Baritone guitars may have a reputation of instruments that create honky-tonk, Nashville-style ballads or overdubs, but they are becoming increasingly prominent in contemporary music genres such as rock, heavy metal, jazz and funk. Gone are the days of the baritone guitar being considered a quirky outsider to the regular band ensemble, nowadays, more bands are starting to see the merits of using the baritone guitar as an instrument to enhance their sound. Baritones are much harder to play than regular guitars. This is due to the wider fret space and thicker strings.
Baritone guitars are most commonly six-string guitars which are unique in having longer scale lengths, thicker strings and wider frets. Most importantly, baritone guitars are tuned differently to standard guitars, following a B, E, A, D, F#, B tuning. They provide deeper penetrating tones and are the perfect bridge in between bass and standard guitar. Famous baritone guitar players include James Hetfield from Metallica and Stephen Carpenter of Deftones.
Top 5 Baritone Guitars Review 2020
But what is the best baritone guitar to purchase? The article draws on customer reviews and various sources to feature five in-depth product reviews of the best baritone guitars currently available to purchase online. The reviews provide all the key features, the product description, as well as pros and cons. The buying guide provides all the essential information you need to know before purchasing a baritone guitar. Particular areas of focus of the guide include scale length, price, tonewood, warranty and body type.
ESP LTD BB-600 – Editor’s Choice
- Scale length: 27’’
- Top wood: quilted maple
- Body wood: mahogany
- Warranty: 1-year limited
- Pickups: Seymour Duncan
More features: 3-piece maple, 350 mm fingerboard, D’Addario XL158 strings, Tune-O-Matic bridge
Designed with a mahogany body and quilted maple top wood, the BB-600B offers remarkable versatility and is one of the most famous models produced by ESP. Listing as one of the most premium baritone guitars in the marketplace, the BB-600B caters well for experienced musicians who want to add a rich electric baritone sound to their music.
The electric sound is made strong and distinctive thanks to the addition of very top-quality pickups which are the Seymour Duncan and JB. Additionally, there is a piezo pickup that is integrated into the tailpiece and bridge for a wider sound variety.
One of the best features of the BB-600B is the presence of two different output jacks, allowing players to route the pickups to two different amplifiers which offer players a fantastic variety when playing in the studio or live on-stage. Often baritone guitars can be pigeon-holed as one-trick ponies; the BB-600B certainly breaks down that stereotype by offering players great tonal variety.
In addition to the sound quality, the appearance of the BB-600B is also really appealing. The Black Sunburst Satin gloss on the mahogany body and quilted maple is very distinctive. The further addition of a red pickup covers, inlays on the fingerboard that are red and the famous Breaking Benjamin symbol, ensure that the BB-600B looks very slick and will make any prospective baritone guitarist want to purchase this model. The slim three-piece maple neck that is designed as a u-shape is a great addition, making playing much more comfortable for baritone guitarists.
- Great versatility
- High-quality design
- Perfect for studio or playing live
Schecter HELLRAISER C-VI – Best Baritone Guitar for Heavy Metal
- Scale length: 30”
- Top wood: quilted maple
- Body wood: mahogany
- Warranty: lifetime limited
- Pickups: EMG
More features: rosewood fretboard, thin C neck shape, 24 x-jumbo frets, 355 mm fretboard radius
Featuring a long 30” scale length, the HELLRAISER C-VI by Schecter is one of the best six-string baritone guitars for heavy metal music. Constructed with a mahogany body and quilted maple top wood, this baritone guitar is in the medium price range for baritones currently available to purchase online.
The added scale length for this C-VI is crucial to creating such a punchy and deep note articulation, particularly for lower tunings which often struggle to produce such clarity on a standard guitar.
The best aspect of the C-VI is that its tuning versatility. While its original design follows a standard E-E tuning, it can be easily altered to fit the B-B standard tuning of baritone guitars. This means you effectively have two guitars in one, giving players a great variety of choice between standard notes and deeper baritone character. These distinctive sounds are ideal for resonating with heavy metal fans.
