“John was constantly seeking better solutions, which manifested as astonishing woodwork and innovative electronics”: Remembering John Diggins – the luthier who built guitars for Tony Iommi and the first Red Special replica

The late John Diggins with Tony Iommi: the Black Sabbath guitarist was one of Diggins' clients
(Image credit: Courtesy of H. Diggins)

Though not all readers will recognise his name, it’s likely most of us have heard John Diggins’ craftsmanship – from Paranoid and Iron Man by Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath, to Slade booming out ‘Super Yob’ Christmas anthems on Top Of The Pops, along with any wonderfully dynamic slap bass from Mark King of Level 42. 

Fired up in the ’50s by the genius of Leo Fender and Les Paul, John – who would later become known as ‘Jaydee’ – made subtle improvements to classic guitar designs for many top musicians to play.

By 1977, John had founded Jaydee Custom Guitars. He always had an inquiring mind and was constantly seeking better solutions, which manifested as astonishing woodwork and finishes, or innovative electronics, all of which brought in a practical approach calling on his own experience as a gigging musician. 

From the balance of an instrument when worn, to the need for extreme screening in a world increasingly filled with stray radio frequencies and mobile phones, he always found answers to please his ever‑demanding clientele.

Among John’s clients was Mark King of Level 42, with whom he would help revolutionise the sound of bass guitar and make everybody think again about the use of natural wooden-cased pickups – all custom-wound and ‘Supernatural’ with active electronics.

Brian May’s Red Special came to him for modifications and improvements in the early days of Queen

Roy Orbison also visited John to have several custom guitars made, including a three-quarter size S-style for his son Wesley and a half-size T-style for his son Roy Jr. Having performed several services, repairs and pickup rewinds on Angus Young’s SG, John Diggins was commissioned to build a custom guitar, while Brian May’s Red Special also came to him for modifications and improvements in the early days of Queen; John would even make the first Red Special replica. 

In 2020, John and I began to document his long career and this culminated in a book called Jaydee, which comes out later this year. 

John sadly passed away in Birmingham on 2 January following complications from a longterm illness. The Jaydee enterprise continues in the safe hands of his wife, Helen, sons Michael and Andrew, and grandson Toby to uphold John’s passion for great fretted instruments and a great British guitar-making marque.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49