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If you are interested in guitars, chances are you are aware of baritone electric guitars. You might also be wondering if baritone guitars are available as guitar kits and what’s different about them, both from a musical and assembly perspective compared to a standard electric guitar.
A baritone guitar is essentially a guitar with an extended scale length, generally between 27 and 30 1/2 inches, compared to a typical standard electric guitar scale length (25.5" Fender®, 24.75" Gibson®).
Scale Length Comparison - 24.75" - 25.5" - 30.5" Baritone
In a practical sense this means it is a guitar with a longer neck than standard that can be tuned to lower frequencies without requiring ultra heavy gauge strings, or having the strings feel loose, impacting on string action, amongst other potential issues.
Baritone guitars tend to be more stable in lower tunings as the extended scale length prevents the loss of tension on the strings otherwise experienced on standard scale length guitar when using low tunings. Because of this they tend to offer up a thicker, more articulate and occasionally percussive tone, especially when played on the first three frets.
Essentially string tension is reduced, the shorter the scale of the guitar. This is why some guitarists find Fender® guitars more difficult to bend notes on compared to Gibson’s® shorter scale length. However, a longer scale length tends to offer more reliable tuning stability, which is important when using heavier gauge strings and tuning to lower than standard tuning. And, unlike 7 and 8 string regular scale guitars, you can use lighter gauge strings in lower tunings due to the extended range.
For example, a standard guitar is tuned to concert pitch E-A-D-G-B-E. Baritone guitars on the other hand are often tuned a major third lower to C-F-B-E-G-C or a fourth lower than standard e.g. to B-E-A-D-F-B, although it should also be noted there isn’t a standardised tuning for baritone guitars.
Many consider a baritone guitar a harmonic bridge between a standard guitar and a bass, or as wholesale musical instruments solely used in metal as an alternative to 7 and 8 string guitars due to the lower tuning capacity.
While there is some truth to both points, baritone guitars have been around for some time, far longer than nu-metal for example. And, although they first really came to prominence during the mid 1950’s thanks to Danelectro, the exact origins are unknown but are thought to be extend much further into the past, most likely dating back to the 17th century baroque era.
Baritone guitars are a highly versatile instrument and probably appear on more of your favorite music than you might realize. And, while it’s a reasonable assumption to assume baritone guitars are exclusively used in metal genres due to modern players experimenting with ultra-low tunings such as Drop C, B, and A (and beyond), the reason a recording studio may have a baritone guitar lying around is mostly due to the versatility the instrument offers.
Because of their stability in low tunings, they tend to hold their own a little better in genres that demand a cleaner sound in a lower tuning, such as jazz, rockabilly, and even country. In fact, if you enjoy spaghetti westerns, chances are baritone guitars have been used on movie soundtracks such as ‘A Fistfull of Dollars’, and ‘The Good, Bad and the Ugly’.
Because of their ability to handle lower tunings, they are also often used to double bass lines, thickening up the original track, while offering an additional sonic flavour to a piece of music.
Building your own baritone guitar kit can be a good alternative to buying a ready made baritone guitar as they can be expensive, difficult to come by, and under normal circumstances are used less often than a standard electric guitar.
While some guitarists have opted to merely replace the neck on an otherwise standard electric guitar, this kind of approach needs to be considered carefully with regard to neck stability. Not to mention sourcing a replacement neck that matches the existing neck pocket and neck profile taking into account overall thickness and neck radius.
DIY baritone guitar kits
If building from a DIY kit, there really isn’t a lot of difference with regard to assembly. If you have experience building your own DIY guitar kit you won't need to change your process or use additional tools however, there are some practicalities to keep in mind:
If replacing the stock pickups consider articulation as a priority. Pickups that have a reputation for sounding muddy and less articulate will only sound more so on a baritone guitar. The extended neck tends to initiate more bass and mid-range response, especially when taking into account the lower tunings and frequencies produced.
Baritone guitars are a little heavier to move around when working due to additional reinforcement of the neck and the additional length adding more weight
While none of the points mentioned above, with the exception of the pickups are major considerations, it's also worth remembering that due to the increased scale length, fret spacing is also wider and may take some getting used to, especially if you do your own fret work.
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