Here’s an extract from the interview I did for The SG Guitar Book with Tony Iommi. It’s a particularly interesting one because Tony is among a few examples in the book of a player who got sidetracked from actual Gibson SGs and had a custom guitar made.
TB: The “Old Boy” that John Diggins made for you seems to have served you very well.
TI: Oh god yeah, I’ve had a good few many years out of that one, and it really is one of me favourite guitars.
TB: What is it about it? Sometimes everything just comes together.
TI: It does, yeah. To find a guitar that you really feel comfortable with. In fact, funnily enough, Brian May was over here last week, and we were sitting talking about this particular thing, him with his old guitar, and me. It just kind of comes to life in a way, it becomes part of you, you’ve had it that long it becomes aged. I don’t know, I suppose it’s like a violin, the wood ages, and it gets sweeter. It just had that thing, it had got the age to it and it had got the comfortableness to it.
TB: It’s almost like it wears into you.
TI: It does, and again, by playing it, you wear it in and get used to it. When I pick a new guitar up, it’s whoo, really weird.
TB: I think you went back to Gibson quite a bit later, didn’t you?
TI: Yes I did. The reason I left Gibson, quite honestly, in the early days … I say early days, it was round about in the 80s … they sent me three or four guitars. First of all they were right-handed, which I was really pissed off about.
TB: You’d have thought they could get that right. [Tony is famously a left-hander.]
TI: You’d have thought they’d get that right. I looked at the workmanship and it was really crap. I did complain and said I won’t be using them again until they get better. Then later on they sort of approached me about doing my own Gibson. We went through all the stages of it. I liked them.
TB: It must have felt like quite an honour, really.
TI: Yeah, it was really good, I was really proud that they were going to make them for me and have a guitar after my own name – and my pickups, as well, because that’s the first pickups they’d made of somebody. They always had their own pickups, and to have them to use mine for the first time, that was brilliant. I went over to Nashville for a while and we worked in the Gibson factory there, testing them till we came up with the right one.
TB: Mike [Clement, Tony’s tech since 1990] was telling me the pickups on the Old Boy were sealed, and John Birch couldn’t remember exactly what he’d done.
TI: Well, that’s John, he never bloody remembers, ha ha. But what I liked about John as well was he’d experiment, he’d try stuff – you could suggest something and he’ll try it, and it was good.
TB: That’s the good thing about having the guy you go to, rather than a big company.
TI: Exactly, exactly. And that’s what I sort of said, when we went with Gibson, I said I want to be involved in this, I don’t want something plonked up and stick my name on it and that’s it. And the guy we worked with at Gibson, JT Riboloff, was great.