The addition of EMG pickups adds to the great sound quality of the C-VI. This in addition to very robust hardware and fitted tuners which have a smooth and reliable operation, the C-VI has everything that an electric baritone guitarist needs to create a really strong and effective sound.
Another great feature of purchasing the C-VI is the existence of a lifetime warranty agreement that comes with the purchase. For some who are unsure about how they can adopt a baritone guitar into their musical arrangement, having such a warranty agreement can be invaluable in giving great consumer protection.
- Lifetime warranty
- Long scale length
- Flexible tuning
- Limited pickups
- Not suited to acoustic music
Ibanez RGIB6 – Best Baritone Guitar for Rock
- Scale length: 28”
- Top wood: basswood
- Body wood: basswood
- Warranty: 1-year limited
- Pickups: EMG active
More features: 3-piece maple neck, bound jatoba fretboard, Gibraltar Standard II bridge, jumbo frets
Constructed from basswood for both the top and body wood, the Ibanez RGIB6 is a well-performing baritone guitar that is ideally suited to rock music. Featuring a scale length of 28”, the RGIB6 goes beyond most mainstream electric guitars designed for rock music. It offers great tonal clarity as well as fantastic intonation. The RGIB6 is ideal for bands who like to have deep-lying riffs that are central to their music.
By containing six strings, the guitar is ideally suited for players transitioning from standard guitars as the chord fingerings remain the same, with the tuning and scale length differing to make the RGIB6 suitable for handling lower frequency notes.
The RGIB6 contains an EMG active pickup which converts a strong sounding electrical signal. One downside is that there is limited scope for experimentation as the product only comes with a single jack lead.
The inclusion of jumbo frets on the fretboard allows players smoother access when transitioning between chords. While this may be ideal for those will smaller hands, for regular players you will certainly notice the difference in chord transition. The minimal number of high frets means that players can easily access the high notes that are too often beyond reach in standard guitars. Smooth chord transition is also aided by the bound jatoba fretboard, which is known for its unique smooth surface.
The Ibanez RGIB6 is a lower-medium priced baritone guitar that contains all the necessary features to sound great in a rock band.
- No buzz
- Smooth volume pad
- No high frets
- Limited versatility
Alvarez ABT60ESHB – Best Acoustic Baritone Guitar
- Scale length: 27-23/32’’
- Top wood: solid A+ Sitka spruce
- Body wood: mahogany
- Warranty: 2-year limited
- Bridge: rosewood
More features: C-shaped neck, rosewood fingerboard, 20 frets, die-cast tuning machine, D’Addario EXP16 strings
The Alvarez ABT60ESHB is an affordable acoustic baritone guitar that delivers deep, vibrant tones for acoustic musicians. Constructed with a mahogany body and solid Sitka A+ spruce, the Alvarez ABT60ESHB has the visual appearance of a classical acoustic guitar. This combined with its C-shaped neck, ensures a rustic feel that will no doubt be appealing for acoustic guitar players who are looking to explore deeper tones.
The scale length of the Alvarez ABT60ESHB varies from 27″ to 32″ and this can be specified online. For an effective baritone sound, models that have a longer scale length should be preferred as they best serve the low-frequency sound required for a baritone.
The Alvarez ABT60ESHB contains 20 frets which lie on a rosewood fingerboard. Rosewood is a common wood choice for fretboards are known for providing a smooth surface for fingers to press against. The D’Addario EXP16 strings also help with the smooth feel when players are making chords or plucking riffs.
The Alvarez ABT60ESHB comes with a generous two-year warranty agreement which is limited to the purchase date. This certainly provides an extra layer of protection for purchasers who are unsure about the merits of a baritone guitar in their musical setup.
When looking for an affordable acoustic baritone guitar option, the Alvarez ABT60ESHB certainly stacks up as a great choice. Sometimes the investment in decent body, neck and string materials is essential to get the best possible baritone sound.
