Guitarist K.K. DOWNING has announced that he's retiring from JUDAS PRIEST.

K.K. has been around since the band formed in 1969... and has spent all of the last 42 YEARS in Priest, except for the band's three-year hiatus in the mid-'90s.  He's 59 years old.

In a statement on the Judas Priest website, the band says they, quote, "respect his decision, and naturally wish him well."  A 31-year-old guitarist named Richie Faulkner will replace him on their upcoming European tour.