Black Sabbath are known as the founders of heavy metal, and their sound is deep and dark. But to get that sound, did Black Sabbath play in standard tuning?
Here is what I hear:
While most early Black Sabbath songs, such as Paranoid, are in standard tuning, many of their albums are not done in standard tuning. Initially, the band went down a half step playing to Eb standard but later went lower to D standard and ultimately started playing to C# standard.
But if you don’t know what usual standard tuning is? Here is a look.
Standard tuning is usually E-A-D-G-B-E, three intervals of a fourth (low E to A, A to D, and D to G) followed by a major third (G to B), followed by one more fourth (B to E) because it’s musically convenient and physically comfortable.
So, before Black Sabbath, the majority of bands played in E standard tuning.
And most fans know that guitarist Tony Iommi had an accident that resulted in the tips of his middle fingers getting sliced off. His fingers would bleed from tightened strings. So, he loosened them so he could bend the strings more easily.
The final result was a way-tuned-down riff.
Although it was common to lower 1 to 2 strings, Black Sabbath lowered all the strings. I think that’s what gave the band their iconic heavier sound that fans still struggle to match.
Let’s dig deeper!
On this day
Black Sabbath started recording, ‘Master Of Reality’, sometimes noted as the first stoner rock album. Tony Iommi, decided to down tune his guitar & Geezer Butler also down tuned his bass guitar to match. The result was a noticeably ‘darker’ sound. pic.twitter.com/ma66sDxx89
— #Rock Music Fellowship (@mojorocksradio) February 5, 2020
What tuning did Black Sabbath use?
Black Sabbath typically used C# standard tuning. But some songs are Eb standard or D standard with a few songs such as Paranoid or the song Black Sabbath in standard E tuning.
You can hear Black Sabbath trying their hands at C# in their 1971 album (Master of Reality) to their last few albums.
Luckily, I explored all Black Sabbath albums and found each album’s tuning. So, here we go.
- Album: Black Sabbath (1970), Tuning: standard E ( E B G D A E )
- Album: Paranoid (1970), Tuning: (slightly sharp) E B G D A E
- Album: Master of Reality (1971), Tuning: standard C# (C# F# B E G# C#), standard D (D G C F A D) – on “After Forever” and “Solitude.”
- Album: Volume 4 (1972), Tuning: standard C#
- Album: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), Tuning: standard C#
- Album: Sabotage (1975), Tuning: standard C#
- Album: Technical Ecstasy (1976), Tuning: standard E
- Album: Never Say Die (1978), Tuning: standard E
Hopefully, this was helpful. These are pretty much all the essential scales Black Sabbath covered in the ’70s. You can see from the above analysis that the band mostly used C#.
Some argue that these are real simple tunings. But if you are not familiar with these, they are pretty different from usual tunings.
— Fact Maniac (@factmaniac) December 6, 2019
Why did Tony Iommi tune down?
Tony Iommi started down-tuning his guitar to lower the tension against his middle fingers, the tips of which got sliced off in an accident. Playing the guitar to lower tuning helped Tony play guitar for longer durations and helped to bend the strings more easily.
If you play anything resembling rock, higher chances are that you would owe a thing or two to the master of riffs: Black Sabbath and their guitarist Tony Iommi.
But many of you would be surprised to know that several iconic riffs in rock history resulted from an accident that the band’s guitarist Tony Iommi suffered.
At 17, Tony worked in a metal shop between gigs. The musician’s index finger, the middle finger of his right hand, got cut off. However, determined to play, Iommi got back to music.
At first, Iommi started down-tuning his guitar. The powered tension of the strings worked, but not for long. Band’s vocalist Ozzy Osbourne discovered that these lower tunings resulted in a heavier sound giving rise to an entirely new genre.
But even with drop tunings, the pain did not go away. So, Iommi created a custom set of strings which was something like this:
- D# Standard: .008 – .008 – .011 – .018w – .024 – .032
- C# Standard: .009 – .010 – .012 – .020w – .032 – .042
These string sets are lighter as compared to other standards, but when you consider that these tunings are down below standards, no one can argue that the riffs produced by them are still heavy as anything.
