What Happened to Tony Iommi’s Fingers?

Tommy Iommi

Black Sabbath is a rock band that has heavily influenced the heavy metal music genre, and as ironical as it may sound, it is all due to Iommi losing his fingers. The guitarist for Black Sabbath lost his fingertips, and many fans probably do not know the story behind the accident. With the loss of his fingers, Iommi could not play a full chord hence tried experimenting with different sounds to fill in for the full chord. It was a journey filled with depression and frustration, culminating in hope and a revolution in rock and roll music. Let’s share with you what we know about Iommi losing his fingers.

The Accident that Cost Iommi His Fingertips

Iommi had always been drawn to music primarily because his family members played the accordion. Young Iommi, therefore, learned to play the drum but found out that he preferred the guitar. At only 13, Iommi bought his first guitar, becoming a left-handed guitarist. However, as Birmingham residents, the family mainly relied on working in the steel mills, and the guitarist had to earn a living too by going down the same route. He was only a teenager then but held on to a dream of getting out of the town and touring Europe. Iommi had auditioned as a guitarist for the Birds and Bees, who had allowed him to join them, so he had handed in his resignation from the factory, ready to start his career as a professional guitarist.

On the fateful day of the industrial accident that cost Iommi his fingertips, he reported for his final shift. Everything went on fine, doing his job of welding metal sheets together until it was lunchtime. According to Hauraki, Iommi contemplated about not returning to work after lunch, but his mother scolded him and told him to finish his shift. Little did he know that he was going back to encounter an incident that would change his life forever. When the hopeful guitarist returned, he was ordered to operate the guillotine press because the person who usually did so was further down along the assembly line. Iommi was not trained to handle it, but there was no one else to operate it, so he obeyed the orders and started pushing the metal through the press. He pushed his hand way in, and the press came down on his fingers, severing the fingertips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand. He pulled the fingers away from the guillotine press only to see two stalks as the bone was sticking out of them. On being rushed to the hospital, they cut off the bone and told him to forget about playing the guitar.

A Dream Nearly Cut Short

When the doctors told him to forget about becoming a professional guitarist, he believed them. He had thought about playing with the bandages on, but various specialists discouraged him. According to Vintage News, Iommi knew he could learn how to play the guitar with his right hand. However, he figured it would take so much time thus gave up. He became depressed, seeing that his dream of touring the world and joining a band was cut short. Iommi even blamed his mother for the accident, saying that had she not insisted on him going back to finish his shift, the accident would not have happened.

He might have given up on himself, but his factory manager didn’t. So when the manager visited Iommi, he gifted him an EP, but Iommi did not want to listen to it. After losing his fingers and being told he could never play again, he was too depressed to hear another guitar player living his dream. Still, the manager encouraged him to listen to the EP by Django Reinhardt, and it changed the perception that Iommi had regarding his future as a guitarist. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Iommi could relate to Reinhardt’s music, especially because he too had lost the use of his third and fourth fingers of his left hand in a caravan fire. The musician gave up playing violin and banjo and focused on the guitar, playing with only his index and second fingers. As Iommi listened to Reinhardt’s talented hands playing the guitar, he got the inspiration to start thinking about using his remaining fingers too.

No Pain, No Gain

Iommi decided to become the guitar player he had dreamed of by devising prosthetic fingertips. He melted a liquid soap bottle into a ball. He then made holes into the ball using soldering iron and put his fingers in the malleable plastic. Iommi then trimmed the excess plastic off, sanded it, and made the thimbles. He glued different types of cloths to the tips of the prosthetics, but the plastic tips made it difficult for him to feel the guitar strings. Furthermore, the guitar strings were too thick, and bending them using the plastic tips was challenging.

He, therefore, started experimenting with leather fingertips and, according to Guitar, decided to move forward with them because they were comfortable and provided optimal grip. That is not to say it was a painless journey; before he could adapt to the leather fingertips, it took a long time, and it was a painful process. The guitarist also had to make light gauge guitar strings, but luckily Picato Strings manufactured the first light gauge strings in 1971. As he continued adapting to his new reality, he had to come to terms with another harsh truth. He could no longer play some chords, so he kept tuning his guitar down and loosening the strings until, finally, the sound produced was heavy and aggressive. The resulting sound became the basis of heavy metal. As published in Patient Innovation, people keep crediting Iommi for inventing the new music, but it was just an adaptation to the cards that fate had dealt him. That new music led to the birth of Black Sabbath.

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