This interview was originally published in 2014.
Indestructible. That’s as good a definition for the band Judas Priest as any. Despite an oft-changing roster over the years in the drum chair; the departure, long-time absence, and eventual return of lead singer Rob Halford; the 2011 retirement of founding member, guitarist K.K. Downing — and not to mention changing musical tastes of the general public, or the complete revamp of the music industry itself — Judas Priest has carried on.
More than carried on, actually. With Redeemer of Souls, the band’s just released studio album breaking the U.S. Top 10 album charts at Number 6 — the group’s first ever U.S. Top 10 album — Priest have proven to be, in a word, indestructible.
Guitarist Glenn Tipton, himself celebrating his 40th anniversary with Priest in 2014, has been on the ride since the group was known only in their native England. And with longevity comes reverence. Tipton’s edgy guitar riffing has been at the forefront of heavy metal since its inception. Countless hard rock and heavy metal guitarists cite Tipton and Judas Priest as major influences, and for many a famous metal player today, early Judas Priest hits such as “Breaking The Law,” “Living After Midnight,” or “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” were standard, must-learn anthems.
Redeemer of Souls is indeed a return to classic Judas Priest: all straight-ahead, plug-in-and-play guitar tones, ripping riffs, and screaming guitar solos. Tipton and K.K. Downing replacement, guitarist Richie Faulkner, are tearing it up on …Souls with a fury that fits right in with Priest’s classic catalog. Could it be the quintet’s best work since British Steel or Screaming for Vengeance?
In this exclusive Guitar.com interview, we spoke with guitarist Tipton about his and the band’s songwriting process, the gear and guitars he favors at home and on the road, and even his penchant for fly-fishing between tours and recording sessions.
Guitar.com: A new Judas Priest album and tour, this is exciting!
Glenn Tipton: Yes, we’re pretty excited.
Guitar.com: So why do we have to wait until the fall in the United States for the Judas Priest tour?
Tipton: We’ve really only just released the album and we’ve done a lot of promotion. And I think we deserve a rest! (laughs).
Guitar.com: The U.S. audiences are greatly looking forward to seeing you again.
Tipton: We need to get into rehearsals, so there’s rehearsal time in there.
Guitar.com: Is there a European tour before the U.S. tour?
Tipton: No. We start in America.
Guitar.com: Redeemer of Souls is really rockin’. What was going on in the mindset as you were going into the studio with these songs?
Tipton: Nothing really. The last studio album was a conceptual album, Nostradamus. And we wanted to do a basic Judas Priest album, full of Judas Priest heavy metal character. And we just sat down and wrote naturally, and it just emerged. It evolved, and just showed itself. We just very much wanted to do a metal album this time.
Guitar.com: Do you do the writing in the studio or ahead of time?
Tipton: What we normally do is we all go away and do our own thing, write our own bits and get riffs and sections of songs down, and what we think would make a good verse or a good chorus. And then Rob will go away and do the same with his lyrics and song titles. And then we just get together and pull everything in, and songs just sort of emerge from that.
Guitar.com: So do you have a studio at home that you put ideas down with?
Tipton: Yeah. I think everybody has a studio at home now.
Guitar.com: So are you guys sending each other files through the Internet?
Tipton: We do, ’cause Richie and Rob have boards, so we exchange ideas on the Internet.
Guitar.com: When you’re in a writing mode, what is your process?
Tipton: Just mess around on the guitar, listen to a lot of stuff, and get some effects down on the guitar to give me inspiration. Maybe some unusual effects or something. They don’t always end up being used, but creating an atmosphere that breeds ideas. And then I just jot them down and record them. I usually put them in categories of fast, medium, and slow.
Guitar.com: Do you record most of your ideas?
Tipton: I do, to get them. If I get what I think is a strong idea for a song, I record it.
Guitar.com: I’ve found that if I’m coming up with ideas, if I don’t record them, later on I may remember the notes, but I can never recapture the magic of the rhythm I played them with. Does that happen to you?
