Are you a Gibson SG electric guitar lover? Maybe you own a few SGs or are looking to grab one. Then, check out the Signature ’64 Tony Iommi SG Special Monkey guitar and see what makes it one of the fastest and easiest guitars to play in the world.
After you read this article, you might find yourself adding this axe to your collection, so get comfortable and enjoy this review of the guitar that launched a thousand monstrous riffs!
What Is The ’64 SG Special Tony Iommi Monkey Guitar?
So, do you like violin-playing monkeys? Then, answer me this. Who’s one of the most innovative rock guitar players of all time and the grandfather of heavy metal? Tony Iommi, of course!
What would Black Sabbath have been without him? I can’t possibly imagine the answer but probably just another ’70s rock band that vanished into obscurity long ago. No disrespect meant to arguably the greatest metal band in history!
If you were a Tony Iommi or Frank Zappa fan back then, chances are you owned or at least wanted some model of a Gibson SG guitar.
To celebrate the guitar that launched the whole “metal” genre, Gibson worked with Tony to create a copy of the infamous heavily modified SG Special that he used to record the first 4 or 5 Black Sabbath albums and toured extensively with.
The Story Of The Gibson SG Special “Monkey” Guitar
The story goes that during the recording of Black Sabbath I, Tony’s Strat had a pickup failure just after he finished playing “Wicked World,” so he used his backup Gibson SG Special to record the remainder of the album. The rest, as they say, is history!
So, why is it called the “Monkey” guitar? Tony bought some patches and stickers to add to his “plain-looking” jacket. He liked the sticker of a monkey playing the violin and put it on his guitar.
Over the years, the guitar underwent a series of modifications to make it more playable for Tony’s finger deformity; the monkey sticker was never removed. Tony had accidentally amputated the tips of his right middle and ring fingers during an accident at work just before he was about to quit his job to play guitar professionally.
Some of the guitar’s modifications included adding a zero fret, custom John Birch P-90-type epoxy-filled pickups, filed-down frets, a lacquered (polyurethane) fretboard, and several bridge changes before settling on a “Badass” wraparound model.
The Artist Collection SG Special
Gibson is selling two versions of this instrument, the Artist Collection guitar, and the Custom Shop Collector’s Edition, both available in right and left-hand versions. More about the Custom Shop version later in the article.
Here are the specs for the Gibson Artist Collection Tony Iommi Signature ’64 SG Special
|Item||Artist Collection Specifications|
|Body||Mahogany (monkey decal not preattached)|
|Body Finish||Non-aged vintage Cherry with gloss nitrocellulose lacquer|
|Neck||Mahogany with rounded profile and cream binding|
|Scale Length||24.75″ / 628.65 mm|
|Fretboard Radius||12 inch|
|Fret Size||Medium jumbo|
|Nut||White “Graph Tech”|
|Nut Width||1.7″ / 43.053 mm|
|Neck Inlays||Acrylic Dots|
|Bridge Pickup||P-90, chrome-covered|
|Neck Pickup||P-90, chrome-covered|
|Controls||2 Volume, 2 Tone|
|Control Capacitors||Orange Drop (hand-wired)|
|Pickup Selector||3-way Toggle Switch|
|Output Jack||¼ inch|
|Hardware||Chrome plated finish|
|Tuning Machines||Chrome Grover Rotomatic with contemporary style buttons|
|Truss Rod||Adjustable with black cover|
|Control Knobs||Black Witch Hats with silver inserts|
|Switch Washer||Black – blank|
|Plastic Parts & Control Covers||Black|
|Handedness||Right and left-handed models available|
|String Guage||.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046|
|Accessories||A reproduction of Tony’s “Monkey” sticker included in the case|
|Price||Artist Collection Model: $2,399.00|
Check out this video by Gibson TV, where Tony talks about his Signature Monkey SG (Artist Collection) and how he modified the original one over the years.
The Gibson Custom Shop Collector’s Edition Monkey Guitar
Before the lower-cost Artist Collection guitars were available, Gibson issued an ultra-limited edition of Custom Shop guitar. It was limited to a matched set of fifty, 25 left-hand and 25 right-handed guitars. Each guitar was signed and numbered by Tony.
To make an exact replica of the SG Special Monkey guitar, Gibson borrowed the original from the Hard Rock Cafe in New York and worked closely with master builder and relic-ace Tom Murphy.
They also collaborated with the late John Birch’s apprentice to hand-wind each set of custom-designed neck and bridge pickups.
