The focus of this article is on the choice of suitable prior distributions for item parameters within item response theory (IRT) models. In particular, the use of empirical prior distributions for item parameters is proposed. Firstly, regression trees are implemented in order to build informative empirical prior distributions. Secondly, model estimation is conducted within a fully Bayesian approach through the Gibbs sampler, which makes estimation feasible also with increasingly complex models. The main results show that item parameter recovery is improved with the introduction of empirical prior information about item parameters, also when only a small sample is available.