— BLABBERMOUTH.NET (@BLABBERMOUTHNET) May 4, 2020
Did Geezer Butler also tune down?
Geezer Butler did down-tune his bass guitar. He went from standard E-A-D-G to lower C#-F#-B-E to match Iommi, who started down-tuning his guitar to C# after a factory accident.
British songwriter and musician Butler is best known as the bassist for Black Sabbath.
Butler has also performed with other legendary names like GZR, Heaven & Hell, and last but not least, the great Ozzy Osbourne (Geezer formed his first band with Ozzy).
Stylistically, Butler mostly remained popular for his melodic playing and became known as the first bassist who started using a wah pedal and down-tuning his instruments.
Butler went from standard tuning down to C#. During the band’s Ozzy Osbourne era, Geezer wrote most of the lyrics heavily lending to Ozzy’s fascination with religion.
So, Is Ozzy Osbourne religious?
Luckily, I covered that in a recent article where I have discussed how Osbourne brought the satanic imagery and occult to music. But is it true he’s a regular church-goer??
Just click the link to read it on my site.
Drop D tuning. Know your way around your fretboard pic.twitter.com/3MLrr4P6tR
— Affordable Lessons (@GuitarOkc) December 10, 2014
Who first used drop D tuning?
The first bands to use a drop D tuning were The Beatles in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Led Zeppelin in “Moby Dick”, both released in 1969. Black Sabbath popularized down-tuning but did not release their first album until 1970, and did not widely use down tuning until 1971.
But technically, on the Beatles’ song, I believe they only down-tune the low E string to a D, not the whole guitar.
I found that the D tuning was introduced and developed by classical guitarists. It is well known for its usage by classical and contemporary guitarists.
But the most recognizable use of D tuning was made by heavy metal and rock bands.
Tuning in the lower D string helped musicians produce a much heavier and darker sound. Drop D tends to expand the scale of an instrument by two semitones.
If you are not familiar, in the mid-1980s, alternative rock bands such as King’s X, The Melvins, and Soundgarden, who influenced Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, made extensive use of drop D tuning.
Black Sabbath exhibition in Brum. The guitars weren’t down tuned pic.twitter.com/cHVCY5LW4r
— The Freed Unit (@FreedUnit) July 8, 2019
Was Black Sabbath the first rock band to tune down?
Black Sabbath was not the first rock band to tune down, with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin having done it first. Black Sabbath began featuring consistently tuned-down guitars from their third album, Master of Reality (1971).
But the band has started experimenting with different sounds way before.
According to Proaudioland,
“The first two Sabbath albums are full of standard tuning, and Iommi tended to play riffs of the lower two strings and higher up on the neck for a thicker sound.”
However, the group grew more into heavier tones due to an accident that led to Tony’s finger slicing off. The band made extensive use of detuned guitar in later years. Thus, resulting in a new genre.
Giving birth to an entirely new genre may have been an unintended accident, but one cannot deny the fact that Black Sabbath certainly knew what they wanted to produce.
They aligned to the common notion that musicians associated with the rock and heavy metal genre played mainly by ear. But what about the rest of them?
Well, some believed in starting from scratch, and others believed in learning music theory.
So, do all metal musicians know music theory? Read my recent article to find the answer. Eddie Van Halen did know music theory. But what about guitarists like Randy Rhodes or James Hetfield?
Just click that to read it on my site.
Black Sabbath was an English rock band formed in 1968 by guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne who was later replaced by Ronnie James Dio.
The band is remembered for defining the genre of heavy metal with releases like Black Sabbath, Paranoid, and Master of Reality.
In the band’s initial stages, they usually stuck to standard tunings. However, after their guitarist met with an industrial accident, it was difficult for him to play guitar.
As a solution, Toni found a way.
He custom-created his guitar strings with lower tensions down. This helped the band play in C# tuning. Fortunately, the band’s vocalist Osbourne loved this new sound, and they used it extensively.
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