Baritone Guitar

Kevin Casper
Closeup of baritone guitar strings
Closeup of baritone guitar strings

The baritone guitar is a rare instrument that not many guitar players know very much about. The unique sound of this guitar has yet to be fully realized, which makes it an excellent choice if you are interested in creating a unique guitar style.

Models

Baritone guitars are available in both electric and acoustic models.

  • Danelectro '67 - This bolt-on model is reminiscent of the earliest baritone guitars made by Danelectro. It features dual lipstick pickups and a retro finish.
  • Taylor Grand Symphony - This acoustic baritone is a real beauty. Indian rosewood back and sides and on board electronics make this the most high-end, baritone acoustic ever constructed.
  • Gretsch G5265 - This sparkly beauty from Gretsch is another excellent retro electric baritone. A Bigsby tremolo system takes the spaghetti western potential of this guitar through the roof.

Tuning

Since it's just a six-string guitar, you could technically tune a baritone any way you like, but the standard tuning is either a fourth or a fifth below a standard electric guitar's tuning.

  • The tuning for a fourth below is B-E-A-D-F#-B
  • The tuning for a fifth below is A-D-G-C-E-A.

String Gauges

In order for the guitar to be able to function with the strings tuned that low, a thick gauge of strings must be used. Typically, baritone players use the following gauge strings:

  • .013
  • .018
  • .028
  • .038
  • .050
  • .070

Listen to Examples

Listen to the unique sound of this guitar in the following songs.

History of the Baritone Guitar

The baritone guitar is essentially a traditional electric guitar with a longer scale length, meaning the distance from the bridge to the nut is increased. This is achieved by making the guitar's neck longer, and this longer scale length means the guitar can be tuned to a lower register than a traditional guitar.

The first company to mass produce a baritone guitar was Danelectro, which released the instrument to an unsuspecting public in the late 1950s. Guitarists were initially unimpressed, and the instrument never achieved anything resembling mainstream acceptance. However, the unique sound of the baritone - a droning, deep, somewhat haunting tone - proved to be desirable in surf music as well as spaghetti western musical scores. Country artists like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash also used the instrument sparingly in the 1960s.

In the last few decades, the baritone guitar has most commonly appeared in experimental, electric guitar music. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has played one, and avant garde bands like Sonic Youth as well as thrash metal bands like Korn have been known to add the dark sound of the baritone guitar to their recordings.

Baritones seem to surface when a guitar player wants to add a sound to a recording that is ominous and peculiar, or especially low and heavy. The sonic range of the instrument is such that it tends to be used to create moody, atmospheric soundscapes.

Why Go Baritone?

The short answer is why not? In general, finding a baritone guitar at an affordable price isn't difficult, and because they are basically big electric guitars, there is little to no learning curve for learning how to play one. If you're looking for a different sound, why not give a baritone a try?

Baritone Guitar