HAS EPIPHONE JUST RELEASED ITS GREATEST ROCK GUITAR YET? TG THINKS SO…
WORDS: ED MITCHELL
Originally featured in Total Guitar magazine, March 2005
Featured on iommi.com by kind permission of Total Guitar – www.totalguitar.co.uk.
Thanks to Steve Lawson and Ed Mitchell at Future Publishing
YOU CALL THIS A ROCK GUITAR? THERE’S NO LOCKING TREM!
Wash your mouth out with soap, foolish young whippersnapper! Your tart’s handbag, lollipop stick-necked, sad little widdle plank is no match for this mighty beast. This guitar sounds like a truck load of whup-ass and will keep on delivering its evil-hearted goods for years to come. Can you really say all that about your guitar? In fact, this Epiphone Tony Iommi G-400 is like every Rocky film ever made compared to your guitar’s Karate Kid III. Locking trem, indeed…
ER, OK. SO WHO’S THIS TONY IOMMI GEEZER SUPPOSED TO BE THEN?
He’s only the bleedin’ Godfather of metal riffery. Look, years before he began shuffling around his Los Angeles mansion, dodging dog shit and shouting at the kids for his reality TV show, renowned bat muncher and self-styled Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne was in a rather important band. We’re talking about the mighty Black Sabbath, of course. We say important because these guys pioneered that particular brand of grumpy metal – all doom-laden riffs and ‘you’re all gonna die’ lyrics – that keeps guys like Slayer’s Kerry King in protein bars and Bic razors to this day.
The engine of Black Sabbath was guitarist Tony Iommi, a genius with a heavy riff and pretty nifty lead playing ability to boot. Tony always liked to keep his riffs simple; just a few notes played with blinding intensity. You must’ve heard the blistering opening salvo from Paranoid? And surely all you metal guitarists out there are familiar with the awesome sludge-fest that is Sweet Leaf? If not, go to the back of the class and write ‘Nu-metal has rotted my brain’ 100 times on the blackboard. The rest of you, walk this way…
OK, I’M NOW UP TO SPEED WITH SABBATH, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH TONY’S NEW AXE?
Sabbath’s line-up may have changed over the last 30-odd years but two things have always remained the same; the man himself, Tony Iommi, and his ever faithful SG. Although he occasionally played SG-style guitars from the likes of Patrick Eggle, Jaydee and John Birch, Gibson’s classic twin cutaway weapon of rock has always been his favourite. It’s now as much an Iommi trademark as the man’s fearsome facial hair and false fingertips.
SORRY, HIS FALSE FINGERTIPS?
Tony lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand in an industrial accident in the 1960s. But before you accuse us of being sick-ass gore-hounds, there is a very good reason why we’re dredging up this gruesome nugget of trivia. Put simply, that unfortunate injury greatly influenced Tony’s choice of guitar, his set-up and his unique ‘dungeons of hell’ tone.
GO ON, I’M LISTENING…
Tony needed a guitar with a slim neck and an easy string tension – it had to be comfortable for his digits. Anyone who has played a Gibson or Epiphone SG will know that the strings are pretty easy to bend; even as set of 10s presents little trouble. Tony lowered the string tension on his guitars even more by fitting an unusual mix of light guage strings (9, 9, 12, 22, 28 and 38) and tuning down to C#. Tuning low gives his guitar the booming voice that has become synonymous with Sabbath songs. Only thin was, such a low tuning and light strings had to be coupled with a meaty pickup to boost the signal to his Laney amp. A few years ago Gibson came to the rescue with the Tony Iommi humbucker – its first ever signature pickup.
HIS NEW EPIPHONE HAS THAT PICKUP FITTED, RIGHT?
Yep, for your £595 you’re getting a kick-ass SG loaded with two of Tony’s US-made Gibson humbuckers. Now that’s what we call value for money, and no doubt great news for Black Sabbath fans on a budget.
WHAT’S THE GUITAR LIKE?
Probably the best Epiphone electric we’ve ever tried. The quality of finish is top class and the guitar has all the classic elements that we’ve come to expect from the SG. Underneath that glorious ebony finish – it should be called Sabbath Black, of course – is a mahogany body: a nice thick slab with those iconic devilish contours and sexy curves. The neck is glued to the body, as it should be, and is also fashioned from mahogany. The fingerboard is rosewood with funky crucifix inlays and 24 frets. Yes, that’s right folks, this is a full two octave SG! Every other SG has 22 frets, natch.
Elsewhere we have the classic Gibson control set-up (2 x volume, 2 x tone and a three-way pickup selector), a tune-o-matic bridge and fixed tailpiece and a striking headstock that really suits this guitar and gives the Gibson version a run for its money. We have also gone ape for those chunky Grover machineheads; built to last with rock solid tuning.
The headstock has a discreet Tony Iommi signature on the truss rod cover. We like that because it means non-Sabbath fans can play this guitar if they want to. Whether you’re a goth, a punk, a rocker or a widdler, you’re going to love this guitar. Trust us!
THERE’S A SCRIBBLE ON THE SCRATCHPLATE.
TG’s old pal Tony actually signed this guitar for us. Normal production models come with a plain black scratchplate only. Sorry…
WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE, THEN?
Like Tony Iommi, funnily enough. His tone has changed a bit over the years but we still rate those early recordings that showcase his edgy fuzz tone. Using our trusty Retroman Lola fuzz box, we nailed that classic sound on the bridge pickup without even breaking a sweat. Add to that some modern gain and this guitar will out-rock anything with six strings. The pickups are truly awesome in themselves and should be considered by anyone struggling with weak humbuckers – the Iommi humbuckers are available to buy as a retrofit for your guitar.
The bridge pickup isn’t so keen on clean settings but you can use the sweeter middle and neck positions for the quieter songs. The bottom line is that this guitar just wants to rock and we ain’t gonna argue with it.
I GET THE FEELING YOU GUYS LIKE THIS GUITAR.
Damn! What gave it away? It’s true we have fallen for this wonderful guitar. TG has always had a soft spot for the SG anyway, but the Tony Iommi version ticks all of our boxes. And the best part is that now there’s a left-handed version available – which only seems appropriate since Tony is left handed – everyone can get a piece of the action.
Of course we’d all love to get our hands on the £4,000 custom shop Gibson Iommi model, but this Epiphone will keep us well happy until then. You really have to try this superb guitar for yourself. It’s a little devil…
FOR: Looks awesome; sounds great; plenty of rock vibe
AGAINST: Not everyone will dig its gorgeous gothic looks
TG RATING: *****
Type: Solid body electric
Neck: Mahogany, set-in
Fingerboard: Rosewood, with crucifix inlays
Frets: 24 medium
Pickups: 2 x Gibson USA Tony Iommi humbuckers
Hardware: Black chrome tune-o-matic bridge, stop tailpiece and Grover machineheads
Controls: 2 x volume, 2 x tone, three-way pickup selector switch
Finish Options: Ebony only
Contact: Rosetti 01376 550033