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The baritone guitar is a guitar with a longer scale length so it can be tuned to a lower pitch. Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, PRS Guitars, Music Man, Danelectro, Schecter, Jerry Jones, Burns London and many other companies have produced electric baritone guitars since the 1960s, although always in small numbers due to low popularity. Tacoma, Santa Cruz, Taylor, and others have made acoustic baritone guitars.
The baritone guitar first appeared in classical music. The Danelectro Company was the first to introduce an electric baritone guitar in the late 1950s, and the instrument began to appear in surf music and background music for many movie soundtracks, especially spaghetti westerns. More recently, the baritone guitar has appeared in rock, metal and improvised music. With appropriate strings, some baritone guitars can play in the bass guitar range.
Tuning and string gauges
A standard guitar's standard tuning (from lowest string to highest) is E A D G B E. Baritone guitars are usually tuned either a perfect fifth (A D G C E A), a perfect fourth (B E A D F♯ B), or a major third lower (C F B♭ E♭ G C).
Acoustic baritone guitars have larger bodies than standard guitars, and—like electric baritones—have longer scale lengths so the strings can be tuned lower while remaining at normal tension. On a standard, steel-string, acoustic guitar, the scale length (the distance from the nut or string guide to the saddle on the bridge) is typically 24.9" to 25.7", and the strings range in diameter from .012" to .054". The scale lengths of various baritone designs range from 27" to 30.5", and the string gauges range from the normal .012 - .054" set to sets as thick as .017 - .095". Shorter-scale baritone guitars are more like long-scale guitars, having more midrange volume, whereas the longer scale lengths and heavier string sets give more bass to the instrument's timbre. Shorter scale baritones tend to be tuned C-C or B-B, whereas longer ones are typically tuned A-A.
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1960s early adopters
The Danelectro baritone was used by guitarist Duane Eddy on some of his hits, such as "Bonnie Came Back", "Because They're Young", "Kommotion", (all 1960), "My Blue Heaven" (1961), "Deep in the Heart of Texas" (1962), and "The Son of Rebel Rouser" (1964). The instrument was used almost exclusively on his best-selling album "The Twang's The Thang" (Jamie Records, 1960) and pops up regularly on singles and albums throughout his career (for instance, "Twang Thang," The Duane Eddy Anthology, Rhino Records). The "twangy" sound of his guitars (which include Duane Eddy custom-builts by Guild, Grestch and Gibson) augmented the even deeper twangy sound made by the Danelectro baritone. Duane used the familiar black model and an unusual gray "Longhorn" model.
Singer Jimmie Rodgers also favored the baritone guitar, which can be heard in the opening bars of his recording of "Woman from Liberia" (1960).
In heavy metal
Metal bands started using baritone guitars in the late 1980s, as it became increasingly popular to "down-tune" or "drop-tune". Early examples include Carcass (using B Standard) and Bolt Thrower (Using A Standard on Realms of Chaos).
- Pat O'Brien of the band Cannibal Corpse has a baritone guitar to allow him to use the tuning G# without experiencing tuning problems because of his use of a Floyd Rose Tremolo.
- Dylan Carlson of drone metal band Earth played a baritone guitar on Hex (Or Printing in the Infernal Method).
- Machine Head also uses baritone guitars tuned to Drop B and C# standard (tuned 40 cents sharp). Robb Flynn, singer and guitarist from the band also has a signature Epiphone Baritone Flying V called "Love Death".
- Brian 'Head' Welch of Korn uses Ibanez baritone guitars on his debut solo-album Save Me From Myself.
Rock guitarists also use down-tuned guitars. Benjamin Burnley, the guitarist/singer from Breaking Benjamin, uses a custom built PRS baritone guitar for their songs in Drop A# tuning. Ko Melina of The Dirtbombs plays a Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom. Teppei Teranishi of Thrice plays a baritone on the "Fire" disc of The Alchemy Index and Major/Minor. Ian Mackaye plays a baritone guitar when playing with his band The Evens. Aerosmith's Joe Perry plays a six-string Fender baritone bass tuned down to a G (which was later stolen) on "Back in the Saddle" on the 1976 Rocks album.
Mike Mushok of the band Staind has a signature model baritone guitar manufactured by PRS Guitars. Prior to his PRS signature model, Mushok had a signature baritone guitar produced by Ibanez called the MMM1.
Nico Audy-Rowland of Trocadero played a Danelectro Baritone Guitar for the theme music of the machinima series Red vs. Blue. Dave Matthews plays a Baritone on certain songs such as "The Space Between" and "Some Devil". Parker Lauzon of Evans Blue uses an Ibanez.
Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny used baritone guitars made by Linda Manzer on his 2003 solo album One Quiet Night and his 2011 solo album What's It All About. Ani DiFranco often plays a baritone guitar, including those by Alvarez, frequently employing alternate tunings. Clifton Hyde has had his acoustic baritone guitar featured in the music of Sigur Rós, Gato Loco, and Pape Armond Boye.
Fingerstyle players and others
Numerous fingerstyle guitarists use baritone guitars, including Andy McKee, Don Ross, Martin Simpson, Sergio Altamura, Iain Micah Weigert and Dave Amato. Don Ross plays a baritone by Canadian Luthier Mark Beneteau, and Simpson has played baritones made by English luthier Ralph Bown. Andy McKee plays a baritone guitar made by another Canadian Luthier Michael Greenfield. Brian Setzer played the Gretsch/TV Jones Spectra-Sonic baritone on the song Mystery train during the Brian Setzer Orchestra tour.
The Les Deux Love Orchestra often performs with two baritone guitars playing together, a Jerry Jones and a Danelectro, as can be heard on their recording of Henry Mancini's "Experiment In Terror."
Australian musician Stu Thomas plays a Barracuda baritone guitar by Burns London, tuned an octave lower than a regular guitar. He uses it as a bass when playing with Dave Graney & The mistLY, and as a "regular" guitar when he accompanies himself solo as The Stu Thomas Paradox.
- Danelectro Baritone Electric 6 String Hodad (27.75 in)
- Danelectro Neptune Longhorn Bass 6 (30 in)
- Ernie Ball Silhouette Baritone 6 string (29-5/8 in)
- Fender Bajo Sexto Telecaster (28.5 in or 30-1/4in)
- Fender Bass VI (30 in)
- Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom (28.5 in)
- Fender Jaguar Baritone Special HH (27 in)
- Fender Sub-Sonic Baritone Stratocaster and Telecaster (27 in)
- Gretsch G6144 Spectra Sonic Baritone (29-1/4 in)
- Hagström Viking Baritone (28 in)
- Walden Guitars B-1 Baritone
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- Marx, Jr., Wally (June 2008). "Dave Gonzalez: Western Soul Brother". Vintage Guitar magazine 22 (8): 28.