Black Sabbath is generally agreed upon as the first heavy metal band. They laid down the blueprint for the sound that would define the genre and its sub-genres.
At the center of that sound is Black Sabbath’s legendary guitarist Tony Iommi. This is why knowing how to recreate his sound is an important skill for any metal guitarist.
So, today I want to go over a few amp setups and the settings to recreate the sound that spawned an entire genre.
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Tony Iommi’s Amps
Iommi started out playing Marshall amps, specifically a 50-watt Marshall Plexi. This was the amp he used before Black Sabbath and during the recording of the first album.
These are excellent vintage amp heads. Combined with a 1936V Extension Cabinet you should be as close to the debut album’s sound without using Iommi’s actual amp.
This combination might be a bit too expensive for most people. Fortunately, the Marshall Code 50 comes with Plexi modeling at a much more affordable price. Another alternative would be the Vox AC30 since Iommi also played one from time to time.
Later on in his career, Iommi moved over to Laney which was also from Sabbath’s hometown of Birmingham. He started with the Laney LA100BL before eventually settling on the Supergroup.
The Laney LA100SM paired with the LA412 is the ultimate combination to recreate Tony Iommi’s sound. Just like the Marshall amp setup, this Laney setup might be a bit out of reach for a lot of guitarists.
In that case, the Laney Lionheart series of amps are just as awesome as the Supergroup without the heavy price tag. The Laney L20H and the LT212 are the ones I would go with here.
These are all the ideal amps you want to use, but any amp that provides a nice and beefy overdrive should be fine to use. If you’re going with a combo amp, I would say go with at least a 50-watt one to make sure the sound is big enough.
Tony Iommi Amp Settings – Get that Black Sabbath Tone
Now that we have the right amp setup, we can start to dial in Iommi’s sound. This is actually a bit more straightforward than you might expect.
Tony Iommi has a very full and beefy tone. This wasn’t just a stylistic choice, but also served a practical function. Because he was the sole guitarist in Black Sabbath, he had to make his guitar sound bigger and fuller so that Sabbath’s overall sound didn’t feel empty.
To achieve this big and full sound, you simply have to fatten up your bottom end and midrange. In other words, you just turn up the bass and mids a bit.
The trick with Iommi’s tone is to not make it too bass-heavy or a bit muffled. The best way to do this is by keeping your frequency range fairly level. Nothing is really set higher than anything else, except for the bass which can be set slightly higher as needed.
Iommi also doesn’t crank his settings much apart from the gain. His settings are set just past halfway at around 6, with the gain hovering somewhere between 7 and 8. If you find the tone isn’t quite as fat, turn the bass up to 7.
Tony Iommi Amp Settings in Numbers
- Bass – 6 (7 if the tone is a bit thin)
- Mids – 6
- Highs – 6
- Gain – 7/8
Refining Your Tone
While playing the same amps with the same settings will get you pretty close to Iommi’s tone, you can get even closer with a few tricks.
An Epiphone SG Custom is the guitar of choice for Tony Iommi and is the obvious choice if you’re looking to emulate his sound. This is a fantastic guitar at a surprisingly affordable price.
Iommi is famously missing parts of his fingertips because of a work accident. This makes heavier strings uncomfortable for him to play. This means that he plays lighter gauges like 8s or 9s. I recommend either D’Addario EXL120 or Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings for their great tone and long lifespans.
And lastly, Tony Iommi also detunes quite a lot. He tunes down to at least D# and sometimes even as low as C#.
And that’s it, the sound that became the blueprint for an entire genre can easily be recreated with a Marshall amp and some minor setting adjustments.