The baritone guitar became popular in the early ‘60s because of its low-pitched sounds that resemble a bass guitar. Guitarists such as Duane Eddy and Brian Wilson made baritone guitars popular in the genre of surf rock that was part of many spaghetti-western soundtracks.
Nowadays, baritone guitars are used for many different things. They’re able to play aggressive chord progressions at very low pitches, which creates a dark ambiance. We can find these in many different genres such as rock, folk, country, and most commonly in metal.
Before anything else, you must know what a baritone guitar is. Baritone guitars have a longer scale length. This allows them to reach lower tunings than a normal guitar.
A baritone guitar is a perfect bridge between a normal guitar and a bass guitar.
Some would say that a 7 string guitar can do the same things that a baritone guitar does, but we think otherwise. Below, we’ll explore some of the different sounds and uses that make baritone guitars unique!
The main reason why a rock guitarist would use a baritone guitar is to reach those low tunings that make great company to the sparky standard guitar.
Acclaimed guitarists such as Tim Reynolds from Dave Matthews Band, John Petrucci from Dream Theater, and Pat Smear from Meat Puppets have played baritone guitars in different instances.
Fun fact: Pat Smear has a signature Hagstrom baritone guitar!
Although rare, baritone guitars have been present in this genre since the early ‘60s, and they’re still used by many because of the low tunings they can do. Although the sound in this genre isn’t especially dark, it’s indeed low.
Baritone guitars are used in folk because of the low-pitched tunings as well, but the sound of an acoustic baritone guitar is warmer than that of a standard acoustic guitar. Some folk guitarists who have used baritone guitars are Ani DiFranco, Phoebe Bridgers, Andy Mckee, and Don Ross.
Baritone guitars are perfect for this genre since they capture the essence of what folk feels like. Normally, folk artists play their guitars tuned to open C, open B, and open A, as they’re low but sweet sounding.
Metal guitarists take advantage of the very low tunings that baritone guitars can reach but add up the dark ambiance that these electric guitars can create.
Typically, metal guitarists use a thick string gauge such as 0.13 to 0.56 to produce that chugging sound. One of the most famous guitarists who rocks a baritone is James Hetfield, who has a signature ESP baritone guitar.
Some of the most popular tunings used in this genre are drop B and drop C. However, you can find many songs that use a variety of different baritone guitar tunings.
Fans of punk and its subgenres have been witnesses of the greatness of baritone guitars. Just like in metal, baritone guitars in punk are used with a thick string gauge to create a dark ambiance mixed with low-pitched riffs.
Robert Smith, the guitarist from the legendary band The Cure, plays a Schecter UltraCure VI baritone guitar for live performances.
Glen Campbell, a member of the country hall of fame, used to rock a baritone guitar that resembled a Fender bass VI. The main reason why a country guitarist would use baritone guitar is because of the twang that these instruments produce.
These guitars also match the low-pitched voice that country singers normally have, making them a great accompaniment.
Guitarists such as Glen Campbell would switch between a 30-inch scale baritone guitar and a bass VI, since they’re almost identical in sound. Typical tunings used in this genre are standard B and standard A, and some artists have used acoustic baritone guitars instead of electric baritone guitars.
Baritone guitars are versatile in sound, and Pat Metheny experimented with one of these guitars on his solo album One Quiet Night. The low tunings of a baritone guitar create a deep sonic background. Pat Metheny used a baritone acoustic guitar for this album and ended up winning a Grammy for the Best New Age Album.
Other jazz artists that have rocked a baritone guitar during their career are Allan Holdsworth and Mark Lettieri from Snarky Puppy. These two have explored the baritone guitar while creating great jazz fusion tunes.
Baritone guitars are as versatile as regular guitars, but not every baritone guitar will work for every genre mentioned here. You may be asking, “Which baritone guitar is the best?”
Undoubtedly, the best baritone guitar is the PRS SE 227 due to its versatility - although there are better guitars for each individual genre, this one can do it all.
The PRS SE 227 has different voicings depending on the configuration. Therefore, you can play heavy riffs and dark chord progressions, but you can also have a twangy sound in case you want to play country or jazz.
Other guitars that are almost as great as the PRS SE 227 are the Danelectro baritone line, the ESP LTD Baritone line, the Gretsch G5260 Electromatic Jet Baritone, and the baritone guitar line from Jerry Jones Guitars.