Gibson SG Electric Guitar Update – Iommi “Monkey” SG Special

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Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Tony Iommi's monkey decal

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?

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Artist Collection 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

ItemArtist Collection Specifications
BodyMahogany (monkey decal not preattached)
Body FinishNon-aged vintage Cherry with gloss nitrocellulose lacquer
NeckMahogany with rounded profile and cream binding
Scale Length24.75″ / 628.65 mm
FretboardIndian rosewood
Fretboard Radius12 inch
Frets22
Fret SizeMedium jumbo
NutWhite “Graph Tech”
Nut Width1.7″ / 43.053 mm
Neck InlaysAcrylic Dots
Neck JointGlued-in
Electronics
Bridge PickupP-90, chrome-covered
Neck PickupP-90, chrome-covered
Controls2 Volume, 2 Tone
Control CapacitorsOrange Drop (hand-wired)
Pickup Selector3-way Toggle Switch
Output Jack¼ inch
HardwareChrome plated finish
Tuning Machines Chrome Grover Rotomatic with contemporary style buttons
Bridge Adjustable Wraparound
PickguardBlack multi-ply
Truss RodAdjustable with black cover
Control KnobsBlack Witch Hats with silver inserts
Switch TipBlack
Switch WasherBlack – blank
Plastic Parts & Control CoversBlack
Miscellaneous
HandednessRight and left-handed models available
String Guage.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, .046
CaseHardshell
AccessoriesA reproduction of Tony’s “Monkey” sticker included in the case
Factory SetupIncluded
ManufacturedUSA
WarrantyLifetime
PriceArtist 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.

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Tony Iommi with his SG Special"Monkey" guitar
Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A closeup of the Custom Shop guitar

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.

ItemCustom Shop Specifications
BodyOne-piece specially selected mahogany with aged finish
Aged monkey sticker is attached to front of guitar
NeckMedium-C neck profile recreated from scan of original guitar
Polyurethane-coated fretboard
Bone nut with zero-fret
Custom DetailingNeck and body finish aged and hand-reliced in Custom Shop
John Birch sticker imprint on headstock
Custom pickup-surrounds
Strap button moved to top horn of guitar
ElectronicsJohn 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
HardwareSchaller M6 tuning machines
Stud Anchors Only Tailpiece
Accessories1960s 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
AvailabilityProduction limited to 25 left-handed and 25 right-handed guitars
PriceCustom 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

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A P-90 "soap bar" pickup
P-90 “Soap Bar” Pickup

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.

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A P-90 "Dog Ear" pickup
P-90 “Dog Ear” Pickup

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

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A "Humbucker" pickup
“Humbucker” Pickup

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

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A Gibson SG Standard
An SG 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 Electric Guitar - A Gibson SG Junior
Vintage Gibson SG Junior

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

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - A Gibson Les Paul SG guitar
A Les Paul SG Guitar. “Les Paul” is written on the truss rod cover.

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.

Angus Young

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Angus Young playing 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!

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - The three Angus Young Gibson SG Signature guitars
  1. The first one was introduced in 2000 and had a Vibrola and Lyre tailpiece.
  2. The second SG was released in 2005 as the Back In Black 25th Anniversary model.
  3. 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!

Frank Zappa

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Frank Zappa playing an SG guitar

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!

Eric Clapton

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Eric Clapton in concert
Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Eric Clapton "The Fool" SG guitar
“The Fool” SG Guitar

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.

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Sister Rosetta Tharpe playing onstage

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!

Derek Trucks

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Derek Trucks playing his signature SG guitar

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

Gibson SG Electric Guitar - Peter Townshend with a Gibson SG Special

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

Compiliation Albums

  • 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

Miscellaneous

  • Iommi (Solo Album) – 2000
  • The 1996 DEP Sessions – 2004
  • Fused – 2005

Final Thoughts On The Gibson SG Electric Guitar

Final Thoughts

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.


Tell Me What You Think About The Tony Iommi Guitar

A rock band of figures made from nuts and bolts.

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?

About Frank


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8 thoughts on “Gibson SG Electric Guitar Update – Iommi “Monkey” SG Special”

  1. HI Frank. Thank you for another great article. Gibson is a true legend and its always interesting to read about their products. Obviously I will never have enough money to but this one, but it is a beauty. It has to be unique experience to play on it and not surprising that legends like Eric Clapton are using it. Oh well, at least I will have a pleasure to listen how real masters are playing on it.

