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The baritone guitar is a variation on the standard guitar, with a longer scale length that allows it to be tuned to a lower range. It first appeared in the classical music realm. The Danelectro Company was the first to introduce the electric baritone guitar in the late 1950s, and the instrument began to appear in surf music, as well as background music for many movie soundtracks, especially spaghetti westerns. In more recent history, the baritone guitar has found use within styles like rock, metal and improvised music. Some baritone guitars may also have the capacity to be used as a bass guitar if strung correctly.
A standard guitar's standard tuning (from lowest string to highest) is E A D G B E. Baritone guitars are usually tuned a perfect fifth lower (A D G C E A), a perfect fourth lower (B E A D F♯ B), or a major third lower (C F B♭ E♭ G C). Gretsch, Fender, Gibson, PRS Guitars, Music Man, Danelectro, Schecter, Jerry Jones, Burns London and many other companies have produced baritone guitars since the 1960s, although always in small numbers due to low popularity.
Baritone guitars have larger bodies than standard guitars, especially in the case of acoustic instruments, and have longer scale lengths which allow the strings to be tuned lower while remaining close to or 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.
Brian Wilson often included baritone guitars in his arrangements for The Beach Boys records, such as in "Dance, Dance, Dance" or "Caroline, No". Singer Jimmie Rodgers also favored the baritone guitar, which can be heard in the opening bars of his recording of "Woman from Liberia". Dave Gonzalez started playing a baritone with The Hacienda Brothers, consisting of a Fender Bass VI neck on a Fender Jazzmaster.
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".
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. Ian Mackaye plays a baritone guitar when playing with his band The Evens. 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.
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. 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. Brian 'Head' Welch of Korn uses Ibanez baritone guitars on his debut solo-album Save Me From Myself.
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."
The Danelectro baritone was used by million-selling guitarist Duane Eddy on some of his huge 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.
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.
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