The world of guitars is vast and diverse, with a myriad of choices available for players of any level. One less common but fascinating instrument is the baritone guitar. In order to bring out the best sound from this unique member of the guitar family, appropriate baritone guitar tuning is essential.
This article will help you understand the tuning basics, as well as provide some insights into the instrument’s history, alternate tunings, and famous musicians who have used the instrument.
Understanding Baritone Guitars
Baritone guitars are a unique type of stringed instrument, offering a distinctive sound when compared to standard guitars.
With a longer scale length (typically between 27 and 30.5 inches), these guitars are more suitable for lower tunings, delivering a rich, deep sound.
While acoustic baritone guitars have been around for many years, they have always been more of a niche instrument. In modern times however, we have seen a rise in popularity of the electric baritone guitar, especially with heavier music because of their powerful sound & ability to handle dropped tunings.
When you play a baritone guitar, you’ll notice that the string tension is higher due to the increased scale length. This characteristic enables the guitar to accommodate lower tunings without losing clarity or sustain.
Typically, baritone guitars are tuned a perfect fourth or fifth lower than a standard guitar, with the most common tuning being:
B-E-A-D-F#-B (Standard Baritone Guitar Tuning)
Types of Baritone Guitars
Various types of baritone guitars exist, with an electric baritone guitar being a popular choice for guitarists seeking extended range and versatility. These instruments are particularly well-suited for styles such as heavy metal, progressive rock, and experimental music, where a broader range of frequencies & harmonic complexity is desired.
On the other hand, an acoustic baritone guitar brings a different dimension to traditional folk and acoustic genres, offering a new tonality and expanded harmonic possibilities.
The resonant, deep sound of these guitars can evoke powerful emotions and create a dynamic contrast with other instruments.
It’s also worth noting that some manufacturers produce 8 string baritone guitars, further expanding the harmonic range of the instrument. These guitars typically feature an additional F# and B string above the standard six string, allowing for even greater chordal and melodic flexibility, as well as more alternative tunings.
History of Baritone Guitars
Baritone guitars have played a significant role in shaping modern music since their introduction in the late 1950s . They offer a unique sound, falling between a regular guitar and a bass guitar. This distinctive tonality is achieved by having a extended-scale length and lower tuning.
One of the pioneers of the baritone guitar is Duane Eddy, who helped popularize its characteristic sound with his classic, twangy instrumental hits in the late 1950s. His influence extended to bands like The Beach Boys and their legendary producer, Brian Wilson.
In the 1960s, Danelectro became a major player in the baritone guitar market, producing affordable instruments that would be used by icons such as Glen Campbell and Brian Wilson on their groundbreaking recordings. The Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds” is a brilliant example of the versatility and unique timbre that a baritone guitar can bring to a composition.
The baritone guitar continued to evolve and gain popularity as various musicians added their own unique touch to the instrument’s potential. In the 1980s and 1990s, the baritone found its place in the arsenal of progressive rock and metal guitarists like John Petrucci of Dream Theater and James Hetfield of Metallica. Eddie Van Halen and Dave Matthews have also incorporated the baritone guitar into their playing, further proof of the instrument’s adaptability and allure.
Overall, the history of the baritone guitar is rich with talented musicians and iconic moments, demonstrating the instrument’s importance in shaping the evolution of music.
How To Tune A Baritone Guitar
Tuning a baritone guitar is quite similar to tuning a standard guitar, but with some differences in pitch. You can use the following reference pitches to tune your baritone guitar to standard B to B tuning:
List of Baritone Guitar Tunings
Standard Baritone Tuning (B to B):
This is the most common tuning for baritone guitars.
The guitar strings are tuned from low to high: B, E, A, D, F#, B
It provides a deep and resonant tone, making it ideal for various musical genres.
C Standard Tuning (C to C):
In this tuning, the strings are tuned from low to high: C, F, B♭, E♭, G, C
It offers a slightly brighter and less bass-heavy sound compared to standard baritone tuning.
Drop A Tuning:
This tuning is commonly used in heavy metal and hard rock & is a very similar configuration to the ever-popular Drop D tuning on a regular guitar .
The strings are tuned from low to high: A, E, A, D, F#, B
It provides a powerful & aggressive tone, with easy access to power chords which perfect for heavy riffing.
This is a baritone-equivalent of the traditional DADGAD tuning which is commonly used in Celtic & Folk music.
The strings are tuned from low to high: A, E, A, D, E, A
It produces a rich sound when the open strings are strummed and allows for some unique chord voicings.
Drop G Tuning
Drop G tuning is another heavy-hitter that’s popular with alternative, metal, and Djent styles of music.
The strings for this are tuned to: G, D, G, C, E, A
Much like Drop D or Drop A as shown above, this tuning allows for thunderous power chords by using a single finger.
Considerations for Selecting Baritone Strings
When choosing strings for your baritone guitar, several factors come into play. Understanding these considerations will help you select the right strings for your instrument to achieve optimal performance.
First, consider the string gauges. Baritone guitars typically have larger scale lengths than standard guitars, which require heavier string gauges to maintain tension and tuning stability.
As a general rule, you should opt for heavier gauges such as 11 to 68 or even 12 to 70, depending on your playing style and preferences. Heavier strings provide more tension, which is crucial for maintaining the guitar’s low tunings.
