“He was a superb craftsman who loved what he did”: Tony Iommi pays tribute to ‘Old Boy’ SG luthier John Diggins, who has died

Tony Iommi performs with Black Sabbath at the San Manuel Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California on September 24, 2016
(Image credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for ABA)

Tony Iommi has paid tribute to luthier John Diggins following the guitar builder's death earlier this week. Most well-known for his association with the Black Sabbath guitarist – particularly as the builder of Iommi's iconic ‘Old Boy’ SG – Diggins' death was confirmed on social media by the company he headed, Jaydee Custom Guitars.

“It is with deep regret that we have to let you know of the sad passing away of Jay Dee (John Diggins),” Jaydee Custom Guitars wrote on Instagram Wednesday (January 3). “He died suddenly but peacefully in hospital on the morning of Tuesday, January 2, following complications in battling a longterm illness.

“He will be dearly missed by all who knew him – especially his wife Helen, sons Michael and Andrew, and grandsons Jake and Toby.”

In a tribute to the luthier posted to his Instagram page Wednesday (January 3), Iommi wrote, “What a terrible shock to hear from JD's wife last night that my old pal John Diggins had passed away! He was a very dear friend to me and we’d known each other since the 70s.

“He’s built many guitars for me over the years and he was a superb craftsman who loved what he did. He will be sadly missed but not forgotten. My deepest condolences go out to his wife and family. R.I.P John.”

John Diggins began his career working for John Birch, the Birmingham, UK-based luthier who partnered with Iommi early in the Black Sabbath legend's career, building customized SGs that Gibson was unwilling to make for him

In 1977, Diggins struck out on his own, founding Jaydee Custom Guitars. Under the Jaydee banner, Diggins would create instruments for Iommi – most famously the iconic 'Old Boy' SG – Noddy Holder, AC/DC's Angus and Malcolm Young, and Iommi's Black Sabbath bandmate, bassist Geezer Butler.

“I’ve still got my old Jaydee 'Old Boy' SG, which I really like,” Iommi told Guitar World in a 2013 interview. “J.D. [Diggins] originally came along to work for me on the road, and he made this first guitar at home on his kitchen table. I kept it for a while and never used it. But then one day I started to use it and I liked it. So now he’s made me about four or five to go on the road with.”

Iommi also used the 'Old Boy', and other Jaydee builds, for the remainder of Black Sabbath's studio career, working with the luthier on some of the guitars he used on the band's final album, 2013's 13.  

“For [13] he [Diggins] made me a new Jaydee – a white one with an aged look,” Iommi revealed to Guitar World in 2013. “I used that, and I used my [Old Boy] Jaydee.”

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.