“People romanticize the old sound, but you want your sound brought into the 21st century”: Billy Corgan reveals how Tony Iommi inspired his approach to signature gear

Billy Corgan & Tony Iommi
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In a new interview revisiting his Reverend Z-One signature guitar, Billy Corgan says he took advice from Tony Iommi about the value of bringing a romanticized guitar tone into the 21st century.

The Smashing Pumpkins star was dissecting the latest version of his signature with Reverend Guitars’ founder and CEO, Joe Naylor, on the YouTube channel for Chicago Music Exchange. Having initially not understood Iommi’s struggle, the Sabbath man’s words aged like a fine wine.

"I remember talking to Tony Iommi years ago about his relationship with certain amp makers,” Corgan divulges, referring to Iommi's longstanding use of Laney Amplification (who Corgan himself signed with last year).

“He was talking about how people romanticize the old sound, but how he's trying to update that into the modern era.

“At the time I didn't get it, but as I've gotten older I realized that you want your sound, but at the same time, you don't want it to be dated or old. You want your sound to be brought into the 21st century.”

In his discussions with the Detroit-based guitar builders, Corgan referenced classic tracks like Bodies and Zero in particular for the thickness of the guitar sound he was after.

He says: “I was playing an original [Reverend] signature guitar which I still love, but it has a much brighter, more modern tone and a clarity that's really good for recording with. From the live side, playing old Pumpkins stuff I found myself fighting with the guitar, wanting something a little darker with less high end on the very top and the Tony Iommi low-mid note.

“The most impressive thing about the guitar is its ability to get a vintage tone but find that balance with modernity.”

To achieve those ends, Reverend has opted for an alder body. This is in contrast to the brighter, scooped tones the korina builds they are known for offer, including the signature’s first iteration.

It also features Railhammer pickups, which have been wound to be a little hotter. Designed by Naylor himself, they're based on the company's Humcutter pickups and combine the clarity and attack of a P-90 with the output and sustain you'd expect from a humbucker.

Reverend also took a leap of faith by adorning the aluminium pickups with artowkr that references classic Pumpkins EP The Aeroplane Flies High – something it did without Corgan’s permission.

 “I get so many compliments, people love the design element,” Corgan says. “It’s something I wouldn't usually think of, and so it's become really signature to the way I view the guitar and it also represents a bit of my history.”

Corgan and Naylor released his first Reverend model over seven years ago, with this their third model together. It succeeds the short-scale Billy Corgan Terz and original Billy Corgan Signature.

Reverend Guitars Z-One Outfield Ivy

(Image credit: Chicago Music Exchange)

He’s clearly pleased with the end product, saying: “I get to play brand-new Reverend guitars and it's not like I'm getting an old tone. I'm getting a new version of the tone. I can get my sound out the box, literally with any amp, whereas in the past it would have to be the right amp and the right guitar.”

The interview took place to celebrate Chicago Music Exchange's new limited-edition finish for the model: a subtly sparkling Outfield Ivy finish – or Chicago Cubs Ivy as Corgan would prefer – which is available in a limited stock of just 24.  

“Certain guitar colours don't speak to me, but this one spoke to me right away,” Corgan enthuses, “I'm all for it.”

Corgan would know – after all, he once famously claimed that “paint color actually changes the sound of a guitar”.

The release of the short-run finish wraps up a productive year for Corgan and co., which saw The Smashing Pumpkins release triple-disc album, ATUM, in May. 

In October, he joined Sammy Hagar onstage to pay homage to his idol, Eddie Van Halen, playing a rip-roaring cover of Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.    

For more information about the Outfield Ivy model, head to Chicago Music Exchange.

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Phil Weller

A freelance writer with a penchant for music that gets weird, Phil is a regular contributor to Prog, Guitar World, and Total Guitar magazines and is especially keen on shining a light on unknown artists. Outside of the journalism realm, you can find him writing angular riffs in progressive metal band, Prognosis, in which he slings an 8-string Strandberg Boden Original, churning that low string through a variety of tunings. He's also a published author and is currently penning his debut novel which chucks fantasy, mythology and humanity into a great big melting pot.