Find a Way to Play
By Mark Wade, of Melismatics, Teacher and Assistant Director of Music Education at Twin Town Guitars
Most of you have probably heard of the band Black Sabbath, known for such songs as "Iron Man" and "Paranoid." But did you know that the guitarist behind those iconic riffs accidentally sawed off the tips of two of his most important fingers? That's right, Tony Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers of his fretting hand in a factory accident. Through much trial and error, he created his own prosthetic fingertips and learned how to play without being able to feel the strings in those fingers.
While he was in the hospital—being told he'd never play the guitar again—a friend came in and played him a Django Reinhardt recording. Iommi wasn't familiar with the virtuoso guitarist but was blown away by him. He then learned that Reinhardt had also sustained a hand injury: he was injured in a fire and lost the use of his ring and pinky fingers. Reinhardt relearned how to play guitar using only his index and middle fingers.
At that time there was only one gauge (or thickness) of strings available. Iommi had a hard time bending strings and found it painful to play on them, so he put banjo strings on his guitar for a lighter gauge. He then went to string companies to try to convince them to make lighter gauge guitar strings but they said the strings would never sell. Iommi kept asking and finally convinced a company to make them. So not only can you thank Tony Iommi for some great guitar riffs, you can also thank him for lighter gauge strings!