Famous Guitarists Who Overcame Disability

by Frederik Nielsen, Feb 25, 2020 . 4 min read

Famous Guitarists Who Overcame Disability

There are enough obstacles to making it in the music industry. Succeeding with a disability is nothing short of a miracle. But it’s not impossible. Here are three famous guitarists who overcame disability and became legends.

Tony Iommi: Chopping off Fingers and Creating a New Sound

You know Tony Iommi as one of the founding members of the first metal band ever. You know his riffs on Black Sabbath albums but do you know about his accident? When he was only 17 years old, Toni had an accident that would change his life forever.

Toni was working in a metal sheet factory. One day, while working on a metal press, he accidentally pushed his hand into the machine and took the ends off his right-hand fingers. The doctors cut the hanging bones off and told him that his guitar-playing days are over.

But that didn’t stop him from trying. He tried playing with the other hand. When that didn’t work, he started using plastic fingertips, specially molded for him. He also modified his playing technique. He went a few tunes down, going from E to C#. Thus, the heavy metal sound we cherish to this day was born.

Django Reinhardt: Genre Invention With Only Three Fingers

Becoming an influential musician in your own genre isn’t easy. Inventing a new genre is unimaginable to most. Inventing two genres doesn’t seem possible, right? Now imagine inventing two musical genres while playing an instrument with only three fingers. That’s exactly what mister Reinhardt did.

Django Reinhardt is an influential jazz guitarist responsible for the invention of Hot Jazz and Gypsy Jazz, genres still popular to this day. He started playing music at the young age of 13. He taught himself how to play the guitar. Just five years after he started playing a fire destroyed his caravan.

The incident left half of his body seriously burned. In fact, the injuries were so severe that he lost feeling in two left-hand fingers and right leg. And just like Tony, he was told that he’d never play guitar again. After months of physical therapy, he got back to playing, tweaked his technique, and the rest is history.

Les Paul: Having a Permanently Fixed Playing Hand

Lester Polsfuss, or as most people know him nowadays, Les Paul was not only a highly-skilled jazz musician, he’s also one of the most important music innovators of the 20th century. Not only did he help Gibson create the electric guitar but he also pioneered techniques like phasing and delay.

Back in 1948, Paul survived a car accident on the infamous Route 66 near Davenport, Oklahoma. The crash shattered his right elbow, which left his arm immobile. The doctors had to put Paul’s right arm in an immobile position permanently in order to save it from amputation.

In one of the most rock ‘n roll moments in history, Paul asked the doctors if they could point his arm at his navel so he could continue playing after the operation. The doctors actually played along and rock history was made. Les lived peacefully for the next 6 decades, passing away in 2009.

What Do You Struggle With?

Did you like our selection? Do you feel like we left someone out? Which one of these guitarists do you enjoy the most? Make sure to share your thoughts with the rest of us by leaving a comment in the comment section below.

PS: We’ve also written a guide on how to play guitar with arthritis — check it out!


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