- Affordable price
- Rustic acoustic appearance
- Warranty agreement
- No electric capability
- Limited tonal variety
Danelectro ’56 – Budget Pick
- Scale length: 29.75’’
- Top and body wood: masonite, poplar and pine
- Warranty: 1-year limited
- Pickups: ’56 pickups
More features: adjustable saddle bridge, 24 frets, 3-way pickup selector, S soundhole, maple neck
The Danelectro ’56 is a budget pick for an electric baritone guitar. With a top and body constructed from Masonite, poplar and pine, the Danelectro ’56 is available at an affordable price and is great for those wanting alternative deeper tones to their electric music.
The scale length of the Danelectro ’56 measures at 29.75” which is ideal for a baritone guitar. While some rival electric baritone guitars have longer measures in excess of 32”, have this length is very useful to maximize the deeper sounds of the strings. You will certainly notice the difference between the shorter scale length of an affordable standard electric guitar.
The Danelectro ’56 contains 24 frets as well as an adjustable saddle bridge. This added extra equips players with decent flexibility and an ability to personalize the guitar to their preferences. For such an affordable baritone, this is certainly a welcome feature.
The Danelectro ’56 also offers variety by having a 3-way pickup selector which allows players a greater tonal range. Having a broader tonal range ensures the Danelectro ’56 is flexible to play in jazz, rock and heavy metal styles.
The affordability of the Danelectro ’56 is a result of the cheaper materials used to construct the guitar. The guitar may be less durable than its premium rivals and the absence of a wood body means that the sound quality may also suffer.
For an affordable electric baritone guitar that is best suited to beginners and those using a baritone for the first time, the Danelectro ’56 is an ideal choice.
- Pickup selector – versatile sound
- Distinctive red color
- Limited sound quality
- Poor long-term durability
Baritone guitar distinctive signatures
Many are unaware that baritone guitars are tuned lower than standard guitars. To the ear, it may initially sound slightly strange. The regular tuning for a baritone guitar from low to high is B, E, A, D, F#, B. In some cases, you may find these guitars are tuned lower by a fifth or even a full octave. While the notes are different, the chord fingerings for baritones are the same as standard guitar, which is ideal for those looking to transition.
Cowboy or surf models are perhaps the most distinctive models of the baritone. With an ever-increasing market, shapes and sizes of baritones are starting to differ, with more and more available to choose from. Whether your distinctive feature of interest is body type, size, pickup configurations or music genre, there will most likely be a baritone guitar available that will suit your preferences.
Baritone guitars are often best heard when accompanying very high vocal parts such as the famous ACDC song “You Shook Me All Night Long”. The best thing is that you can reach these high tones without needing to change the chord fingerings, making the instrument accessible to virtually all guitar players. As the baritone is tonally located between the bass and standard guitar as well as containing a wound third string, the baritone is perfect for percussive riff-based melodies. Baritones certainly offer a nice bridge between bass and standard guitar.
In modern regular guitar design, the lowest string is often constructed at too low a frequency that the sound is not very effective and verges into the domain of bass guitar. The baritone guitar is able to overcome these issues by having a better tuned and sounding bass string of the guitar.
How to tune a baritone guitar
The tuning of baritone guitars is slightly more intriguing than regular guitars. While it can be tuned in the traditional E A D G B E format, the most common tuning for the baritone is B, E, A, D, F#, B. This tuning provides a fantastic third, fourth and fifth range for players to experiment with. The most common baritone scale is 27” featuring at least 12 gauge strings.
Each individual player can decide string sizes. Some prefer larger strings that give a solid deep sound, whereas thinner strings tend to be less deep in sound but provide a higher volume. Personal playing preference and playing style are important considerations before deciding which size of string you prefer.
Acoustic guitars are defined by the steel strings used to make the sound. These string types are most common for baritone guitars and are available in either bronze or gold varieties. A particularly popular choice is an 80/20 bronze design that gives baritone guitars their acoustic strength and soulful sound.
