Heaven & Hell
by Tony Iommi
from the pages of Guitar World Online
"Double Trouble" (Oct. 1997)
Picking two strings at the same time
Hello there. The OzzFest has just finished, so I'm writing this column at home
in England. If you came to any of the 21 shows this past summer, thanks for your
support. It was great for us all to get out there and play together again, and I
really enjoyed it. I certainly hope it happens again. In the meantime, I'm hard
at work on my solo album.
Speaking of the OzzFest, a number of people have told me that they liked the
enormous video screen over the stage showing close-ups of what was happening.
Apparently, it helped a number of you work out exactly how I create the eerie,
monster sounds at the beginning of "Iron Man" [Paranoid]. I've seen a number of
transcriptions that claim I use a whammy bar for that part, but I don't. So,
just in case you didn't catch it on that big screen, here's how I do it.
I raise and lower the pitch of the open low E note by pressing down on that
string behind the nut with the index finger of my fretboard hand. And, at the
same time, I also fret the E note at the 2nd fret on the D string with my little
finger and let it ring as shown in FIGURE 6.
Having the E note on the 4th string ringing out while I raise and lower the open
low E note is what produces that discordant "monster" sound because the two
notes clash. You wouldn't be able to do this with a whammy bar because both E
notes would rise and fall.
I pluck the E note on the D string with my middle finger (picking hand) as I
pick the low E with the plectrum. This technique is known as hybrid picking. I
also use this technique on "Embryo," the short instrumental piece that's before
"Children of the Grave" on Master of Reality. A lot of people think there are
two guitars on that track but, if memory serves me correctly (realize that it's
been 25 years since we recorded that album!), I believe it was only one.
"Embryo" is played entirely on the D and high E strings and, once again, I'm
picking both strings at the same time.
For this particular piece I don't use my pick at all; instead I pluck both
strings with my bare fingers. I use my thumb to attack the D string and my index
finger to pluck the high E. Using my thumb instead of a pick to play the
D-string notes gives them a softer, rounder sound which fits in with the almost
English folk-song quality of "Embryo." The droning open-string notes that occur
throughout the piece and the fact that my guitar is detuned a minor third (low
to high: C# F# B E G# C#) also adds to the tune's folk-like sound.
FIGURE 7 shows "Embryo" the way I played it on the OzzFest.
I was inspired to write that piece because I felt that the beginning of
"Children of the Grave" needed something to add a bit of "light and shade" to
it. The idea was to lure the listener into a false sense of security and
serenity, then hit him with a sledge hammer! We'll talk more about that concept
next month. See you then.