A baritone guitar (or baritone, from the Greek “barytonos”: low voice) is a guitar with a lower pitch than the guitar, and allows a tuning at least a quarter (or even an octave) lower than the classical “mi–la–ré–sol–si–mi” (or E-A-D-G-B-E), thanks to a longer neck. It is thus located between the guitar and the bass guitar.
The length of its neck allows a greater vibrating length of strings than on guitars (26.50″ or 27.50″ and even 30″ instead of 24.75″ or 25.5″, so-called Gibson and Fender tuning for historical reasons). As a result, a baritone can be tuned lower – for example, in low B instead of E from the last string, so “si-mi-la-ré-fa#”-si” (B-E-A-D-F#-B in international notation).
The first brand to market baritone electric guitars was Danelectro in the 1950s. They found their clientele among Surf music players and were then used for their particular sound, for example in the soundtracks of films such as James Bond or by Ennio Morricone for spaghetti westerns, although their diffusion remained rather limited.
Baritone guitars found another niche with heavy metal from the 1970s onwards.
The baritone guitar and the seven strings
These guitars are both competitive and different from the seven-string models: the low string of a seven-string guitar can also be tuned in B, finding the same notes as a baritone on its six low strings (hence the comment dear to some metal guitarists: ‘the baritone is only a seven-string with six strings’).
However, the baritone guitar allows to reach the low B by using a weaker String Tension thanks to a longer vibrating string length (the seven strings of today’s baritone guitar often use a common string tension, coupled for example with a raised bridge, thus reducing the risks of crimping due to a very low string tension and consequently a higher vibratory amplitude).
On the other hand, the baritone guitar allows even lower tunings, which is its real particularity. In fact, these guitars are often used in metal, where they often play the role of rhythm guitar complementing the bass-drums duo alongside a solo guitar. A baritone, even if it is not its primary vocation, can go up to an octave below the standard tuning without failing: neck and mechanics are adapted to both support the tension of important string pulls and offer the best possible resonance and definition of notes. The lower the tuning, the higher the required string tension, while the tension remains more or less the same in order to achieve both ease of play and precise timbre. A very low tuned baritone is thus closer to a bass with sufficient sound quality, while the seven-string guitar remains more oriented towards rhythm and chord positions – bands such as Meshuggah are an example of this, and recent guitars such as the Les Paul baritone epiphone also.
The typical Danelectro sound, the ‘twang’, can only be obtained with a baritone, whose strings are loose and vibrate for a long time in a larger space (linked to a higher action). Conversely, a guitar with a shorter neck will give better results when a more precise sound is desired (e.g. to apply a high gain with ‘modern’ distortion) whereas Danelectro baritone guitars will be better exploited with a tremolo and a spring reverb.
- Pat Metheny, among others on the album One Quiet Night (2003)
- ((Head et Munky)) (Korn) – ((Stephen Carpenter)) (Deftones)
- Poison Ivy, from the Cramps, on the album A date with Elvis (1986).
- Buckethead, on many albums, plays indifferently guitar and baritone guitar, then mixes them together.
- Jean-Paul Roy, with The Hyènes
- John Petrucci
- Virginie Peitavi
- Michel Cloup, on his album Notre Silence (2011).
- Michael League (Snarky Puppy)
- Pat Smear, with the Foo Fighters since his official return in 2011.
- Serge Teyssot-Gay, with Zone Libre, on the albums L’Angle Mort (2009) and Les Contes du Chaos (2011).
- Robert Smith (The Cure), long time user of the Fender VI (from 1981 to 1989), then of the baritone Schecter. The sound of The Cure is largely dependent on this guitar.
- Jimmy Herring, on the albums Lifeboat (2008) and Subject To Change Without Notice (2012)
- Mark Lettieri, on his Youtube playlist “Baritone Funk!” sur Youtube
Springtime (guitare) a hybrid of two electric guitars and a bass guitar with seven strings.
Baritone Guitar Brands
Although Danelectro originally developed baritone guitars, they are far from the only brand to make them today. Brands like Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, ESP Guitars, PRS Guitars, Music Man, Schecter, Jerry Jones Guitars, and Burns London, among many others, all make their own versions of baritone guitars.
And just like with standard guitars, each is different, and offers their own unique tone, so it’s not an easy task recommending the best baritone guitar. The following 5 baritone guitars are worth checking out.
If you aren’t into these guitars, and are more set on the classic reliability of Fender, you’re in luck. From 2000 and 2002, they made the Sub-Sonic Baritone Stratocaster; 2005 to 2010 were the Jaguar Baritone Special HH years; and from 2012 until the time of writing, they offer the Blacktop Telecaster Baritone.
The sound a baritone guitar produces is very cool and quite unique. It is what they are known for and they produce this sound from the first to the third fret. You can hear that sound in the lower notes of the intro riff for Dance, Dance, Dance, by the Beach Boys.