difficult to ascertain, but for certain the song Wicked World on the first album was recorded with his Strat. The rest of the album was recorded on an SG Special with P90 pickups. Whether this was right or left handed is unclear, as we don’t know exactly when he traded the guitar with someone around Birmingham who he’d heard was right handed but playing a left handed SG.
    He does mention that he met the guy for the exchange in a car park (dodgy), and the guy initially wanted Tony’s guitar plus cash in exchange for the future ‘monkey’ guitar. He more or less told the guy to sod off, so the guy ended up agreeing to the exchange.
    I wouldn’t have been surprised if Tony got a bit angry and may have scared the guy a bit. Tony is well known for taking approximately zero sh!t!
    The story about what he did to the journalist that personally attacked him in an article after Tony graciously invited him to stay at his place when he was doing an in depth feature on the band is a classic!
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2020
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  8. WytchCrypt

    WytchCrypt Active Member

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    While I obviously don't know for sure, the groundguitar.com link I mentioned earlier claims he did indeed use the strat on Wicked World and a right handed SG for the rest of the album. They claim the left-right SG swap happened after the 1st album was complete and that Tony said this in a 2004 interview with Epiphone...but the link to the interview goes to a page no longer found :hmm:
     
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  9. Grizzlyman

    Grizzlyman Active Member

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    Sounds pretty likely in that case! Thanks for the info!
     
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  10. SG Champagne

    SG Champagne Active Member

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    This is a fantastic thread. Thanks.
     
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  11. WytchCrypt

    WytchCrypt Active Member

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    You're very welcome! I don't mean to turn this into a Tony Iommi forum, but I find it very difficult to talk SG without first thinking of the Iron Man :dude:
     
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