Material composition of the strings plays a significant role in the overall tone and feel of the guitar. Common string materials include nickel, stainless steel, and phosphor bronze.
Nickel-plated strings offer a balanced and warm sound, stainless steel strings produce a brighter tone, and phosphor bronze strings have a more mellow, smoother sound. Experimenting with different materials will help you find the sound that suits your playing style best.
Consider the winding method as well. Roundwound strings are the most common, offering a bright tone and a textured feel due to the round shape of the winding wire.
Flatwound strings, on the other hand, have a smoother feel and a mellower tone, making them ideal for jazz and clean fingerstyle players. Choose the winding method that suits your preferred tone and genre.
Another factor to consider is the desired tuning. Baritone guitars are often tuned lower than standard guitars, with tuning ranges such as B to B or C to C, or even lower drop tuning options like Drop G. Ensure the strings you select can handle the tuning you intend to use without compromising tension or losing clarity. For lower tunings, heavier string gauges are recommended.
Ultimately, selecting the right strings for your guitar comes down to personal preference and the specific demands of your playing style. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different string gauges, materials, and winding methods to find the perfect strings for your instrument. By considering these factors and finding the perfect balance, you’ll be able to achieve the best performance and sound from your baritone guitar.
Famous Baritone Guitar Musicians
Baritone guitars offer a unique, versatile sound that can be found across various music genres, from pop and country to funk and heavy metal. Their distinct deep, twangy tone has made them popular among many accomplished musicians.
In the realm of pop music, the talented Robert Smith from The Cure proves that baritone guitars can deliver a rich, full tone that adds depth and character to their songs. Similarly, Ani Difranco, a prolific singer-songwriter, has been known to incorporate the baritone guitar to augment her unique sound.
Country and surf music also benefit from the baritone guitar’s twangy resonance. Classic country tunes often rely on this instrument for their characteristic sound. Iconic surf rock bands, such as The Ventures and The Shadows, have used the Fender Bass VI, a hybrid between a baritone guitar and an electric bass, to create their signature surf vibes.
The versatility of baritone guitars extends even to the funky realm, with bands like Vulfpeck and Snarky Puppy using them to create groovy, experimental tunes. Mark Lettieri, the guitarist for Snarky Puppy, is particularly well-known for his deft approach to the baritone guitar.
Some celebrated musicians in the rock and punk scenes have also found a home for the baritone guitar. Pat Smear of Foo Fighters and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi are both known to employ this instrument in their music, showcasing its adaptability to different styles.
Heavy metal, too, has embraced the baritone guitar as part of its arsenal. Bands like Machine Head and Korn often incorporate the instrument to achieve those lower tunings that create the aggressive, powerful sound synonymous with the genre. James Hetfield of Metallica is another high-profile musician who saw the value in utilizing a baritone guitar for some of his band’s songs.
Overall, the baritone guitar’s unique tuning and tone have played a significant role in the music world. Its remarkable versatility has allowed it to be used by musicians across various genres, from pop and surf rock to heavy metal and funk, solidifying its position as a prized addition to any musician’s collection.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the common tuning notes for a baritone guitar?
The common tuning notes for a baritone guitar are B-E-A-D-F♯-B, which is a perfect fourth lower than the standard guitar tuning. This tuning provides a deeper and richer tone, allowing the baritone guitar to cover a wider range of musical styles. Some guitar players also experiment with other tunings, such as C-to-C and A-to-A.
How do I tune a 6-string baritone guitar?
To tune a 6-string baritone guitar, simply follow the standard procedure of tuning any guitar. Adjust the tuning pegs for each string until the notes match the baritone guitar’s tuning (B-E-A-D-F♯-B). It’s recommended to use an electronic tuner or a tuning app to ensure accuracy.
Can I tune my baritone guitar to B-to-B?
Yes, you can tune your baritone guitar to B-to-B, which is the most common and recommended tuning for a baritone guitar. This tuning extends the range of the instrument, providing a deep and resonant sound that works well with various musical styles.
Is there a recommended tuner app for baritone guitars?
While there isn’t a specific tuner app designed exclusively for baritone guitars, most widely used guitar tuning apps and electronic tuners can accommodate the baritone tuning. Some popular tuner apps include Guitar Tuna, Fender Tune, and Pano Tuner. Make sure to set the app to the correct baritone tuning before beginning.
How do chords differ on a baritone guitar?
Chords on a baritone guitar are played using the same finger positions as on a standard guitar, but due to the altered tuning, the chord shapes produce different chords. For example, playing an open E chord shape on a baritone guitar will create a B or C chord, depending on the tuning. It is important to familiarize yourself with the chord transpositions when playing a baritone guitar.
Are all 7-string guitars considered baritone?
No, not all 7-string guitars are considered baritone guitars. While a 7-string guitar has an extended range compared to a standard 6-string guitar, it doesn’t necessarily have the same tuning as a baritone guitar. However, some musicians opt to use a 7-string guitar as a baritone by tuning the additional low string to a lower note. It’s essential to consider the instrument’s specifications and intended purpose when deciding whether or not to use a 7-string guitar as a baritone.