It’s the stuff rock and roll dreams are made of: one day you’re slogging it out in a local bands, and the next you’re on stage in front of tens of thousands of people as the newest member of a legendary metal pioneer. Richie Faulkner’s story isn’t quite so straightforward: prior to joining the mighty Judas Priest he played guitar for Dirty Deeds, Voodoo Six, Ace Mafia and Lauren Harris (daughter of Iron Maiden bass player Steve Harris and a respected artist in her own right). So he’d already developed a reputation as a talented and reliable guitarist, which made him the perfect fit to step into the space left vacant by the departure of K.K. Downing in 2011. Faulkner has an impressive collection of Gibson guitars, as you’ll see, and was eager to talk shop with Gibson.com.
Tell us about your guitars! What are your main workhorse guitars, and what pickups do you use?
Well on the last tour I had six guitars and an acoustic out with me; four Les Pauls and two Custom Flying Vs. I prefer older guitars and the heavier in weight the better! I had two 1974 Les Paul Custom Anniversarys in aged white. “Pub ceiling nicotine yellow” as we like to call it! All with gold hardware, speed knobs and pickup selector ring, as a tribute to Randy Rhoads; a 1976 Les Paul Custom, originally black that I had painted white. Again with gold hardware, and a 1981 Les Paul Custom three-pickup in black that weighs a ton! All Les Paul knobs go up to 11 by the way, that’s very important! They all have EMG 81 and 85s in, apart from the back up 74. That one has a pair of James Hetfield EMGs that EMG kindly made in vintage gold especially for me.
I also have two Vs that I take out on the road. There is a lot of whammy action in Priest and I felt that the Flying V was perfect for the trem systems. One is an early ’90s ’67 reissue with EMG 81-85s, Floyd Rose trem and locking nut, ebony fretboard, block inlays and bound neck and headstock.
The other is a Custom Shop V that Gibson made for me. It’s the ’50s style shape with smaller pickguard and a ’60s style neck, also with a Floyd Rose system, bound headstock, neck and body, ebony board, MOP block inlays, EMGs and an input socket that is on the underside of the top fin. This keeps the cable more streamlined and close to the body.
I also took a three-pickup SG ’61 re-issue out on the road for half of the tour. I’ve got some guitars that I keep at home: a 1969 Les Paul custom, another V custom string through body in white, and a Zemaitis metal top. The reason that I take extra Les Pauls out on the road apart from the back-ups is because I wear the frets down so quickly. After two or three shows the frets need to be dressed, so taking extra Pauls helps to spread the wear. Any excuse to pick up new guitars, really!
What was your first Gibson?
My first Gibson was an Epiphone Flying V with locking trem, coincidentally! White with bolt-on neck. I learned a lot on this guitar and I remember coming home from school everyday and playing along to my favourite Maiden, Priest, Metallica and UFO songs to hone my skills! I still have it somewhere and it’s a great guitar. Very fast neck and easy to play.
And what amps do you use with Priest?
My amps are ENGL Powerball 2s. Great amps, great tone and unreal reliability. Me and my Tech Adrian Vines carried out a test about six months into the tour to see how well the tubes were holding up in comparison to a spare, fresh head with new tubes. There was absolutely no difference in the tubes that had been used for six months, night after night for two and a half hours a night and the fresh ones. Absolutely amazing!
You worked as an arranger on Christopher Lee’s Charlemagne: The Omens of Death. What did this work involve? How does one tackle a project knowing they’re going to be answerable to Saruman, Count Dooku and Dracula?
Yeah, that was a really interesting project to work on. Sir Christopher’s team sent me some songs that were very orchestral and symphony-based and asked me to arrange them into metal songs.
Most of the songs were already there, but they needed riffs, drum parts and musical parts that reflected what the guys wanted – which was a metal record with an aim to be played live by a band.
The team and Sir Christopher were great and they gave me a free creative reign really for any ideas I felt the songs needed. Some of the tracks didn’t have any music at all and were just Sir Christopher singing his melodies. I remember how surreal it was sitting in my place at the time with Saruman blasting out over the speakers! I’ve no idea what the neighbors thought!
Sir Christopher himself was a diamond. He has a special way of being very commanding yet very down-to-earth. He was a wealth of knowledge, telling stories and cracking jokes. It was great to meet him and the team around him were cool, too. Very professional and great to work with.
You’ve been in Judas Priest for over a year now and the fans seem to have welcomed you with open arms. How does that feel? Were you worried about how you’d be accepted?
I think that any big change in such a legendary band is going to bring a certain amount of skepticism and when people don’t know the outcome, we tend to fear the worst. The band and me were sure that when the fans came to see us live, all fears would be put to bed. It astonishes really how the fans have welcomed me into the family and I feel honored to be accepted in the way that I have been. The great thing is, even though the fans didn’t know how it was gonna be at first, they still believed in the band, got their tickets and came to see the show. When the opening song kicked in, all politics and uncertainty seemed to be blown out the door and everyone was just part of a huge family, ya know? Hats off to the fans for that and a massive thank you.
How much lead-up did you have between getting the Priest gig and stepping on stage with them?
It was about a month before rehearsals started for the Epitaph tour that I got the gig. We rehearsed for two weeks and then flew out to L.A. to play on the finale of American Idol. So my first show with the band was in front of nearly 30 million people! No pressure then guys, eh?! We then flew back to England again to continue rehearsing, so I think it was about two months in total before we played the first show of the Epitaph tour.
Are you writing new material with Priest? And are you able to fit in your own musical pursuits at the moment?
We are working on a new album. Glenn and Rob started writing material early 2011 before I joined the band, and I got together with them earlier this year to work on some more tracks with them.
We’re getting together again after the summer to do some more writing and if all goes to plan we might have the album out early next year. The ideas we have so far are sounding very strong and very Priest so watch this space!