    Reply
    • Hi, Cogito

      Thank you, once again, for your comments!

      Yes, $20,000 is quite a bit of money for the custom shop Iommi SG Monkey model!  This is a “collector’s” piece for investment return down the road. The key to the investment here is that only 50 guitars will be issued worldwide (25 right-handed & 25 left-handed), and it’s the guitar that Tony used to create the Black Sabbath sound.

      You can easily invest $20,000 in a PRS Private Stock guitar, which will be an awesome instrument but not have quite the same investment return.

      Even $2,400 is quite a bit to pay for the production (Artist Collection) SG model, but it’s “doable” for some working guitar pros. I might actually buy this one; we’ll see.

      I think you may have misunderstood the section of my article on “Iconic Gibson SG Players,” which was meant to illustrate some of the other famous people who use or have used Gibson SG guitars during their career.

      Thanks again for liking my article!

      Frank

      Reply
  2. I didn’t even finish the post yet, but I have to say you done made a PERFECT blend of text, pictures and videos. This is a versatile post that will definitely be keeping people staying on the page for a while, and invested, and buying your promoted items. I have little experience with the guitar, let alone an electric. but I know that this post is gold!

    Reply
    • Hi, Nicholas

      Thank You for your comments and your vote of confidence!

      I hope this article inspired you to play the guitar and familiarize yourself with Tony Iommi’s music. You are probably acquainted with some of the stuff he recorded with the band Black Sabbath.

      If you like rock and roll or heavy metal, then dig in, and I think you will be impressed!

      Frank

      Reply
  3. I enjoyed the review of Gibson guitars and the trip down memory lane with all of the artists that played them.  I liked the feature of the Tony Lommi original Monkey SG Gibson and Les Paul’s prized SG collectors Gibson which can sell at $20,000 and above.

    Other guitar players of Gibson guitars were Angus Young AC/DC lead guitarist, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Derek Trucks and Sister Rosetta Thorpe who was the godmother of gospel, blues and rock and roll.

    I can see why the SG Junior, Special and Standard models were the best selling Gibson guitars.  They were a very good guitars and affordable.

    Although I never played the guitar, my brother-in-law owned a guitar shop and taught people to play several instruments but he always taught guitar on Gibson SGs.  I had several friends who played in bands and they always played on Gibson guitars.

    Reply
    • Hi, Eddie

      Thank You for your comments!

      I’m really psyched that you enjoyed my article! Gibson SG guitars have been a part of my musical journey from the very beginning due to players like Tony Iommi and Frank Zappa. Even the most entry-level models play great and sound awesome.

      I have always gravitated to the SG Standard because of the humbucker pickups, but the P-90s give the SG special its own unique sound.

      It’s obvious why your brother-in-law always taught on Gibson SGs. They are “super-friendly” instruments for beginners. I think the majority of us tend to stick with the guitar models we learned to play on. I own many types of electrics, including multiple Gibsons, but I always seem to return to the Stratocaster that got me up and running with rock and roll.

      Maybe you should consider giving the guitar a go and see what happens. I think you will love it!

      Frank

      Reply
  4. Wow, what a detailed article about the Gibson SG electric Guitar, used by tony Iommi, one of the greatest of all time! Interesting that Erik Clapton and Frank Zappa also used the same type of guitar.  That says something about the quality of this instrument.  

    I do not own one of these but I have a buddy who raves about them all the time and got a nice one from his wife for Christmas last year.  I have heard him play and it sounds pretty epic! 

    As far as the guitar being worth 20000, people will pay for what they love, especially if it holds nostalgic value for them and this guitar undoubtedly does.  

    Side note, I think they should have made the monkey sticker a permanent fixture instead of an optional add on!

     Thanks for an interesting read.  

    Reply
    • Hi, Ashley

      Thank You for your comments!

      The Gibson SG (any model) is such a great electric guitar! I am lucky enough to own two SGs, and I play them often. They are so easy to play, especially in the highest registers, and they have such great sound.

      Just to clarify, on the regular signature Tony Iommy SG version, the sticker application is optional and comes with the guitar, but you have to attach it yourself if you so desire. On the custom shop ($20,000) version, the monkey sticker comes pre-attached and “aged” with the rest of the guitar body finish.

      I agree with you that the monkey sticker should come preattached to both versions. Virtually all players who buy this SG model understand its significance and want the monkey to be a permanent part of the instrument.

      Frank

      Reply

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