These pickups are epoxy-potted (not wax-potted like the non-custom shop model) to help eliminate feedback, just like Tony’s original Monkey SG.
The guitar neck is the exact medium-C shape, made from a scan of the original. It has the “filed-down” low-profile frets, and the fretboard is lacquered with polyurethane, the way Tony did the neck on his monkey guitar to prevent the rubber tips he used on his amputated fingers from coming off.
Here are some of the key features of the Custom Shop Collector’s Edition model.
|Item||Custom Shop Specifications|
|Body||One-piece specially selected mahogany with aged finish|
|Aged monkey sticker is attached to front of guitar|
|Neck||Medium-C neck profile recreated from scan of original guitar|
|Bone nut with zero-fret|
|Custom Detailing||Neck and body finish aged and hand-reliced in Custom Shop|
|John Birch sticker imprint on headstock|
|Strap button moved to top horn of guitar|
|Electronics||John Birch hand-wound, epoxy-potted, 9-pole “Superflux” Neck Pickup|
|John Birch hand-wound, epoxy potted, 6-pole P-90 Bridge Pickup|
|Two 500K CTS Volume Pots, Two 500K CTS Tone Pots|
|Hand-Wired harness with Orange Drop capacitor|
|Hardware||Schaller M6 tuning machines|
|Stud Anchors Only Tailpiece|
|Accessories||1960s Replica Black/Yellow Hardshell Case|
|Certificate of Authenticity with photo of Tony and extra monkey sticker|
|Black heavy leather strap with crosses|
|Silver cross necklace inside a miniature metal coffin case|
|Availability||Production limited to 25 left-handed and 25 right-handed guitars|
|Price||Custom Shop Aged & Signed Model: $19,999.00|
Now, check out the Gibson TV video where Tony shows you the Custom Shop Collector’s Edition. Got $20,000 to spend? I wish I did!
For more info on Tony, see Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame – The Killer Guitar Players!
Gibson P-90 Single Coil Pickups
In addition to the Gibson SG Special, P-90 pickups have been a distinctive feature of some of the most sought-after guitars in history.
The P-90 single-coil pickup was first introduced by Gibson in 1946, which became popular as a guitar pickup in the early ’50s. It has been used for every style of music, including blues, rock, and jazz.
The P-90 has a shorter but wider coil than Fender-type single-coil pickups, which give it a warmer sound with less bite and “edginess.”
Gibson P-90s initially used Alnico 3 (aluminum, nickel, and cobalt alloy) pole pieces, which were later changed to Alnico 5 to achieve more signal output.
To help eliminate microphonic feedback, P-90 pickups are often potted in wax.
Over the years, the shape and housing configuration of the P-90 has changed, leading to the so-called “soap bar” and “dog ear” pickups.
P-90s are also available in a noise-canceling configuration to give the functionality of a humbucker but with some of the original P-90 tonal characteristics.
P-90 Pickups Vs Humbucker Pickups
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Gibson began replacing their P-90 pickups with noise-canceling double-coil “humbucking pickups” on their higher-end guitar models like the SG standard and Les Paul Standard guitars.
The cheaper SG Junior, SG Special, and low-end Les Paul models were still made using the P-90s.
Unlike the P-90, the humbucker pickup uses two coils that are reverse-wound with reverse polarity, which effectively cancels the hum of its output signal.
Humbucking pickups, especially the original vintage PAF (patent applied for) pickups designed by Seth Lover under the direction of Gibson president Ted McCarty, typically have a much higher output and a more aggressive tone profile than typical P-90s.
Comparison Of SG Guitar Types
I often get asked the basic differences between the various Gibson SG models, so here are some commonly made comparisons that apply to this article.
Gibson SG Special Vs Standard
The SG special was designed by Gibson as a more affordable alternative to the SG Standard.
It was originally introduced with two single-coil P-90 pickups instead of the humbucker pickups found on the more expensive SG Standard model. The P-90s gave it a warmer and lower output sound. SG Specials are now available with various pickup combinations.
The SG Special featured a stop-tail bridge with an optional Vibrola, as opposed to the Tune-O-Matic bridge on the SG Standard. In addition, the SG Special had dot inlays, while the Standard featured trapezoid inlays, although both necks had binding.
Gibson SG Special Vs Junior
The SG Junior was originally marketed as the low-end “student” SG model. It had one P-90 pickup with a single volume and tone control. The neck had no binding and it had dot inlays.
The SG Junior and SG Special had a single-piece “wrap-around” bridge instead of the two-piece “Tune-O-Matic” bridge found on the more expensive SG Standard.
