Learn To Play Like Tony Iommi

Tips and techniques use to play like the Godfather of metal, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath.

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Ever since 1970's "black sabbath", guitarist Tony Iommi has been playing some of the greatest riffs in guitar history, as well as defining one of the most popular music genres, heavy metal, despite losing the tips of his fingers in an industrial accident. This article is devoted entirely to some of the techniques used by the Godfather himself.

Iommi plays all his songs on an SG, and uses light gauge strings, usually down tunes his guitar, and plays with lots of distortion.

1. Power Chords



Toni iommis more popular songs are played using power chords, usually found done by the 7th or 12th fret. This is the main riff of one of sabbaths more popular songs, "Iron Man" off 1970's "Paranoid". Use only the 5th string and 6th.

   B5   D5    D5 E5    E5    G5 Fb5               D5 E5
e|----------------------------------------------------------
B|----------------------------------------------------------
G|----------------------------------------------------------
D|----------------------------------------------------------
A|-9----12----12/14----14----17-16-17-16-17-16----12/14-----
E|-7----10----10/12----12----15-14-15-14-15-14----10/12-----

These kinds of chords are use in lots of sabbath songs, such as "Paranoid", "War Pigs", "the wizard" and lots of other sabbath classics.

2. Trilling



Iommi uses a technique called "Trilling" which is just hammering on and of the string quickly again and again. This is found in "War Pigs", " Sweet Leaf" etc. Heres the main riff of "Black Sabbath" as an example. Trills are represented by (4, 5)4v ( best I can do on a computer), where you place a finger on 4, and hammer on and off the 5.

    G                        G
e|--------------------------------------------------
B|--------------------------------------------------
G|--0v-----------------------0v---------------------
D|--0v-----5-----------------0v-----5---------------
A|--xv---------(4,5)4v-------xv-----------4vvvvv----
E|--3v-----------------------3v---------------------


    G                              | play through verse
e|---------------------------------|--------------|
B|---------------------------------|--------------|
G|--0v-----------------------------|--------------|
D|--0v-----5-----------------------|-------5------|
A|--xv-----------(4,5)4vvv/12/4----|-------------4|
E|--3v-----------------------------|-3------------|

3. Down Tuning.



Tony Iommi lost the tips of 2 of his fingers while working in a factory
, so he made plastic tips out of dishsoap bottles in order to keep playing. In order to ease tension on his fingers, he down tuned to D, C and C#. These tunings are noticable in "into the void" "snowblind" etc. A perfect example is the riff to "children of the grave" which is tuned to C# (1 and 1/2 steps down)

    E5                                C5 B5
C#|---------------------------------------
G#|---------------------------------------
E |---------------------------------------
B |---------------------------------------
F#|-7--7-7-7-7-7--7-7-7-7-7--7-7-7-7--10-9
C#|-0--0-0-0-0-0--0-0-0-0-0--0-0-0-0--8--7

4. Solo's



Tony Iommi is known for his amazing solos throughout sabbath's career. The solo's for Iron man, Paranoid, Warpigs, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath etc. Are all great musicaly, and many fit perfectly with the song, without going on and on endlessly. Here's a personal favorite of mine, the solo to sweet leaf.

e|---------------------------------------------------9
B|--12b14--12b14--12b14r14p------------------------9--
G|--------------------------11p9--11p9----9-11b13-----
D|-------------------------------------11-------------
A|----------------------------------------------------
E|----------------------------------------------------


e|----------------9-----------------------------------------------------
B|--12b14--12b14------12p9----------------------------------------------
G|-------------------------11p9------11--11p9---------------------------
D|-------------------------------11-----------11-11-11p9----------------
A|-------------------------------------------------------11-11-11-9-7---
E|---------------------------------------------------------------------9


e|-----------------------9---------------------------9-------
B|--12b14--12b14--12b14------12p9----------------------12b14-
G|--------------------------------11-11p9----9-11b13---------
D|----------------------------------------11-----------------
A|-----------------------------------------------------------
E|-----------------------------------------------------------


e|---------------9------------------------------------------
B|-12b14-12b14------12p9------------------------------------
G|-----------------------11p9-------------------------------
D|----------------------------11-11-11----------------------
A|--------------------------------------11-11p9-11-9-7----7-
E|------------------------------------------------------9---

A lot of Iommi's bending is done using his pinky, since he can't feel the string under his injured finegers.

that's the lesson. Depending on how well this is received, I'll probably write one with more emphasis to Iommi's solos and his years with Ronnie James Dio, Glen Hughes, his recent Solo career etc., though I believe this page says it all.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Goldenhawk11
    Good lesson. There should be more lessons like this, but they could focus on different guitarists, like Eddie Van Halen, Kirk Hammet, etc.
    ibosman
    Iommi is legendary for its riffs, but his soloing is certainly not really good. You don't have to be a shredder to play nice solo's, but Iommi (who isn't a shredder) often plays solos which are a bit messy and not so melodical.
    dx4life68
    Should I cut my fingers off to play like Tony Iommi? If so how much of my fingers do you recommend?
    12jfrey
    good job as far as rythm techniques go, but if u evr do another installment, could u talk a little more about his soloing, plz? like wat scales he uses etc.
    yaaarp
    Good lesson, I never knew he lost 2 finger tips...
    nate.fontana
    how do u know of Tony Iommi but not about the loss of 2 of his finger tips!!!!???? u clearly don't know your music history if you don't know that.
    samik
    gr8 job .... i'm a die heart fan of iommi ..... he is my god .... thnx a lot .... hope to get more .... like evil eye, cross of thorns, I and more like that ..... thnx again ...