Tipton: Yeah. That’s why I put everything down. When I get what I think is a good idea, I always put it down somewhere, because, yeah, you can remember the notes, but you can’t remember how they were played, particularly. I’ve got a bad memory anyways, so there’s a lot of good riffs gone into space that I never jotted down (laughs).
Guitar.com: Right. What do you use to record?
Tipton: Pro Tools.
Guitar.com: You probably have your rig all set up and just ready to hit “go,” right?
Tipton: Yeah. I’ve got a couple of Pro Tools systems. One is for just jotting stuff down. And I’ve got a personal assistant to record them.
Guitar.com: What do you use in your home studio when you’re playing? Do you use guitars that we don’t see on tour?
Tipton: I do if I need to. But normally I use the Hamer guitars that I use on tour. Or I’ll use Gibson SGs, or Strats, or anything that gives me the sound. If it’s an acoustic section I might use a Taylor. Whatever suits the track. I don’t believe it’s totally important to reproduce exactly on stage what you do in the studio, so I always give the studio preference, or precedence, I should say. I get the sound that is recorded on the album, on the song.
Guitar.com: What guitars did you use on Redeemer of Souls?
Tipton: Hamer, Gibson. I did use a Taylor for an acoustic section at the start of “To Hell And Back.” And that’s it really. I probably used a Strat in places to get some of the quieter sounds. But I didn’t use a hell of a lot of guitars. We wanted this album to sound natural and fresh, and we didn’t want to lace it with all sorts of effects or different guitars. We wanted to give it a solid sound that flowed through the album and didn’t disrupt. Sometimes you can have too many diversities on the album and it’s tough to play the album [on tour].
Guitar.com: What kind of amps were you using in the studio?
Tipton: We used Engl amps on all the tracks. We just mic’d them up with a close Shure 57, a ribbon mic, and then we’d have an active mic, a Sennheiser or something like that, as an ambient mic. And then we used Celestion speakers, I believe the classic Celestion. Our aim on this album was to get a live sound. Priest has always been a good live band. And we felt it was important this time to put the guitars down and make them sound really plain, not processed guitars, no programmed drums. Everything mic’d up and played with an exciting live sound. And I think we did a pretty good job of it.
Guitar.com: It has a very classic Judas Priest sound, this album. When you’re coming up with ideas and you’re trading them back and forth over the Internet, do you get together live and play and work things out?
Tipton: Sometimes. Sometimes in the control room we’ll plug a couple of guitars in and kick ideas around. Sometimes I’ll have a verse and Richie [Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner] will say, ‘I have a chorus that will fit that.’ and vice-versa. Then Rob will chime in with a title, and we’re off and running. And the room lights up with amps.
Guitar.com: Do you write more songs than we end up hearing?
Tipton: Yeah. On this album we wrote a lot anyway. We wrote 18. I think we did 20 songs on this session, that were all potential album tracks. In the end we decided that 13 of them worked well with each other, and the other five we’ve offered on the deluxe CD. They’re not rejects, they’re really good songs. They just didn’t fit on the album, and we didn’t want to put them on the shelf to gather dust. We wanted them to see the light of day. So we wrote almost two albums worth of songs anyway for this album.
Guitar.com: Had that been consistent throughout your career, to write a couple of albums worth of material for each album, so you could narrow it down to the songs you felt best about?
Tipton: Not necessarily. In fact, on British Steel, for instance, we only had half the album written when we went in the studio, and we wrote half of it in the studio itself, which is really unusual for us. We normally have at least an album’s worth. Normally we’ve got about the right amount when we go in, and then we can decide if a couple aren’t good enough, we’ll rethink them more, or write two more songs, or whatever the album needs.
Guitar.com: What are you going to bring out on the road with you? Are we going to hear a lot of the new album in concert?
Tipton: We’ll do four or five off the new album. As for gear, we’ll use what we always use on stage, which is the same thing, Engl amps and cabs which I used on the last couple of tours. I’ve got a rack with all sorts of effects and bits and pieces. But basically Engl amps and cabs.
Guitar.com: What model Engl amp?
Tipton: I’m not really sure. I’ve got a custom amp that I’ll probably take out with me. And that will be probably be the one I use on the road.
