This spring Judas Priest will be back on the road featuring Epiphone Signature artist Richie Faulkner and his new Ltd. Ed. Richie Faulkner Flying-V Custom. Judas Priest will kick off a world tour in support of their new album, Firepower, on March 13 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania with support from Black Star Riders featuring Epi fan Damon Johnson. The album will be available on March 9.

The Firepower tour will visit most major U.S. cities and Canada before heading overseas for dates in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy, France, and Austria. Judas Priest will also perform at the Corona Heaven & Hell Festival in Mexico, the Graspop Metal Meeting in Dessel, Belgium, the Download Festival in Madrid, and the Bloodstock Festival at Catton Hall in the U.K.

The tour will be bittersweet for the band as legendary guitarist Glenn Tipton recently announced that he will not take part in the tour due to the progression of Parkinson's disease. "I want everyone to know that it's vital that the Judas Priest tour go ahead and that I am not leaving the band - it's simply that my role has changed," Tipton said in a statement. "I don't rule out the chance to go on stage as and when I feel able to blast out some Priest! So at some point in the not too distant future I'm really looking forward to seeing all of our wonderful metal maniacs once again." Guitarist Andy Sneap, who helped produce Firepower, will fill in for the tour.

Epiphone caught up with Richie Faulkner during tour rehearsals and spoke to him about what it's like to tour with one of Rock's legendary bands.

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It's not easy getting ready for a world tour. How has it been going?

Everything is going well in rehearsals and it's always exciting to play new material for the first time since being created in the studio. It's always interesting to feel out where the new songs fit in in the dynamic of a full priest set. Of course, when there is a new priest tour, that means that we have to decide which classics to play and which deep cuts would be great for the fans to hear. So it's a really creative process of finding where the new songs fit in with those too. It's really thrilling for me as both a priest fan and now a member of the band, to see that dynamic come together.

The new signature Epiphone has been great. And I used it on the Firepower record and also in rehearsals. I played it alongside my original Gibson touring guitars and it holds up fantastically. The tuning is great, the EMG pickups are exactly what I need for that classic modern 'Priest' tone, and the feel of the guitar in general is something that I have become comfortable with over the last few years with Priest. From the neck shape, to the body styling, to the Floyd Rose, it's just a great workhorse and a beautiful instrument. I can't wait to get it out on tour in front of the wonderful Judas priest fans.

Our good friend Damon Johnson and Black Star Riders are on this tour. Have you had a chance to jam together and talk about guitars?

Whenever me and Damon get together we always end up talking about guitars!!! We always have a new guitar to show each other or a new pedal or new piece of equipment that we are excited to use. Damon is a huge guitar nerd and a monster player. We are both kind of traditional guitar players stylistically. So, I feel that we have a lot in common with influences, favorite guitar players and also favorite guitars. This tour is going to be exciting for the fact that I'm sure that there will be lots of opportunities to search for vintage guitar stores around the country. I always jump in a cab or train and track down the local guitar store in whichever city that I'm in. You never know what treasures you're going to find! I think my love for vintage guitars has shaped the tonal characteristics of what I look for in my new guitars. For example, I found an old flying V with PAF pickups and wanted to get the same kind of tone and response from my active EMGs. This resulted in the set that I use in my signature V, which is the 57/66 set. I wonder what new acquisitions will come out of this upcoming tour. Maybe me and Damon can go together!

Does it keep you on your toes to have a fan on the tour? In other words, does that bit of competition help?

Definitely! I am big a fan of Damon and his band the Black Star Riders too. I think it always helps to raise the bar and keep the guitar playing standard as high as possible. My first tour with 'Priest in the states included both Thin Lizzy and Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society as opening acts. I mean, you had Damon, Scott Gorham, and then Zakk going on before us. It really was a sense of raising the bar and doing my duty to uphold the quality of playing that went before, ya know? Doing my bit and doing the best I could, flying the flag for guitar and heavy music. It's definitely positive to have that dynamic on the road I think.

Most bands find that when they tour behind a new album, the new songs have a way of changing slightly--they grow and expand and relax. They bend to the reality of being on stage. What's that process been like for the new tunes?

That's a very good question. The new songs do tend to grow and morph and change slightly. I had that experience after Redeemer Of Souls. I think a lot of it comes from inspiration on the night--the energy in the room which, in turn, inspires improvisation and an organic growth of the song. You always think, 'Damn, I wish I had have played that on the record,' but that is always going to be the dynamic. I think it's good and natural that songs have that organic movement live. It makes for an exciting and spontaneous experience for both fans and the musician.

How long does it take for the band to 'settle in' for a tour and as the lead guitarist in the spotlight, how do you help the band get in the groove and stay there?

Well personally, I usually settle into the songs around a week into rehearsal. As you know, 'Priest usually takes a couple years off while we write and record new music, so that when we are ready to tour again, it does take me around a week to blow off the cobwebs! Thank goodness for rehearsals, haha! Also, it does take a few shows to really settle in to the live environment. From the jet lag to the size of the stage, etc., it all comes into play when getting settled into the touring experience. It's great though when you feel like you've hit your stride. That's when the songs start to take on another life as we talked about before. It's very exciting and I can't wait to get back out on the road in front of our fantastic fans.

Read the rest of our interview with Richie Faulkner and discover the new Ltd. Ed. Richie Faulkner Flying-V Custom featuring a classic Flying-V with EMG™ active pickups chosen by Faulkner, a Floyd Rose® Tremolo and bridge and tailpiece with R2 Locking Nut, Grover® Rotomatic machine heads, a Thin-C neck profile, and a custom designed gig bag. Now available at your Authorized Epiphone Dealer.