The SG Junior was essentially a more affordable one-pickup version of the SG Special.
Gibson Les Paul SG Vs SG Standard
The “Les Paul SG” (also called the SG Les Paul guitar) is essentially a reference to the original SG Standard model that Gibson made to eventually replace the Les Paul, which was heavy, expensive, and not selling as well as hoped.
When Gibson presented the first SG prototype to Les Paul, he was not happy with the guitar’s design. It looked like a typical SG Standard with “Les Paul” written on the truss rod cover.
Les thought that the guitar body was too thin, which would be detrimental to its sustain. He also felt that the neck joint was too fragile and prone to crack or break, especially if the guitar accidentally fell.
Les asked Gibson to remove his name from the guitar, so they renamed it the SG (for “Solid Guitar”) and put the letters SG on the truss rod cover in place of the words “Les Paul.”
Les did not think the SG would sell well because of the redesign, but the SG Junior, Special, and Standard models turned out to be Gibson’s best-selling electric guitars!
The Gibson Les Paul SG has become a prized collector’s item and can easily sell for $20,000 and above.
Iconic Gibson SG Players
In addition to Tony Iommi, here are some other well-known guitar players who use or have used an SG guitar.
It’s hard to think about the Gibson SG without associating it with Angus Young, AC/DC’s lead guitarist, and an absolute powerhouse! Angus has laid down more outrageous licks on an SG guitar than any other player in rock history.
The first time I saw Angus was on MTV in the 1970s. He walked out in his trademark suit and shorts (complete with book backpack), and I started laughing. Then, when he started playing, I just couldn’t believe how good he was. I had to pick my eyeballs up off the floor and pop them back into my head!
If there was ever a guitar made for the way Angus plays and runs around on stage, it’s the SG. His first and favorite SG was a 1960s cherry red model with a Vibrola and a very thin neck that he purchased in Australia.
Angus has had three Gibson SG signature guitars!
- The first one was introduced in 2000 and had a Vibrola and Lyre tailpiece.
- The second SG was released in 2005 as the Back In Black 25th Anniversary model.
- The third one made its appearance in 2010 and had acrylic lightning bolt inlays with a stop-tail bridge
All three Gibson SGs came with a 57 classic neck humbucker and an Angus Young Signature humbucker in the bridge position.
I own the third Angus Young Signature SG, and it’s a rocking machine!
Another disciple of the SG guitar and absolute musical genius was Frank Zappa. He used various models and modified them with control switches and specially-wound pickups.
His famous “Roxy SG” had a traditional Maestro-style Vibrola with a pair of mini-toggle switches to coil tap and flip phase each humbucking pickup.
The first song I ever heard Frank play is “Willie The Pimp,” from the “Hot Rats” album back in 1969, and I’ve been a devoted fan ever since. Frank covers every modern musical genre imaginable.
If you want to hear how truly versatile an SG can be, then have a listen to this guy play!
Although Eric is most often associated with a Stratocaster, he played a 59 Les Paul with John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers and a custom painted SG in the band Cream.
The stock 1964 SG Standard was painted by a Dutch Design Collective called “The Fool.”
Eric gave the guitar to George Harrison, and it was eventually owned by Todd Rundgren.
I was lucky enough to see Eric play The Fool SG at a Cream concert at Madison Square Garden. They played on a circular stage that rotated. I couldn’t believe how loud they were, but I was totally mesmerized by Eric’s guitar lines, and I still am.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
One of the true stars of the Gibson SG guitar has been called the “Godmother of the gospel, blues, and rock and roll.”
Among the many guitars she played is a white SG Custom with three humbucking pickups that she acquired sometime in the early ’60s.
Her use of a guitar with heavy distortion made her one of the earliest pioneers of electric blues, influencing guitar greats like Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck.
She is one of my favorite guitar players of all time! Have a listen to her collected works, and you’ll see why.
Here is a video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing “Didn’t It Rain?” in 1964. It’s a must-see, so check it out, unbelievable!
If you listen to Dereck Trucks, then you undoubtedly enjoy the sound of slide guitar played on a Gibson SG Standard, Allman Brothers Band style.
Derek is a true musical prodigy and has been a staple in Eric Clapton’s lineup.
It’s no wonder that he’s been included twice in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Derek favors ’61 SG reissues and has his own Signature Model SG that features two ’57 Classic humbuckers, a slim-taper neck, and the faux Lyre tailpiece.