Guitar.com: Is this 100 watts?
Tipton: I think you can switch it between 100 and 50 watts.
Guitar.com: Any new pedals or effects that have you excited?
Tipton: No. I have an echo unit, a chorus, a wah pedal, little bits of compression and maybe a couple of different echo sends and effects. It just depends. I change. I’m a bit like a mad professor: I change things around a lot. I haven’t really gotten clear on what I’m taking out in terms of effects yet. I have to do that over the next couple of weeks.
Guitar.com: It depends which songs are going to be in the set list, right?
Guitar.com: Do you know what Richie will be bringing out?
Tipton: It would be best to speak to Richie, really, because I have no idea. He’ll take Flying V’s and Les Pauls over, the two guitars he uses mainly. And he uses Engl amps, but which one he uses I’m not sure.
Guitar.com: When you started playing guitar, what was your favorite?
Tipton: My very first guitar was a Rickenbacker short scale neck. It was lovely to play, but it sounded awful. And so I shopped that in for a Strat. My big hero at the time was Rory Gallagher, and I got a Strat, a Dallas Rangemaster treble boost, and a Vox AC-30. And I used that for quite awhile. And then I got an SG and I used that, so I had the Strat and the SG. And I used those for a long time, until I got involved with Hamer, and had some custom guitars made by Hamer. And I still use the Gibson as well, quite a lot. The necks on my Hamer guitars are caliper measured from an SG neck. I love the neck on an SG.
Guitar.com: How many of the Hamer guitars do you bring out on the road?
Tipton: Not many. Probably four or five.
Guitar.com: Are you doing any alternate or drop tunings?
Tipton: We’ll probably tune to D-sharp.
Guitar.com: What gauge strings do you use?
Tipton: They’re .009 to .038. We use Ernie Ball strings.
Guitar.com: When you’re playing live do you use in-ear monitors?
Tipton: No. I use regular monitors. It’s my preference. I’ve always felt a little bit detached with in-ear monitors. I like the good old fashioned monitors.
Guitar.com: Do you use ear plugs?
Tipton: No I don’t, and I’ve paid the price.
Guitar.com: What would you tell young kids who are playing music about that?
Tipton: Obviously it’s something that should be pointed out to everybody that if you’re playing in a rock band for 20 or 30 or 40 years, it will affect your hearing. But, in ear monitoring systems: Do they damage your ears? We’re told they don’t, but it still can be quite loud in your ears. I’m not really sure the best advice I would give to anybody about that.
Guitar.com: Your first tour date is October 1st in Rochester, New York. When will you start rehearsals for the tour?
Tipton: We’ll do about two weeks of rehearsals before the tour. We’ll get started in September.
Guitar.com: What is a rehearsal like for Judas Priest? Is it hours and hours a day for two weeks straight?
Tipton: No, we don’t really like to rehearse. We need an audience to feed off. But we just get together and make sure we get to grips with the basic songs, and we know what we’re doing with all the arrangments. But really Judas Priest switch on when the audience is there. None of us are very keen on rehearsals.
Guitar.com: And I’m sure you’re working out stage production as well, right?
Tipton: Yeah. We usually take a set list and give it to our production guy so he can live with it for a bit. And then we again have meetings and all throw in ideas: the production manager, the stage manager, the band. And we tie it all together.
Guitar.com: With that said, do you have some time off in the next few weeks to just play whatever you feel like playing during the summer at home? What do you do?
Tipton: Yeah, I’ve got a few weeks off.
Guitar.com: So what kind of stuff do you play when you’re just at home?
Tipton: You mean on the guitar?
Tipton: I just really learn the new songs, and revamp the old songs, and kick stuff around. I basically go over stuff for the tour, really. But you never know: When you’re playing the guitar, sometimes ideas just come anyway, so that’s why I always just put down any ideas I get. Sometimes when you’re messing around with the old stuff you get an idea that’s inspired by what you’re actually practicing.
Guitar.com: Do you play guitar every day?
