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Black Sabbath was formed in Birmingham, England in 1968, originally named Earth. The band’s original lineup consisted of guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. This lineup would go on to record the band’s first four albums, which are considered to be some of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time.

Sabbath is widely credited with being the pioneer of heavy metal music. Their dark and heavy sound, characterized by Tony Iommi’s downtuned riffs and Osbourne’s powerful vocals, helped to define the genre and influenced countless other bands. They have been cited as an influence, including Metallica, Slayer, and Iron Maiden. Their music has also been featured in numerous films and television shows.

The original lineup of Black Sabbath is considered to be the band’s classic lineup. They recorded eight studio albums together, including the groundbreaking albums “Paranoid” (1970) and “Master of Reality” (1971). These albums featured some of the band’s most iconic songs, such as “War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, and “Children of the Grave”. But, In 1979, Ozzy Osbourne left Sabbath due to personal problems. He was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, who sang on the albums “Heaven and Hell” (1980) and “Mob Rules” (1981).

Iommi is considered to be one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His riffs are instantly recognizable and have been copied by countless other guitarists. In this article, we will explore the 10 greatest guitar riffs by Tony Iommi, ranked in order of greatness.

 


10. “Killing Your Self To Live” (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)

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In a 2008 Guitar World interview, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett revealed a surprising favorite from Black Sabbath’s “A lot of people gravitate toward the album’s title track, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’, but for me this is the stand out cut on the album“.

I’m going to start the list off controversially with “Killing Your Self To Live”. You certainly won’t find it on any other lists on the internet. Ozzy delivers great vocals on this track, but Tony Iommi’s guitar work throughout the song with multiple solos and riffs steals the show. Listen at maximum volume between minutes 1:45 and 4:05.

 


9. “Lord Of This World” (Master Of Reality, 1971)

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I love the changes in rhythm and tempo of “Lord of This World,” a prime example of Sabbath’s mastery in this area. The song starts slow and heavy, building tension with Tony Iommi’s downtuned guitar, a result of a factory accident (at the age of 17, he lost the tips of the middle and ring fingers of his right hand) that left him needing a heavier gauge string and a deeper sound.

As the song progresses, it explodes into a faster, more aggressive section, showcasing the band’s dynamic range and keeping the listener on the edge of their seat. This ability to shift gears seamlessly is a testament to Black Sabbath’s unique sound!

 


8. “Iron Man” (Paranoid, 1970)

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Tony Iommi’s seminal guitar riff for Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man has become one of the most recognizable pieces of music in rock, arguably the single most influential riff in heavy metal.

The guitar work in “Iron Man” is also renowned among heavy metal guitarists, with Osbourne stating in his memoir that “ …Tony Iommi turned out to be one of the greatest heavy rock riff-makers of all time. Whenever we went into the studio we’d challenge him to beat his last riff – and he’d come up with something like ‘Iron Man’ and blow everyone away.

 


7. “Into The Void” (Master Of Reality, 1971)

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Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void” is often lauded as a landmark achievement, with its opening riff prompting jokes about it being “the riff of all riffs.” Released in 1971, the song’s unconventional and Tony Iommi-heavy intro likely shocked audiences at the time.

This enduring impact is further solidified by heavy metal legends James Hetfield (Metallica) and Eddie Van Halen listing “Into the Void” as one of their personal favorites, particularly praising the song’s iconic main riff.

 


6. “Heaven & Hell” (Heaven & Hell, 1980)

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Black Sabbath’s ninth studio album, “Heaven and Hell,” marked a pivotal moment in the band’s history. It was their first with new vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in 1979. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Black Sabbath emerged stronger than ever, and “Heaven and Hell”, the title track written primarily by guitarist Tony Iommi, stands as a testament to their renewed sound.

Iommi’s masterful guitar work once again shines throughout the album, and “Heaven and Hell” is widely considered one of its, and indeed, Black Sabbath’s, greatest moments. As some fans famously remarked, “Ozzy, who?”

 


5. “Snowblind” (Vol. 4, 1972)

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The excesses of fame had resulted in all members of Black Sabbath developing a cocaine addiction, making “Snowblind” the band’s second drug ode after “Sweet Leaf.”

But “Snowblind” is a frenetic, riff-packed track that’s and the open chords that turn the main riff around are a perfect addition to Sabbath’s tried-and-true formula of shifting power chords around the minor pentatonic scale. This song delves deep into the dark allure of addiction, with Ozzy’s haunting vocals adding to its eerie atmosphere.

