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What Are Baritone Guitars? A Simple Guide

Baritone guitars are a variant of the standard guitar with a longer scale length, bigger body, and thicker strings. These 6-string instruments can reach lower tunings than the standard guitar due to their size and strings.

It’s believed that baritone guitars made their first appearance around 400 years ago. These acoustic baritone guitars were used as a lower alternative to the classic guitar. 

In the early ‘60s, surf rock bands picked up the baritone guitar and made it popular again. Duane Eddy and The Beach Boys are perfect examples of musicians who made the sound of a baritone guitar fit in popular music.

The Origin of the Baritone Guitar

Experts believe that the baritone guitar appeared somewhere around the 17th century, right when the classic era of music was blooming. Sadly enough, this instrument went relatively unused until the year 1960.

Danelectro was one of the pioneer brands that produced baritone electric guitars, and the twangy sound of the Danelectro 56 fit perfectly with the surf rock genre. Since then, the baritone guitar has appeared in genres such as jazz, rock, metal, and folk.

What Does Baritone Mean?

Just like the voice, each musical instrument has a tonal range that makes them unique. Baritone guitars can play from E₂ standard to E₁ standard, almost like a bass guitar!

Of course, these two ends of the tonal spectrum of the baritone guitar are playable only with the right specs. You have to consider the scale length, the string gauge, and your technique.

Baritone guitars go so low that they’re almost identical in sound to a bass VI, just if the guitar is tuned down to low E (E₁ standard). Other than that, you can play your baritone guitar with generic baritone guitar strings at B standard, C standard, drop C, etc. 

If you want to learn more about the baritone guitar tunings click here!

Who Plays Baritone Guitars?

Duane Eddy, one of the first musicians who took the baritone guitar to the stage, debuted in 1960 with his album A Million Dollar Worth of Twang. He milked the sound of his Danelectro 56 to get the twangy-western sound common in many spaghetti-western movies.

Fast forward to the late ‘70s, Robert Smith from The Cure used a fender baritone guitar in some instances to replace his Fender bass VI. Later on, James Hetfield, Brian Welch, and John Petrucci used baritone guitars to flavor their music with low tunings and dark tones.

In the current music industry, the baritone guitar is used more often by mainstream musicians such as John Mayer, Phoebe Bridgers, Ani DiFranco, and Mark Lettieri. None of these musicians interpret the sound of this guitar differently, and they use it to give their tunes an ambiance.

Acoustic Baritone Guitars

Naturally, in the 17th century, the only type of baritone guitar that existed was acoustic. Brands such as Martin, Taylor, Lakewood Guitars, Ibanez, and others continue to produce this marvelous instrument.

Baritone acoustic guitars share some of the main features of the electric version. The differences are that you don’t need power to play it and the sound produced by this version of the baritone guitar is much warmer.

Baritone Guitar String Gauges

Longer scale length, lower tunings, that can only mean one thing: heavier strings. Since the baritone guitar is meant to play tunings that neither a standard guitar nor a bass guitar can play, you need a string gauge that’s in between the standard guitar regular string gauge and the bass guitar’s string gauge.

These are some of the most popular string gauges used for a baritone guitar:

●  0.12 to 0.60

●  0.13 to 0.62

●  0.14 to 0.68

Remember that the heaviest gauge is going to have a fuller and thicker sound, and it can create more string tension and maintain it when you play lower baritone tunings.

Author

  • My "day job" used to be teaching but I decided to give that up to play music full time. I have gigged all over the world playing in bands or as a solo act since then. I still have a passion for teaching others anything related to music. Writing content for InciteMusic.com gives me an opportunity to combine my love of music and education.

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