Tony Iommi’s long-serving guitar tech Mike Clement has pulled the curtain back and revealed the Black Sabbath guitarist’s electric guitar setup secrets.
Clement joined Thomann’s Kris Barosci for the latest episode of Guitar Tech Tips, Barosci’s YouTube show on the Thomann channel. During a wide ranging conversation, Clement shared his approach to changing electric guitar strings, adjusting neck relief and setting the action on Iommi’s signature Gibson SGs.
He also talks about the significance of Iommi’s custom electric guitar pickups and Laney guitar amps to his sound. Even if you’re not a Black Sabbath fan, there was a wealth of wisdom relevant to anyone with a guitar.
Clement has been Iommi’s tech for over 30 years. Before hooking up with Iommi, Clement was Motörhead’s tech for three-and-a-half years. Würzel played hard and broke strings a lot. Lemmy played so hard he’d break his bass strings.
This was where he learned that string changes needed to be fast and efficient. “I got used to doing them very fast indeed,” says Clement. “I could get a string changed, stretched out and back to them before the end of a song.”
For a pro like Clement, much of his setups are done by feel, with the only essential tool his straight-edged metal ruler for checking how much neck relief there. When it comes to adjusting relief, he’ll set it perfectly flat, before bringing it up a little until the strings are just above the strings.
Clement discussed Iommi’s use of light-gauge strings, and how the Black Sabbath guitarist’s injury in a machining accident affected his guitar playing in the years that followed. Famously, Iommi had to use banjo strings for his trebles, in an era when light-gauge strings were less available.
“I had big problems when asking string companies to make me sets of lighter gauge strings,” Iommi told MusicRadar in 2010. “They kept saying they couldn't do it, even though I'd made my own setup from banjo strings. I used banjo strings at first because I was trying to find anything that was light that I could use, and I dropped the gauge down so that I was using a fifth [string] as a sixth. That worked for me.”
Inspired by Django Reinhardt, Iommi persisted, tuning down helping create a heavier rock tone, inventing heavy metal in the process.
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Happy birthday to my guitar tech Mike Clement. Have a fantastic day Mike! pic.twitter.com/XpbCp6dzK2November 26, 2017