Guitars come in different shapes, sizes, and sounds. While there are three main types of guitars – acoustic, electric, and bass – some models vary in scale length, weight, and sport different sized bodies. One guitar that has a longer scale length and can be tuned to a deeper pitch is the baritone guitar.
From the upbeat surfing vibes of The Beach Boys to the gritty metal of Metallica, baritone guitars are used in all kinds of music. However, many people get confused as to what a baritone guitar is.
Surely a guitar that has a deeper tone is a bass guitar, right? Well, no.
Bass guitars are a whole other instrument. Baritone guitars are unique. Not as well known as its standard guitar cousin, which is defined by its standard tuning, a baritone guitar is more popular than you may think.
These deep-sounding instruments have been used regularly in popular music since the early days of rock n roll in the 1950s. In recent years, the guitar has appeared more and more in all genres of music as creativity and tonal limits are pushed to their potentials.
So, what is a baritone guitar? Read on and you will find out! In today’s blog, we will be finding out all there is to know about a baritone guitar such as what they sound like, who plays them, and much more.
So, put down your standard guitar for the moment and take a ride into the world of baritone guitars.
Baritone Guitars: What Are They?
Baritone guitars are guitars with longer necks than your traditional, standard model. When it comes to tuning these guitars, you would usually tune to B standard (B-E-A-D-F#-B).
This is, unsurprisingly, known as “Baritone tuning” and a perfect fourth lower than your standard 6 stringed guitar. Another popular tuning is A standard (A-D-G-C-E-A). This is a tone lower than the B standard meaning a baritone guitar is a 4th or 5th lower than standard tuning.
As with a standard model, a baritone sports 6 strings but has a longer scale. It boasts heavier strings to accommodate a lower range of notes. Since its invention in 1956, the baritone guitar has allowed guitarists to explore new sonic ranges but with familiar chords and scales.
In modern times, you will mostly hear baritone electric guitars in funk, pop, metal, and all kinds of other genres. Musicians love to use this type of guitar to push the boundaries of expression and achieve sounds unattainable with standard models.
So, why is the neck longer? This is simply built to facilitate its 27-inch scale length. This is 3 to 4 inches longer than a standard guitar’s length. The reason why it’s longer is to allow lower notes to intonate properly. They must remain taut enough to stay in tune.
Baritones generally have slightly larger bodies as well. However, their shapes and sizes can vary as much as any electric guitar.
Traditional models of baritone guitars tend to have single-coil pickups. This is to accentuate the twang of the guitar’s sound. More modern designs are usually built with high output humbuckers and sport a more aggressive style to appeal and suit harder rockers.
History of Baritone Guitars
In the grand scheme of history, baritone guitars are not very old. Yes, they were adapted for electric guitars in the 1950s and 1960s by well-known manufacturers such as Fender and Danelectro but the origins of baritone models date back over 100 years in the form of German acoustic guitars.
Skip forward to the 1950s and 1960s and the electric baritone design became popular thanks to rockabilly forefather Duane Eddy. Its popularity just grew from then on when 60’s surf rock took advantage of the unique twang sound.
It also remained popular in country music with guitar maestro and singer Glen Campbell, as well as other country music contemporaries, using it in many recordings and live shows. Even the Spaghetti Western soundtracks used baritone guitars in movies such as Ennio Morricone.
You may have wondered if you have ever heard a baritone guitar but, unless you’ve been living in a cave, far away from the music of the past 60 years, you would have heard this distinct sound many, many times.
While the 1960s was the defining era of the baritone guitar, it got a new lease of life in the 1990s with the emergence of the hard rock scenes. TV shows such as Twin Peaks even used its sound in their theme tunes allowing millions around the world to experience the joys a baritone guitar has to offer.
Fast forward to the modern days and baritone guitars are used in nearly all genres from funk to pop to metal and rock.
Famous Guitarists Who Play A Baritone Guitar
Although baritone electric guitars were at peak popularity in the 1960s, sales have increased exponentially in the last 20 years. In this time, these guitars have been regularly used in many stylistic backgrounds where musicians and music producers have looked to augment or completely replace the conventional sounds of standard instruments.
While the baritone guitar brings a deeper tone and more unique sound to a track, it remains familiar as well as fresh to our ears.
As for famous guitarists, the early days of the baritone electric guitar were primarily in the hands of Nashville greats such as Glen Campbell and Duane Eddy. These men were responsible for putting these guitars on the map alongside the even lower-tuned Fender Bass VI.
In perhaps the most creative decade of music so far, the 1960s saw bands like The Beach Boys, especially the founder and revered songwriter Brian Wilson, use baritone guitars to arrange songs around. Until the baritone guitar came along, the range of notes and tones it offered were just not available.
In the last 40 years or so, baritone guitars have found a home in metal music. Guitarists such as Jame Hetfield of Metallica, John Petrucci of Dream Theater, Pat O’Brien of Cannibal Corpse, and Brian ‘Head’ Welch of Korn have all used these unique instruments to create deeper, more heavy tones.
Other rock artists have also played these guitars on many recordings. Some include Robert Smith of The Cure, Dave Matthews, and the late, great Eddie Van Halen of, you guessed it, Van Halen.
Baritone guitars have been around for nearly 70 years in their electric form and are not going anywhere. Play one for yourself and you will never look back!