Judas Priest Amp Settings & Complete Guitar Tone Guide

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

There are few guitar tones as immediately recognizable as the British steel of Judas Priest.

The two-pronged guitar attack of Priest’s golden era is one of the defining sounds of heavy metal’s glory days.

If you’re looking to capture the raw power and aggression of “Breaking the Law,” “Painkiller,” or “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” that’s exactly what we’re looking at here.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the guitars, amps, and pedals used by Judas Priest’s dual guitarists, Glenn Tipton and KK Downing. I’ll also take a look at how you can emulate some of their tone with more affordable gear aimed at modern guitarists.

Don your finest studded leather pants and scream for vengeance. This is how to sound like Judas Priest.

Glenn Tipton Guitars

Most of Glenn Tipton’s guitar parts were recorded either with a Fender Stratocaster or a Gibson SG.

The Stratocaster, however, was not your ordinary single-coil Strat. For the demanding, high-octane tones of Judas Priest, Tipton replaced his Strat’s stock pickups with DiMarzio Super Distortion humbuckers, a popular choice for hard rock and metal players in the 70s.

Glenn’s SG was custom-fitted with a mirror scratchplate, but you’ll need to add that yourself.

For his Strat tone, I recommend finding one of Fender’s many humbucker-equipped Stratocasters, or a Superstrat alternative.

The Fender Player Stratocaster has a stock humbucker and retails for under $1000. The Player Plus is a little more expensive, but the pickup is a little nicer as well. This might not matter too much if you’re replacing it with a Super Distortion.

If you want something much heavier, both literally and figuratively, than a Stratocaster, the Charvel Pro Mod Strat-type guitars are an excellent option.

For those on a tighter budget, Squier’s Classic Vibe Strats will occasionally come in HSS (that is, Humbucker, Single Coil, Single Coil) configuration.

Tipton’s thicker guitar tone of the ‘80s often came from his Gibson SG. An Epiphone SG is a great alternative for a considerably lower price.

KK Downing Guitars

KK Downing’s piece of the Priest tone puzzle is actually quite similar to Glenn Tipton’s. Downing brandished modified Stratocasters alongside his bandmate in the early 1980s, but he’s most famous for his use of the Gibson Flying V.

For a more affordable alternative, the Epiphone Flying V is a great choice. It has the same radical shape and humbucking pickups for that thick, authoritative ‘70s metal tone.

As with Glenn Tipton’s guitars, it’s worth considering replacing your stock Epiphone pickups with aftermarket pickups with higher output.

Pickups with higher output such as the DiMarzio Super Distortion are better suited to distorted tones and high-gain amps, which brings me to the next key element of your Judas Priest tone puzzle.

Judas Priest Amps

Like most of their ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock contemporaries, Judas Priest’s axemen played through Marshall Super Lead amplifiers.

Early on, they used non-master volume 50 and 100 watt Marshall Super Lead models. However, in the early 80s, along came the JCM800, which defined the sound of 80s metal.

This is the high-gain amplifier you can hear on Painkiller and Screaming for Vengeance.

Fortunately, you don’t need a 100-watt amp and two 4×12 Marshall cabs to get the Judas Priest tone at home.

Marshall’s DSL40C is an excellent combo amp for classic Marshall tones. It isn’t spot on for either the non-master volume Super Lead series or the high-gain ‘80s metal amps, but it offers enough authentic Marshall grunt that most listeners won’t know the difference.

Another alternative at a lower price point is the Blackstar Club 40.

The Blackstar amp company was founded by former Marshall employees. The Club 40 has a similar tone to the DSL40C but with a smoother volume curve and a more evenly balanced EQ.

If you’re strictly limiting yourself to bedroom or apartment playing, the Blackstar Fly 3 is a teapot-sized amp that mimics the tone of a full-size Marshall-style tube amp. It won’t be loud enough to compete with a drummer, but that’s OK if you’re just practicing by yourself.

Play your humbucker-equipped guitar through any of these combo amps and you’ll be well on your way to the Judas Priest tone.

Judas Priest Pedals

You’ll get most of the way to capturing the classic Priest tone armed just with guitar and amp.

However, certain songs, especially from the onset of the 80s, demand a little extra.

Pete Cornish, the English pedalboard maestro, built custom pedalboards for Judas Priest in the early ‘80s. Their Screaming for Vengeance-era live rig included modulation, echo, and gain boost effects.

Of course, being the ‘80s, Judas Priest were also partial to the odd use of a shimmering chorus effect, particularly for any clean guitar sections in their songs.

In the early ‘80s, the touring pedalboards of professional guitarists were enormous and unwieldy. Fortunately, in the forty years since, guitar technology has progressed in leaps and bounds.

You can get very close to the Priest tone with just a few pedals.

Tipton used the MXR Phase 100 sparingly, so it is not an essential component for Judas Priest tone.

You don’t need an entire tape delay machine, either, even though Priest toured with multiple Echoplex units. Key to the Echoplex is its unique preamp, so if you’re chasing the Priest tone, you’ll want the Dunlop preamp pedal as well as the delay pedal. Or you could just go for the Catalinbread Belle Epoch, which uses both.

For the thick chorus effect on 80s Priest records, the band used Roland chorus units. Fortunately, the Boss chorus effect is virtually identical and very affordable.

It’s unlikely that you’ll need extra overdrive to push your amps into distortion, but in the event that you do, the Ibanez TS808 and MXR Distortion + were in popular use at the time.

Judas Priest Amp Settings

You’ll want to really crank your amp for this one. Prepare to get loud.

Gain: 6

If your amp has a separate gain knob, set it around 6 and then set your volume.

Volume: 5-6

If your amp has no separate gain control, you’ll need to set the volume at the Marshall “sweet spot” for hard rock tone. This is usually between 4 and 6, but since this is Judas Priest, louder is better. If you’re running master volume, you can set the volume however you like.

Mids: 9-10

Set your mids as high as possible to give your pick attack plenty of character.

Treble: 9-10

Don’t worry: the natural compression from running a Marshalls-style amp this hard will balance out the ice-pick treble here.

Bass: 7

You can either run your bass frequency flat out as Priest did back in the day or dial it back to tighten up your bottom end for palm muting.

Final Word

Marshall amps in the ‘70s and ‘80s sounded best with all the EQ knobs running at 10. That’s because their EQ settings were even at 10, and would then cut the frequency from there.

Most modern amps have the frequency response even at about 5 and can add or remove from there.

You really need to turn your amp up nice and loud for this tone to work, so don’t be afraid of the volume knob.

Avatar photo

About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

Leave a Comment