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Tony Iommi’s Acoustic Side

Taylor Director of Artist Relations Tim Godwin recently spent time with the godfather of heavy metal guitar, Black Sabbath co-founder Tony Iommi, at a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles, as the legendary band geared up for a string of tour dates leading up to the release of a new album, 13, in June. Iommi seemed in good spirits, after having spent much of 2012 undergoing treatment for early stage lymphoma. Based on his thoughts from a recent addendum to his 2011 autobiography, Iron Man, which addresses his illness, Iommi emerged from the ordeal with a renewed sense of purpose.

“Making music has always been my passion,” he writes, “but now it’s even more meaningful to me. I’m definitely not thinking about retiring.” He says his illness even inspired new songs — and in a fittingly Black Sabbath way. “I think the songs actually got better,” he reflects. “More, for lack of a better word, ‘doom’.”

The new album marks the return of original Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, who hadn’t worked in the studio with the band since 1978. The studio lineup also featured original bassist Geezer Butler, with drummer Brad Wilk (Rage Against The Machine) subbing for co-founding member Bill Ward. The band teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Rick Rubin, whose burning mission with the band was to recapture the essence of the raw, jammy Sabbath vibe of their debut record, which was recorded in one day back in 1969. Based on the extended length of some of the tunes, Rubin and the band clearly succeeded.

Though Iommi’s calling card is his heavy, detuned electric guitar sound (developed out of necessity after an accident in a sheet metal factory when he was 17 claimed the tips of his two middle fingers on his fretting hand and subsequently made bending strings difficult), he also prides himself on the way he has embraced the acoustic guitar to weave lighter interludes between the band’s menacingly sludgy riffs for dynamic impact. Iommi told Godwin he picked up his first Taylor acoustic (he can’t remember the model) around 1998.

“It was really good,” Iommi recalls. “As soon as I tried it I liked the feel, the sound. It was really a nice, comfortable guitar to play.”

Iommi had an assortment of Taylors in the studio during the recording of 13, including an 816ce and 914ce, and Godwin brought a couple of guitars to the rehearsal studio, including a 714ce. (Iommi also has a T5, T3 and GS Mini at home in Birmingham, England.)

“I used the acoustic quite a bit on this album,” he says. “There’s one track that’s just acoustic and bass and vocal. It’s a really nice sound. It’s more like one of our old ones, ‘Planet Caravan’ [from the 1970 album Paranoid]. It’s that sort of mood.”

Iommi says it wasn’t hard to get a good acoustic sound in the studio, and that he and Rubin tried recording the acoustic both direct and with a studio mic.

“Rick is very much into the old way of recording, so I think it was the mic [version] that was used,” he shares. “The sound was lovely. I was really pleased with it.”

Iommi says he typically tunes down a semitone on the acoustic guitar, and his preferred string gauges for his acoustics are: .010, .012, .021w, .026, .030, .035.