I’ve seen much written about Tony Iommi’s Monkey and Old Boy guitar, but not much is said about his old John Birch SG. Even on Tony’s site it is absent, maybe because of the rumour surrounding Mr.Birch, but it appears that he was a victim of mistaken identity based on his fairly common name. At any rate John Birch was a true giant of the electric guitar world. In an interview with NME in 1975 Iommi states:
“I think he`s a genius in his own right. The difference with him is he`s trying all the time to make something better. He`s trying to make the perfect guitar – the perfect instrument for anybody, not just one particular player.
“He can make anything you want, including the sound of the pick-ups. I tell him what sound I want, perhaps play him a record and tell him it`s something between that and this, and he can produce it. He`ll just keep doing it until it comes right.”
The guitar was built to replace ‘Monkey’, a guitar that he had built his career on although it had it’s problems as well, Iommi stated in the same interview:
“You can sit down and tune it and when you stand up it goes out of tune. I like the old guitars and this one has a particularly nice feel, but there is that problem – which is why with the newer ones they`ve tried to stop it by building this heel where the neck meets the body. But I can`t say it`s a well-made guitar.”
Model SCDL .It was made in the Birch shop in 1975, it’s body contours copied from Iommi’s SG, likely built by master luthier John Diggins, who worked there at the time. It featured 24 frets, cross inlays. Neck through maple construction and two powerful pickups. The neck pickup was a Hyperflux G, styled after the classic Gibson sound, hence the G. The bridge pickup was a Magnum, the fabled Birch pickup rating in at 24k ohms, extremely powerful.
The fretboard was sealed in a thick coat of poly for a ‘fretless’ feel, a Birch signature. At the time Iommi was very fond of the guitar, stating:
“But you can`t compare it to one of these,” he said, indicating his Birch guitars. “Even in looks alone they knock spots off it. And now he`s (Birch) got these different pick-ups so they`ve got tone as well.
“Why people bought the old Gibsons was to get that old, dirty rusty sound and because Clapton has used them and all the rest of it. But if you`re playing at volume, especially like we do (chuckle), that sound becomes squealier and howlier and God knows what else.
“I`ve had a few Gibsons before. I had a rare 1951 three-pick-up model or something in the days of `Paranoid` – in fact, I done `Paranoid` on it – and as soon as you plugged it in it squealed. The coils were so loose in the pick-ups that they just used to vibrate and cause feedback.
“What Birch has done is produce the sound of the Les Pauls, that raw gutsy sound, but made it really solid so that there`s no whistling.”
He carried on with this guitar up to about 1982, when Old Boy became his favored axe. The Old Boy is a more than worthy successor, but respect has to be given to the guitar which was an integral part of Heavy Metal history. It possibly was played on Sabotage, and was the main guitar on Technical Ecstasy, Never Say Die!, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. It certainly looks ‘Metal’ He has since retired it to the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami Florida. Rest easy old friend!