If you enjoy blues, rock, and progressive jazz, then be sure to add Derek to your MP3 favorites list.
Pete Townshend has been associated with many guitars, including the Rickenbacker, Les Paul, and Strat.
Undeniably, the Gibson SG Special played a prominent part in his career, especially in The Who’s music of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
It’s hard to crank the volume of an SG played through a high-gain amp without doing at least one “Townshend Windmill!”
Seminal rock albums like “Tommy” and “Live At Leeds” will immediately conjure the Townshend SG Special sound.
In 2000, Gibson released their Pete Townshend Signature series in an SG Special format. The Custom Shop version was limited to 250 units and featured a “tour worn” faded cherry finish with 2 P-90 pickups.
Here’s a video from The Who, which is a 1973 performance of “Long Live Rock.” Listen to the sound of Pete Townshend’s Gibson SG Special plugged into his HiWatt amps and watch out for those windmills! An outstanding performance by the original Who lineup. Truly the sound of Rock!
Tony Iommi Discography (Abbreviated)
Tony has recorded so much stuff over the years with a tremendous variety of people. Here is a partial listing.
If you’re not familiar with his work then I recommend that you have a listen to all the Black Sabbath studio albums and the Heaven And Hell recordings.
Black Sabbath (Studio Albums)
- Black Sabbath – 1970
- Paranoid – 1970
- Master Of Reality – 1971
- Vol. 4 – 1972
- Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – 1973
- Sabotqge – 1975
- Technical Ecstasy – 1976
- Never Say Die! – 1978
- Heaven And Hell – 1980
- Mob Rules – 1981
- Born Again – 1983
- Seventh Star – 1986
- The Eternal Idol – 1987
- Headless Cross – 1989
- Tyr – 1990
- Dehumanizer – 1992
- Cross Purposes – 1994
- Forbidden – 1995
- 13 – 2013
Black Sabbath (Live Albums)
- Live At Last – 1980
- Live Evil – 1982
- Cross Purposes Live – 1995
- Reunion – 1998
- Past Lives – 2002
- Live At Hammersmith Odeon – 2007
- Live… Gathered In Their Masses – 2013
- The End: Live In Birmingham
Heaven And Hell
- Live From Radio City Music Hall – 2007
- The Devil You Know – 2009
- Neon Knights: 30 Years Of Heaven & Hell – 2010
- We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘n’ Roll – 1975
- The Collection – 1992
- The Best Of Black Sabbath – 2000
- Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath (1970 – 1978) – 2004
- Greatest Hits – 2009
- Iron Man: The Best Of Black Sabbath – 2012
- The Ultimate Collection – 2016
- The Ten Year War – 2017
- Iommi (Solo Album) – 2000
- The 1996 DEP Sessions – 2004
- Fused – 2005
Final Thoughts On The Gibson SG Electric Guitar
The SG guitar has consistently been Gibson’s best-selling electric instrument. Although the SG Special was marketed as a mid-level product, it found its way into the hands of many iconic guitar players, including Tony Iommi and Pete Townshend.
Much like the Les Paul, the SG Junior, Special, and Standard guitars have given way to many other SG “specialty models” over the years.
The SG is one of the most versatile solid body guitars ever made. Its lightweight design makes it comfortable to play, while the unique body shape and neck joint give you total access to the highest frets. As a result, this guitar has been used to play everything from gospel to high-octane rock and roll.
Gibson created the Tony Iommi Monkey SG as a tribute to the man and the guitar that gave birth to heavy metal. It is an amazingly accurate recreation of the original instrument that has been heavily modified to suit Tony’s performance needs and create his signature sound. It is truly the product of years of experimentation.
The Monkey guitar is only one example of Gibson signature and custom shop SGs that honored the guitarists who took music in a new direction.
If you have never played an SG guitar then make that a definite priority and don’t be surprised if end up taking one home.
If you like Black Sabbath, be sure to check out Sparta UK – An Awesome New Wave Of British Heavy Metal!
You might also like my article on Why Do Electric Guitars Have Horns – Astonishing Revelations.
Tell Me What You Think About The Tony Iommi Guitar
Please let me know what’s on your mind in the comment section or if I can help you with anything?
- Do you own a Gibson (or Epiphone) SG guitar? Which one? What do you like best about it.
- Have you tried the Tony Iommi SG Special Monkey Guitar? What did you think about it?
- Do you think the ultra-limited Custom Shop Monkey guitar is worth $20,000?
- Any tips to share about SG guitars and how are they helpful?