What exactly is a baritone guitar? A baritone guitar is simply a guitar with longer strings and a larger body so that it can be tuned to play in a lower sounding register. Tunings, scales and chords are identical to any other guitar just the actual pitch changes. A common baritone guitar would have a scale of 28.5″, that is 3″ longer than a typical guitar. This allows you to use heavier strings and to tune down a 4th or 5th. For instance a common tuning would be Standard Tuning but down a 5th to A-D-G-C-E-A. The relationship between the strings remains exactly like standard tuning, so you play all the same shapes for your chords and scales, but they sound at a different pitch. An open E chord in the first fret would sound like an A chord.
You can also use any alternate or open tuning variation for instance DADGAD tuning from A to A or G to G on the outside strings. The actual pitch is somewhat irrelevant and is dictated by the gauge of strings used and the construction of the instrument. Dream Guitars owner Paul Heumiller, a long time baritone player says, “I play in many tunings on my baritone guitars and I also like to experiment with a variety of strings. For instance I will use a lighter gauge string and tune up higher to B or B-flat on my baritones or I’ll use very heavy strings so that I can get down to a low G on alternate tunings like C9. The same guitar can do a wide variety of things with a little experimentation. It’s also quite fun and gives you a lot of colors if you’re a performer or recording artist. The emotions that you can get from a baritone guitar are unlike anything you can get on a regular guitar.”
While it’s true that many players use low tunings on a normal scale guitar, there is a fullness, depth and beauty that only comes with the longer string length. Other common baritone scales range from 27 or 27 1/2 inches on the short side, and up to the 28.5 inches referred to earlier. The player will feel a bit more of a reach in the left arm due to the longer scale, but it is very easy to play and many players enjoy the extra room it gives for the fingers to do their work.
Baritone string sets are more common now as the instrument has become more popular. D’addario and many other companies offer sets for baritone guitar which would be .017 to .070. Many players also use a medium set shifted over using just the second through sixth strings and then add a bass string of your choice from .060 to .070. A thinner bass can add a bit more string attack while the larger is more round and deep.
Owner Paul Heumiller on why he plays baritone guitars: “For me it’s all about inspiration for my songwriting. I started playing guitar to write music and it has always been my passion. An instrument with a voice that moves you to write something better or different than you normally would is incredibly valuable. For me when I play even my most familiar chords but on a lower tuned baritone, it changes the emotion and the feeling of the music. It leads me somewhere I would not have gone on a regular guitar. I’m a big advocate of having a guitar collection that offers as many different sound possibilities. Why have 10 guitars all the same scale? In my collection I have short scale high tuned guitars, normal scale, fan fret, baritone, bass and nylon string instruments. Inspiration is always just an arms reach away for me as a writer.”
Dream Guitars offers baritone instruments from many of the world’s top custom makers. In addition we have wonderful performer priced instruments as well from Veillette, Furch and Gold Tone. Also keep a look out for the first Dream Guitars labeled baritone models coming in 2014 custom designed by Paul Heumiller and Ken Jones of Dream Guitars, incorporating the features we have seen that really work for baritone over the years.