Tony Iommi, the iconic guitarist of Black Sabbath, recently discussed how the accident that chopped his fingers off affected his guitar playing technique and how he had to develop ways to adapt to playing the guitar.
Although Tony Iommi is currently known as one of the most influential guitarists on the metal scene. However, before he was a well-known musician, he had to work in a sheet factory when he was around 17 years old to make his living. The accident occurred on the last day of his job when he put his hand in a guillotine press and couldn’t pull it back in time.
The tips of his fingers on his right hand were chopped off, and he had to go through a painful healing process. His career was ending before it had even begun, as aside from the physical pain the accident caused, Iommi had to hear professionals say that he would never be able to play the guitar again.
However, he didn’t want to give up on his passion, so he tried to come up with ways to use his fingers again. He was primarily inspired by Django Reinhardt, who was also a musician who had injured his fingers and was told that he would never play again, but he did.
He talked about how Reinhardt influenced him by stating:
“Absolutely. After my accident, that changed my life completely because I was told by so many doctors that I wouldn’t be able to play again, just forget about it. Well, I said, ‘I really want to do it.’ ‘Well, you will have to take another job.’ But I really wanted to do it, and I said, ‘There’s gotta be a way to learn to play and carry on.‘
One of the chaps from when I had my accident brought me a record of Django Reinhardt, put it on, and I thought it was really great. And then he told me a story of Django Reinhardt where he plays with just two fingers. And it really inspired me to carry on.”
After being inspired by Django, Iommi decided to make his own fingers out of a dish soap bottle. He faced several challenges but was able to figure it out in the end and successfully created fingertips that would allow him to play his guitar.
Here is how he made his own fingertips:
“So I started making my own tips, so I made my own out of the Fairy Liquid bottle, melted it down, and made it into a bowl, sat there with a hot soldering arm, and make it a hole in it that would fit a finger.
I would sit there for weeks, rubbing it down to shape it like my finger. It being plastic would slip off the finger, so I had to find a material that would grip the string, which turned out from various things to be leather from my old jacket. And it worked!
Funny enough, I stung up bits of leather from that jacket all them years ago. It was a complete jacket. And it worked, it’d done the job! So I just learned to play with them, which wasn’t easy because you couldn’t feel anything, there was a big lump on your fingers.”
Of course, he had to adapt every piece of equipment to his new fingertips because he could only imitate a finger but still had no sensation. He also came up with a way to adjust the strings of his guitar to make them easier for him to grab without hurting himself.
He continued the story:
“Absolutely. I had to think the whole thing with the guitar, and I would split the guitar down, fold the frets down, make it the most playable for me. I had to make it work out for me, I had to come up with the idea for strings, and you couldn’t go and buy a set of strings in them days, they didn’t have them.
So I made my own setup, and I used banjo strings first, and then dropped it down so it would be more comfortable to me and didn’t hurt my fingers as much. So it was a whole process of going through from start to finish changing the guitar.”
Right after Iommi had the accident and invented fingers to replace what he lost, he co-founded Black Sabbath with Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, and Ozzy Osbourne. The band became the pioneers of heavy metal and achieved commercial success in the ’70s thanks to Iommi’s obsession and passion for the guitar.
You can listen to his full interview and the story below.