Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen: Cast a Giant Shadow
GW Like Les Paul, you both like to modify your guitars. Tony, you changed pickups on your guitars very early on, when it wasn’t common practice to do that. The only guitarists I can think of who did that before you were Les Paul and Eddie Cochran.
IOMMI It’s weird how we’ve both done a lot of the same things. I bought a guitar company because I couldn’t get anybody to make the guitar that I wanted. Back in those days Gibson didn’t want to know me, so I started a company and had a guy build me guitars with 24 frets and everything else that I wanted. Guitar companies told me that it couldn’t be done.
VAN HALEN Personal need is where it all comes from.
IOMMI You’ve got to do it for yourself.
VAN HALEN And then people want one. You try to give people what they want, but if the company that makes it is substandard, the people blame you. It ain’t my fault the thing broke off! Mine broke too! Don’t blame me because my name is on it. I just invented it for myself. Do you think people blame Henry Ford for a bad Mustang?
IOMMI Companies always cut corners to try to keep costs down. It’s expensive to make things right.
GW I was just looking at your guitars and I noticed that Tony uses the same type of fluted knobs as Eddie has on his guitar, only larger.
IOMMI It’s so ironic.
VAN HALEN And the back of his guitar’s neck is stripped, just like mine. I never liked having any kind of paint or lacquer on the neck. Tony took all of his off—the same thing!
GW You both also like to tune the guitar lower than standard pitch.
VAN HALEN I just use whatever tuning the guitar seems to be in when I pick it up. On tour we tune down for the singer, and us, so we’ll be able to sing background vocals five nights a week without blowing our pipes out. And some songs just don’t sound right in standard tuning. It would be like Tony taking “Into the Void” and tuning it up. And some stuff doesn’t sound right tuned down. But it’s out of necessity. For a while I had my E string tuned down to Db, so when I wanted to use a “drop D” tuning on songs like “Unchained” my low E string was tuned all the way down to B.
IOMMI In the early days when we did Master of Reality, I tuned down because playing at standard pitch used to hurt.
VAN HALEN It amazes me that you do that. Tony still makes his fingertips himself [at 17, Iommi lost the tips of his right hand middle and ring fingers in a metal shop accident]. I just saw them. It’s amazing. It just goes to show what the true essence of a real player is. He wants to play, and he did whatever the fuck he had to in order to do that.
IOMMI No one has ever come up with a better idea than mine. Again, people don’t realize all that I have to go through just to get on that stage every night. I have to change the leather because it wears out, and I have to use light strings, which take a while to break in.
VAN HALEN I have a really hard time holding onto picks. I’ve even tried gluing sandpaper to them, but sometimes that doesn’t even work. It’s all about these tools that we need to do our jobs. Tony needs his thimbles, and I need Krazy Glue and sandpaper so I can hold onto a pick.
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