Tipton: No. I put the guitar down quite a bit. I can get bored with the guitar if I’m not careful. I never want to get bored with it. I put the guitar down for weeks sometimes, but then I pick it up and do intensive bursts. So rather than play every day, I do my practice in bursts, and then when I want to rest I put the guitar down and go fishing or whatever, then go back and play the guitar again. It makes me want to play the guitar, and when I want to play the guitar I usually find I’m the most productive, and I come up with more ideas.
Guitar.com: You’re into fishing?
Guitar.com: What kind of fishing? Fly fishing? Deep sea fishing?
Tipton: I like to fly fish.
Guitar.com: Do you do trips for that, or just go local?
Tipton: I go to Ireland, Scotland, and I’ve fished on tour. Wherever makes sense.
Guitar.com: Where do you live right now?
Guitar.com: London area?
Tipton: No, in the Midlands.
Guitar.com: So when you’re not fly fishing, and when you’re back at home working on tunes, do you put on the tracks and play along with them, or do you just play on your own?
Tipton: I usually play on my own. I refer to the track occasionally. If I’m not sure how a part goes, I’ll refer to the track. And you need to refer to the tempo sometimes as well, because sometimes you play in a slightly slower tempo than the song needs, or vice-versa.
Guitar.com: What else do you listen to?
Tipton: Usually not much prior to a tour. I usually concentrate on the stuff I’m learning or kicking around.
Guitar.com: When you aren’t preparing for a tour, what do you listen to?
Tipton: I listen to everything really. I do listen to metal, but I listen to classical music, film things. I love film things, the grandeur, the great big production and stuff like that. I love the ’60s stuff, the Beatles and things like that. I like melody. But I like metal as well. I’ve just got a very open mind on music.
Guitar.com: Any blues, jazz, Django Reinhardt — any of that kind of stuff?
Tipton: I have listened to Django, and I’ve listened to blues players back to Robert Johnson in the early days. That was my initial music, blues. People like Muddy Waters. A great blues player for me was Peter Green, you know. I loved the early Fleetwood Mac stuff [when Fleetwood Mac was a blues band, long before Stevie Nicks], and then of course everything progressed. Hendrix came along. And so I just played with blues progressions throughout the years.
Guitar.com: I’m in Chicago, so there’s a lot of the old blues guys around here still who were sidemen to Muddy Waters. It’s interesting to talk to all those guys. Some of them are still out there playing, and playing well.
Tipton: Yeah, I bet.
Guitar.com: So the new album is charting very strongly in the U.S. and in Canada.
Tipton: Yeah, we’re really pleased with it. It’s Number One in Japan we’ve just been told as well. We listened, you know? The fans said what they wanted, we listened, and we tried to give them what they wanted. I think that’s what you need to do.
Guitar.com: Do you have plans for dates in Japan?
Tipton: Not at the moment. We’ve just got the first leg of the American dates put in. I’m sure it will be added to.
Guitar.com: You plan to go world-wide?
Tipton: Well, we’re not sure yet. We said we’d never do another world tour. But we’re all re-energized with this album, and time heals, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I can’t really commit, because I’m not sure myself exactly what we’re gonna do.
Guitar.com: How do you feel about it? Are you ready to go out and travel the whole world?
Tipton: A world tour takes a big chunk out of your life. We never said we wouldn’t do any more dates, we just said we would never do another two-year schlep around the world. I’m ready to go out and do some dates, but I like my home. And I don’t like the travel, and the hotels. I hate hotels. We’ll have to wait and see.
Guitar.com: Do you go from city to city, or do you stick with one city that you fly back to every night? How does Judas Priest do a tour?
Tipton: We prefer a tour bus, really, rather than flying. With a tour bus you walk out of the hotel and get into your bunk, or you can watch a DVD or a video, or listen to some music, or just generally chill. If you fly you’ve got airports to contend with, and it’s no good these days.
Guitar.com: So I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting out on the road and playing the new music for people.
Tipton: Yep, absolutely.
Guitar.com: Well I’m looking forward to see you when you hit the States.
Tipton: All right Adam, been good speaking to you.
Guitar.com: Thank you so much for your time Glenn.
Tipton: You’re welcome.