 


4. “Symptom Of The Universe” (Sabotage, 1975)

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By 1975 Black Sabbath had six albums in their repertoire, and guitarist Tony Iommi was still pushing boundaries. With “Symptom of the Universe,” he laid the groundwork for an entire subgenre – thrash metal – in a single track. Popularized by bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Anthrax in the following decade, thrash metal wouldn’t exist in its familiar form without “Symptom of the Universe.”

Iommi’s delivery of the song is raw and guttural, perfectly complementing the staccato, chugging riff. “Symptom of the Universe” stands as one of Sabbath’s most potent and enduring creations.

 


3. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)

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“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” is the title track and opening song of Black Sabbath’s fifth studio album, released in 1973 and is a landmark heavy metal anthem with a legendary origin story.

Struggling with writer’s block, guitarist Tony Iommi, even went as far as renting the supposedly haunted Clearwell Castle to spark inspiration. It was within these unsettling walls that Tony Iommi delivered the now-iconic, downtuned riff that some call “the riff that saved Black Sabbath.”

At the core of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” lies a midsection built upon one of Sabbath’s most punishingly heavy riffs. This iconic segment established itself as an undeniable template, shaping the course of heavy metal for decades to come.

 


2. “N.I.B.” (Black Sabbath, 1970)

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By 1969, Black Sabbath transcended the blues-rock foundations laid by Cream and Jimi Hendrix, forging a path into uncharted dark territory. Tony Iommi’s signature sound, defined by its unrelenting heaviness (a stark contrast to Clapton’s bluesy swagger), became a cornerstone of the genre.

The guitar solo in “N.I.B.” deserves special mention. Layered over a driving rhythm section, it seamlessly blends aggression and excitement with unexpected melodic beauty. This masterful interplay of sounds exemplifies Sabbath’s ability to craft metal compositions of unparalleled depth and impact.

The solo is so good, that it makes you want to sing along!

 


1. “War Pigs(Paranoid, 1970)

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“War Pigs” is often misunderstood as an anti-war anthem aimed at the Vietnam conflict. It centers around a dark riff from Tony Iommi, with a haunting siren at the beginning serving as a reminder of the members’ upbringing in a country plagued by air raids.

Tony Iommi’s solo is a trill-laden masterpiece, showcasing his skills. From the droning strings to the spaced-out verses, groovy breakdowns, and killer solos, the song impressively integrates various elements without becoming bloated.

This masterpiece has earned a special place in our favorite songs ever, becoming a constant companion at home, at the gym, while running, and even while driving. It’s a song that demands uninterrupted listening. And yes, the Faith No More cover deserves its credit!

 

 

What Guitar Equipment Did Tony Iommi Use to Create His Distinctive Sound?

Iommi’s distinctive guitar sound, characterized by its heaviness and downtuning, is a result of several factors, not just the guitars themselves. Here’s a breakdown of the key equipment he used:

 

Tony Iommi’s Guitars

Gibson SG: Tony Iommi’s primary guitar is the Gibson SG, specifically a right-handed model he played left-handed. Most, if not all, of the guitar work on Sabbath’s early albums (from Black Sabbath in 1970 to Sabotage in 1975) is played on Tony Iommi’s Gibson SG. This includes iconic songs like “Iron Man,” “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” and “Children of the Grave.”

Jaydee Custom SG: Tony Iommi collaborated with luthier John Diggins in the 1970s to create the “Jaydee Custom SG,” a modified SG with specific features Iommi preferred. This guitar is most notably associated with the album “Heaven and Hell” (1979), featuring songs like “Heaven and Hell,” “Neon Knights,” and “Mob Rules.”

Other guitars: While the SG is his signature, Iommi has used other guitars throughout his career, including Les Pauls, Stratocasters, and Telecasters, for specific sounds or recordings.

 

Tony Iommi’s Amplifiers

Iommi played a key role in shaping the heavy sound of heavy metal, and his choice of amplification was crucial. In Black Sabbath’s formative years, the band explored various amplifiers, including Marshalls and Hiwatts, to find their sonic identity.

In more recent times, Iommi has built a strong partnership with Laney amplifiers, particularly the Laney Supergroup series. These amps were instrumental in achieving his signature heavy, distorted tone on countless Sabbath albums and solo projects. the Laney GH100TI, Iommi’s signature line of amplifiers with Laney. These amps offer a refined version of his signature sound.

 

 

 

Is just a guy who got tired of bothering his friends talking about music, and decided to create a blog to write about what he loves the most.
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