If you’re wondering how to get a Judas Priest guitar tone, you’ve come to the right post!
Three Directions to Go In
As far as getting that Judas Priest guitar tone goes, things are far from simple. There isn’t one universal tone you could use for all songs. Their early albums sounded much different compared to the 1980s, the 1990s, and especially later stuff.
For the purpose of this guide, I’d put their guitar tone in three categories. The first one is everything they released in the 1970s. The second one is the 1980s, although we could make some divisions in there as well. And the third one is their classic album “Painkiller” and everything after it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll have to completely change the gear for all of their material. But you should use completely different settings for all three of these periods.
Here’s one of the songs from the earliest period, “Victim of Changes.”
Then I’d mention “Freewheel Burning” as a great example of the second category:
And, of course, “Painkiller” title track as the blueprint for the third:
First and foremost, I’d recommend tube amps for this. In particular, some vintage or vintage-inspired Marshall stuff works. Essentially, I prefer anything with EL34 valves in it.
Sure, Glenn Tipton has used some amps with 6L6 tubes in the power amp. But in my experience, EL34s just work better for copying most of Priest’s tone.
A lot of Priest fans will immediately assume they’ll need a high-gain modern metal amp. As far as most of their material goes, I’d go with more regular amps. Even some amps that are traditionally for blues and hard rock.
Anything that resembles legendary JCM800 will do the trick. Marshall’s DSL amps are a relatively cheaper choice. The Origin series amps are also great. If you’re using any kind of amp modelers, try some Marshall-inspired presets.
In my opinion, Marshall can get you covered for all three tone categories that I mentioned. If you want something for “Painkiller” or later stuff, I’d suggest high-gain amps. EVH amps are probably the easiest choice. Even stuff with 6L6 tubes can sound great.
If you’re using a modern amp, you could just use the amp’s distortion channels. It’s especially a great choice for “Painkiller” stuff in my opinion.
If you’re doing their older material, I suggest an overdrive into a Marshall amp. Preferably, you should use it as a booster for the clean channel. In my experience, the classic Marshall and Ibanez Tube Screamer work really well.
Behringer has a super-cheap alternative to Tube Screamer. And it’s surprisingly good, believe it or not.
For the late 1980s and onwards, you could get things done with a classic metal pedal. Despite what some people might think, Boss Metal Zone gets it right. You can even plug it directly into a power amp section of a tube amp.
Another option is to use regular classic distortions in the style of Boss DS-1 for this mid-period. But modern stuff would require some high-gain pedals.
As for other effects, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton weren’t that extravagant. I’d suggest you get a noise gate for the “Painkiller” tone and later stuff. You can also use just a dash of chorus on some of the 1980s stuff.
I also recommend delay over reverb. However, for the oldest material, reverb might make things sound more vintage-ish.
Finally, you should also have a wah pedal. Of course, you shouldn’t overuse it. But there are a few tunes where it’s important.
As far as guitars go, I’d go with anything that has humbuckers. Maybe you could make some single-coils work as far as the older stuff goes. But for the band’s classic tunes, humbuckers are the way to go.
There aren’t any other specific rules tone-wise when it comes to guitars. But if we’re talking about pickups, I prefer medium-output humbuckers. Gibson stock pickups are great for this, especially if you have older guitars.
For the newer material, you can go with active pickups. But I’m always very careful around them as they tend to make things too noisy.
Both K.K. and Tipton had some Gibson and Hamer guitars. Honestly, a regular Gibson SG Standard is the safest choice here. Or any higher-end Epiphone SG variant.
For the more modern stuff, you could get something with a Floyd Rose bridge. Ibanez has great options for this. Just make sure not to get their cheapest instruments as they tend to have low-quality pickups.
Setting It All Up
Now it’s time to use the appropriate settings. The first two categories that I mentioned at the beginning of this article are mid-heavy. Although they’re different, there’s the same basic character. They’re gritty, with pronounced mids.
However, don’t make things too boomy or punchy. In my experience, the mids go anywhere between 60% and 75%. High-ends should be at around 70% to 80%. If your amp has a presence control, and it should if it’s a tube-driven Marshall, then push it up high. Maybe even all the way up.
The bottom-ends should be at 50% or lower. However, this depends on the amp and speakers that you’re using. Judas Priest usually relies on Ian Hill’s bass to get the bottom-ends covered. And they avoid getting anywhere near his territories with their EQ settings. So keep the bottom-ends under control.
If your amp is vintage-oriented, you’ll have a gain knob for the clean channel, or its only channel. This will push the amp into that natural overdrive. Push it into higher territories, or at least 50%.
The 1980s era Judas Priest is, in a way, similar. I’d keep the same EQ settings. However, I’d just add more gain to it.
As far as modern metal amps and the “Painkiller” tone goes, the approach is different. I recommend using the amp’s distorted channel for this. Feel free to get the gain at around 90%, maybe even higher. Meanwhile, the EQ should be a bit scooped compared to the older periods. Cut the mids a little, or use the contour knob if your amp has one.
If you’re using an overdrive pedal with a vintage tube amp, crank the volume up. Meanwhile, keep the gain at relatively lower levels, down to 30%. For the 1980s period, I’d just add a little more gain. Or I’d even use a classic distortion pedal, like the DS-1.
As far as the tone knob goes, I’d keep it slightly above 50%. But I wouldn’t go above 65%. If your pedal has a 2-band EQ, just push the high-ends a little and keep the bottom-ends toned down.
For the “Painkiller” tone, you can use a metal-oriented pedal and push the gain control higher. But, as mentioned, I prefer to have an amp distortion on.
With delays, I like to keep things subtle. Set it at around 320 milliseconds and keep the wet signal at below 10% in the mix. Make sure not to have too many repeats either. You should have a similar approach with the reverb if you use one. Just make sure to not oversaturate anything.
How to Get a Judas Priest Guitar Tone: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you brainstorm how to imitate this classic band’s sound!
And if you have any further questions about this or another guitar-related topic, feel free to leave a message in the comments below!