As mentioned, a baritone guitar is longer than a standard/normal guitar to allow for a longer scale length . That, combined with thicker strings, gives the instrument a lower range. As an electric, you may notice the longer neck on a baritone versus a standard guitar, but nothing else is much different. On an acoustic baritone, however, you’ll likely notice a larger body and more reinforcements inside to allow for more string tension.
If you want the exact specs, scale length (which is the length between the nut and the bridge on the guitar) on a standard guitar is between 629 mm and 648 mm (24.75 – 25.5 inches) while the scale length for a baritone guitar is 690-770 mm (27-30.5 inches). While strings gauges vary for standard guitars (and baritones for that matter), you’ll usually see strings over 13 gauge on baritone guitars.
How Is A Baritone Guitar Tuned?
Surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly depending on your perspective, a baritone guitar is usually tuned relatively similarly to a normal guitar.
Standard guitar tuning goes (from low to high) E, A, D, G, B, E. More accurately, a standard guitar is tuned to E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, E4, with the numbers after each note corresponding to where the note sits on a standard 88 key piano.
A baritone guitar is typically tuned to the same intervals as a standard guitar, but lower. How low will depend on the player though. Some baritone guitar player will tune as low as a fifth below standard guitar tuning; this is A1, D2, G2, C3, E3, A3 if you’re curious. Other players will go as high as a third below standard tuning: C2, F2 Bb2. Eb3, G3, C4).
What the tuning means for playing though, is that a baritone guitar can still be played with the same chord shapes, scale patterns, and other techniques as a standard guitar. The intervals between the strings are the same, so all that’s changing is the range of notes, which is lower.
Why Play A Baritone Guitar?
If a baritone guitar has the same tuning as a standard guitar, only lower, why bother playing one?
One answer is range. Some singers have a lower ranger and may feel it’s easier to sing when accompanied by a lower instrument that’s more suited to lower keys.
Beyond that is tone. While it’s most common in Metal music, they weren’t the first to tune down their guitars, either just to drop D tuning or tuning their whole guitar down a step, it gives a fatter tone. However, once you tune too far down, the guitar strings are too slack to be effective. So why not just grab a guitar made to play lower?
History Of The Baritone Guitar
Obviously, baritone guitars were used before Metal heads started using them to get chunkier sounds. These guitars were popular in the 1950’s for genres like Country, Western, and Surf Rock.
From what I can gather, acoustic baritone guitars were first made in Germany in the early 1900’s as a bit of an experiment. It’s actually kind of surprising it took that long! After all, other instruments have different sizes to accommodate different ranges. Just look at violins, violas, etc.
From there, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that electric baritones started to appear. This is no surprise though, as that’s when there was a boom in solid body electric guitars, with different makers experimenting with different guitar designs, shapes, and bodies.
Famous Baritone Guitar Players And Songs
In the wider world of Metal, as already mentioned, baritone guitars can be popular in lieu of dropped tunings. Because of this artists like Brian Welch from Korn, James Hetfield from Metallica, and Stephen Carpenter from the Deftones often play baritone guitars.
If you’re not into Metal, Eddie Van Halen has used one, Dave Mathews plays one on occasion, as does Robert Smith of the Cure, as well as Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal.
That list is hardly exhaustive, of course! Those are just a few guitarist who regularly use a baritone guitar. It’s probably highly likely that one of your favourite players has used a baritone guitar on at least one of their recordings.
Is It Time For You To Try A Baritone Guitar?
Well, that’s up to you.
A baritone guitar is no more easier or difficult to play than a standard. With a thicker string gauge, beginners may have some difficulty, but other than that, it’s pretty similar to a normal guitar.
If you’re looking for some new inspiration with a different note range, perhaps a baritone guitar would be fun to play with.
That being said, of course baritone guitars aren’t quite as common as standard guitars, so you may have trouble tracking one down.