What is a Baritone Guitar?
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You might very well be familiar with the word baritone in the context of singing or saxophones. However, you probably don’t hear this word as much in the guitar world. Yes, that’s right, there is indeed a baritone guitar. Surprised? Well, you might also be interested to know that not only does one exist, but they are more important than you may realize.
A Short History:
The first baritone guitars were made by Danelectro in the mid to late ’50s. Shortly after this Fender introduced the more popular Bass VI. However, even with fender jumping in, these guitars were never high sellers. There was just not a whole lot of market appeal for a lower tuned guitar at the time. Yet, despite this, baritones found their way onto many different recordings. They actually populated a good amount of surf rock tones back then. Specifically, quite a few of The Beach Boys’ guitar tracks were done using baritones. Even the Beatles experimented with using this type of guitar from time to time on their later records.
It can be hard to pinpoint really obvious examples of the tone that comes with a Baritone. This is due impart to the fact that they are often used as a layering instrument rather than being at the forefront. Even when very present in the mix, this sound can sometimes get misconstrued with that of a bass playing higher up on the neck (I promise it does sound different though!).
If you want to hear the absolute best use case of a baritone check out the main theme from Twin Peaks. This track utilizes the baritone’s warm and plump sound to complement the lush synth atmosphere. Barebones recordings like this are a really nice platform for baritones to shine.
Nowadays baritones are most commonplace in the down tuning genres of metal and hard rock… for obvious reasons. While I love to see these guitars getting used, I wish people would start to recognize them as more than a genre-specific tool. Speaking of which, let me explain to you why having a baritone guitar could really benefit you.
Why You Need One:
I already touched on it a little bit, but the whole idea of a baritone is that they sit in a lower frequency range than a traditional guitar. Standard baritone tuning is A-D-G-C-E-A, which lowers all the strings a fifth below that of a normal guitar’s tuning. Luckily, since all of the strings are lowered the same amount, all the chord shapes, scales, etc. will still work. Though keep in mind all these shapes will actually be different notes (think like using a capo).
So why would you want to own a guitar like this? It all comes down to two main reasons. First off, think about space in regard to your 20-20k hertz. That is your range of human hearing, so you have so much space to fit all of your instruments and vocals. Baritone guitars sit somewhere between a bass and normal guitar’s frequency. For recording or playing with a band that has multiple guitarists, these guitars can completely thicken up your sound.
Even if you’re not looking to populate every last frequency available, you should still consider a baritone. There is something very unique sounding about the pronounced sound of a guitar that is infringing on the low end. So many guitar players already buy many different guitars for their tones, I’m just saying that there should be a baritone in there somewhere.
Best Baritones on the Market:
- Danelectro Vintage Baritone – $469.00
- The company that started it all is still making some of the best affordable baritones out there. Sporting those classic lipstick pickups, these guitars are sure to give you a sound reminiscent of those surf recordings we all know and love. Beyond that, you are basically getting a bare-bones workhorse with this one.
- PRS SE 277 Semi-Hollow – $662.00
- PRS SE models are always a great place to look for rock-solid instruments that don’t break the bank. The 277 holds true to the PRS brand by bringing a distinctive take on what a baritone can sound like. With a semi-hollow construction and soap bar pickups, this one is sure to sound a little different than any other baritone on the market.
- ESP LTP Viper-400 – $749.00
- For our last entry, we have one for the heavy minded of you out there. Loaded with EMG’s, this one will rip just as much as you could hope. Additionally, with double-pointed horns and blacked-out aesthetic, this one certainly has “the look” and sound many modern baritone players are seeking.