Tony Iommi tells the story of the guitar that shaped Black Sabbath

Publish Date
Wednesday, 25 March 2020, 9:53AM

Celebrating the iconic status of one of its most esteemed and legendary artists, Gibson is recreating Tony Iommi's famed 'Monkey' 1964 Gibson SG.

As the driving force behind Black Sabbath, Iommi is arguably the most important heavy metal musician of the 1970s — perhaps of all-time.

His status in rock's pantheon warrants interest in his equipment, but his unique physical challenges as a guitarist make his tools that much more fascinating to behold. The '64 Gibson that Iommi used on every Black Sabbath album and tour of the '70s has a story to tell in every modification, every scratch and every dent.

Gibson's Custom Shop meticulously duplicated the 'Monkey' SG in 50 exact replicas (25 each in right- and left-handed configurations) that are available at Gibson dealers worldwide.

Iommi tells the guitar's story in the video player above.

He explains what attracted him to the SG in the first place, then how he came to possess his SG. Though he's a left-handed player, Iommi's first SG was a right-handed model which he played upside-down. He acquired the 'Monkey' in a trade with another guitarist who strangely had the opposite problem.

"I don't know how that happened," Iommi noted, given the rarity of left-handed guitars in England in the '60s. "But I contacted him and we decided to meet in a car park and swap guitars."

Due to the loss of two of his finger-tips in a steel mill accident, Iommi sought out a number of modifications to make playing his guitar less painful.

"I had to make the guitar work for me as easy as it could," he continued. "So I had to use light-gauge strings. I had the polyurethane put on so it builds up into the fret, so I could slide and it didn't catch. Especially with thimbles 'cause you can rip the leather off..."

The first time Iommi recorded with the 'Monkey' was on Sabbath's debut album. In those days the SG was a backup to Iommi's Fender Stratocaster, but when one the Strat's pickups broke after recording "Wicked World," Iommi switched to the 'Monkey' and that was that.

"It certainly became a classic," he said. "Once I'd used that, I never went back to any other guitar. I always used that. That was my main sound, really. It was on the first four albums or five albums."

In case there was any question, Iommi is thrilled with Gibson's replicas of the 'Monkey,' saying the company's builders nailed every detail.

"To see the work that's gone into these to reproduce exactly the original, every little screw hole, even down to the rusty screws, it's incredible. It's like a dream."

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission