Guitarist Pete Wadeson talks guitars with Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton. Here he looks around his seriously cool guitar collection and reckons that the metal god has one very desirable tool kit?
Im definitely not a collector of guitars. Guitars for me are a tool – they do a job and that’s it. Even though I have guitars I’m really fond of, they all have a function either in the studio or on the road.
So states Glenn Tipton at his purpose built state of the art recording studio next to his home in the countryside near Birmingham in England. Standing in front of a plethora of Platinum and Gold discs – prove of his success – his talk is refreshingly down to earth and practical.
When I’m working here I take a selection out that I think I’m going to use. Also when I refer to a guitar as valuable I mean valuable in a personal way.
With those sentiments, where better to start than to quiz Glenn over a guitar that he says saved his life. By his own admission Glenn has no particular favourite as he says, they all do a job, but if there’s one guitar that does see him go sentimental and misty eyed, it’s a battered looking, bog standard cream coloured 1961 Fender Stratocaster. Glenn takes up the story.
When I was in the Flying Hat Band before joining Priest my only guitar of the time was an SG and it was nicked after a gig in Newcastle. It was a point in my life where I seriously thought of packing it all in. I had no money to buy a new one and then I got offered that guitar for thirty quid. A lot of early Priest songs where written and recorded on that. It’s a beautiful guitar – completely original, it’s still one of my favourites.
While discussing the guitar, Glenn stipulates his feelings for the Stratocaster as being a timeless instrument that’s like a blank canvas. But you can’t argue his reasoning when he mentions guitar legends that have made their names with them. He continues: Just look down through the years, Hendrix, Gallagher, they only had Strats but each one sounded like its master – that’s the beauty of that particular guitar. At this point I find out that Glenn’s dream guitar would be actually be one of Rory Gallagher’s battered Strats if he could find one that’s authenticated.
You know, I’d pay anything if I could find one of those. It’d have to be original and have been authenticated by somebody in the know that I trust. You can sometimes tell by photos but it really would have to be the real thing. Yeah, I reckon if I could ever get one, that’d be my dream guitar to own. Listen to me, and I don’t feel I’m a collector
As Glenn started off with an SG – pretty obvious he’d choose to have one or two in his collection, all bearing the owners now familiar mirror scratchplates. At this point Glenn picks one up and begins shredding and generally doodling about on the instrument as he runs through its features. Especially the use for the reflective scratchplate
This is one of my original 63 SG’s. I’ve had a lot of SG’s – usually I’ve sprayed them black. I started to use the mirror plate on the Strat over there, he says pointing to a heavily modified black coloured gem of a guitar. It’s a nice visual effect to use on stage. Usually for picking out big breasted women in the audience, he laughs loudly before adding. No, I’m only kidding, people will think that sexist. I use it for the effect it gives on the lights on stage.
The guitar has the original ivory tuning pegs, fixed bridge, Gibson humbucker in the neck position, but with an EMG fitted on the bridge position. Glenn admits – it’s served its time live and has been retired but still frequently gets used for recording. Glenn also praises it for surviving the rigours of the road. He reckons that he’s used up quite a few over the years.
I don’t know what it is but I seem to have broken or lost a lot of SG’s!
As Glenn has motioned towards it I question him on a black Stratocaster that has been catching my eye while we talk and plan on picking it up- it’s deceptively heavy. What’s the story here then Glenn?
Well that’s one of my old ones it’s a 78. I used to use this a lot and I suppose it’s one of the first guitars people associate with me. It’s a good guitar, a real working tool.
Glenn’s had a Kahler Locking Tremolo System fitted and the pickups replaced with two cream DiMarzio humbuckers which he feels accounts for it’s unique sound, which he describes like a cross between a Gibson and a Strat. Priest fans will know it as it has been seen on a lot of stages.
A landmark period in Priest’s career was the Turbo album, this saw the band experiment with the technology of that era in particular Glenn first using a guitar synthesiser. Well here at his home studio I find the culprit. An original cream coloured Roland G-707 guitar synth. Other than the unit’s obvious midi compatibility and capability, once again Glenn?s had a Chrome Kahler Pro tremolo unit fitted.
It,s got some fantastic sounds on it but live it was a nightmare. It really was innovative at the time. We got criticised for it and then everybody started using them.
Glenn states that searching for a new direction and breaking new ground, being the reason to experiment with it, and adding that’s what makes guitar life more interesting.
Even now he admits to occasionally giving it a whirl when searching for new sounds.
Almost hidden amongst the throng is the now almost obligatory nu-metal tool, the 7-string guitar. Glenn’s is one of the Ibanez RG models the same as you’d find in any decent music shop. Similarly with the synth guitar Glenn added this to experiment and add texture to certain musical ideas and although he’s already recorded with it, admits he won’t be using it again until he’s fully mastered it.
Although he favours slim necks it doesn’t mean he’s immune to the charms of a nice Les Paul. That legendary tone would woo any guitarist, and he’s the first to agree.
I’ve always had a Les Paul of one sort or another. This is a replica of a 1960 model made in 95. As you know the Les Paul is a pretty unique sounding guitar especially if you play the blues. A friend who worked at the Musical Exchanges in Birmingham brought a few over for me to try. This sounded far better than the old original ones so I bought it. Just plug in and instantly you’ve got that famous Les Paul sound.
Glenn says it’s not often he specifically goes looking to buy a particular model of guitar but like the Les Paul that’s what he did with his Fender Telecaster. Yes he’s got a Tele! Not a guitar you’d think the Priest axe-meister would choose but he becomes quite enthusiastic as we discuss it.
It’s a 69 or 70. I wanted one because I think if you play a chord on a Telecaster it has got a musical quality that few guitars have. I tried loads of models and this jumped out at me. I use it quite a lot in the studio for rhythm work.
As you move through Glenn’s guitars, especially his live guitars you’ll notice he favours Kahler trem systems as opposed to the Floyd Rose, reasoning. I tend to catch the Floyd’s fine tuners when playing so I’ve always preferred the Kahler.
His other main considerations are for the pickups, they’ve got to be hot. No surprise Glenn has mostly EMGs fitted, the active circuitry not only boosting the signal but as he jokes, you’re not worrying about picking up the local radio station mid way through a solo.
Glenn’s particularly enthusiastic over the specialised Fernandes Sustainer guitar. Made from composite graphite, with 24-fret neck and EMG pick-ups – little wonder Glenn should be drawn to its hold a note forever capability.
I really love this guitar, it’s incredible. I haven’t been working with Fernandes long when they gave me this. It’s great as it uses a magnetic process which gives endless sustain – flick a switch and you get harmonic sustain. Soaked in echo it sounds wonderful.
Moving back to the Gibsons on display, I mention that it’s interesting to see he has two guitars many wouldn’t associate with him. An Explorer and even more intriguing is the white semi-acoustic double cutaway 335. He explains their role in his armoury of axes.
The Explorer was bought simply because it’s a great rock n roll guitar. Glenn’s love of the heavily distorted guitar sound means it sports his favoured EMG pickups but a nice touch is the fine tune Schaller bridge system. This guitar fills a lot of needs as it’s got a broad scope on the sounds I can get from it.
Glenn bought the 335 while preparing material for his solo album ?Baptism Of Fire? back in 1997 during Priest’s long and well-documented enforced hiatus. Originally bought to be hung on the wall, however after Glenn played it, earned it a place on the rack. I love this guitar, completely original. It’s up there with my Strats in respect of a guitar I enjoy playing.
Some instruments Glenn has picked up in the unlikeliest of places but also for the unlikeliest of reasons. This is true of the guitar he calls his plastic guitar which in reality is a 6-string Legend Electric in translucent red.
I originally bought this guitar to make a lamp out of it for the studio, he says deadpan, looking me straight in the eye, before continuing. But, when I got back here and tried it I discovered it’s got a very raw, un-refined sound so it didn’t become a lamp. I think that guitar alone proves my way of thinking – if a guitar has a place and a use then it appeals to me.
Glenn hasn’t much more to say on this little oddity so we quickly move onto guitars of much more substance. That brings us to two of his now trademark, long serving and faithful road guitars both made to his own design by Hamer.
These are what I call my working guitars and when were not touring they’re always here in the studio, he says admiringly. It took a long time to get this design just right.
Many years on the road have taught Glenn what he needs from a workhorse instrument and despite the unconventional design, that’s just what these are.
When you?re on the road you can lose guitars or they get broken, so you need to have reliable backup guitars that are identical. The design’s very simple in some ways, slim SG style neck, twin humbuckers, locking trem, no tone controls. The only feature on this I suppose is unique is the extended lower body shape on the right. This fits inside my right thigh so when I’m running around live it’s immediately in the right position for the solo, especially the long stretches.
Glenn also has a Hamer Phantom which he now has no hesitation in claiming to be his favourite stage guitar. I can’t help but notice that it has the now almost obligatory mirror scratchplate. Yeah, I like those scratchplates don’t I? But this is a fantastic guitar. I’ve got one with just a bridge pick up and a direct replica of this. It’s pretty much like the production guitar except the wiring’s simplified. No tone control so it’s just the one volume control, toggle switch and the EMGs – that’s all I need.
Looking through Glenn’s collection you notice he’s got quite a few semi-acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars. A black ESP Horizon being chosen for specific purpose. To play the track ?Diamonds And Rust live. Anyone familiar with Priest’s back catalogue will know over the years there’s regular acoustic passages in Priest songs so no shock Glenn’s got that part of his tool kit well covered. I spotted an Alvariz and his most recent addition a Taylor electro-acoustic.
This is a beautiful guitar. In the mid section of the neck it’s lovely to play. This will feature a lot in future recordings. I love acoustic songs and if you look back at my recording career you?ll know the 12-string has always featured.
While we’re talking twelve strings, Glenn’s particularly enthusiastic over a cherry red Epiphone Riviera. This is a wonderful guitar to play. Plug this in and it almost writes songs itself, it’s so inspiring. 12-string guitars always have a place for me.
You can be sure if it’s electric, electro-acoustic, acoustic or a potential lamp stand it has to earn it’s place in Mr Tipton’s guitar racks
Footnote: Weasel (real name Greg Morgan) has been working as a guitar tech for over 30 years and has been Glenn’s guitar tech now for approximately ten. He kindly spoke to me during a brief break during sound checking with the band to relate a few interesting titbits to me about the modifications of Glenn’s axes. Weasel: All the EMG 81’s on Glenn’s guitars are wired with the batteries in series so they run the pickups at 18 volt. That makes them last longer and the pickups sound hotter with more edge and poke. Glenn also uses Ernie Ball RPS-10’s strings specially re-enforced for Kahler Trem systems.
You can check out UK Guitarist Pete Wadeson on The Ball One/ Strike Two 2 disc set brought to you by: -Your-Cyber World BANG Bible- BallBusterMUSIC.com