The baritone guitar is used in jazz music and is made famous by guitarists such as Linda Manzer and Alvarez who create modern and distinctive sounds using the baritone. The instrument is also frequently used in rock music by artists such as Chevelle and Ian MacKaye, who make use of versatile tuning to rock out during songs.
The baritone is also used in some heavy metal music who particularly make use of the scale lengths as well as dropping B and C to create that awesome, intoxicating atmosphere that heavy metal fans enjoy.
This video below is an online tuner for baritone guitars.
Lasting almost two minutes, the video plays each of the six notes repeatably from high to low. If you are new to the baritone guitar and do not know how to tune it, use this clip as it will easily guide you. Have your baritone guitar ready and play along with the notes, sharpening or flattening your strings to match the note pitches in the video.
Use a good speaker when playing the video to ensure that there is a minimal distortion of the tuning sound.
As the baritone is a stringed instrument with a more niche purpose, it is not the most affordable instrument. While the market is growing, they are not mass-produced like regular guitars. Prices for decent baritone guitars start around $400 and top well over $1000 for electric baritones.
Features to consider while buying the best baritone guitar
This short section below includes specific factors you should consider before purchasing the most suitable baritone guitar for your own guitar needs.
Baritone guitars are best suited to standard guitar players who want to experiment with lower tunings as opposed to bass players who want to play higher. This is due to the six-string design and chord fingerings. The scale length should reflect roughly want your standard guitar is for pure convenience and comfort. Most common scale lengths range from 27” to 30”. Scale length can be crucial getting the right feel, tonal character and intonation, make sure the length is comfortable to play and produces the sound you want to achieve.
When using a baritone guitar, the same rules apply to the management of strings compared to a standard guitar. The strings will need regular tuning and must measure the length between the bridge and the neck of the guitar. String sets range between 10-46 with the majority of bass models using 32″.
Acoustic or electric
Baritone guitars are available in both acoustic and electric varieties. The more affordable options tend to be acoustic baritones, with premium baritones often being electric due to the more complex technology required in the construction of the product. You should know whether you will need an acoustic or electric baritone guitar before purchasing as the sound character between the two types is pretty significant.
The three main body types of baritone acoustic guitars are a semi-hollow, solid body and hollow guitars which can be constructed from maple, laminated hardwood and mahogany woods among others.
Made popular in the rock’n’roll 60s, the semi-hollow design is renowned for both excessively high volume as well as mellower tones. The designs are also best used in jazz music and they are ideal for jamming sessions for musicians.
The Solid Body
An earlier design first conceptualized in the 1930s, the solid body guitar is known for the archtop and sporty-style pickup capability. The best aspects of a solid body are the smooth response and incredible high range power. The instrument also provides superb control.
The Hollow Body
Giving players great sound and volume options, hollow-body guitars are collector’s items among baritone guitar enthusiasts. The smoothness of a hollow body baritone is unrivaled and provides players with a warm, rich and deep sound that creates a very distinctive sound. Hollow body instruments were made famous by John Lennon.
Ideally, the tonewood for a baritone is not one that does not have a high-frequency response as the baritone is lower in pitch. Woods such as koa, white oak and walnut are perfect for baritone guitars.
Fretboard and frets
The fretboard and frets combination is very important on a baritone guitar. A common fretboard wood is rosewood which offers smoothness when pushing down on the strings.
Most baritone guitars will have approximately 24 frets, the size of the frets may differ with some offering jumbo frets such as the Ibanez RGIB6. If you have smaller fingers, getting smaller fret sizes is ideal.
Electric baritone guitars will use different pickups depending on the product design. Common baritone pickups referred to in the reviews include EMG (Schecter HELLRAISER C-VI) and Seymour Duncan (ESP LTD BB-600).
When purchasing a baritone guitar keep an eye out for added accessories. These could include a guitar case, amplifier or guitar strap.
Warranty can be important in providing you with extra purchasing protection. Typical warranty agreements can last a year, with some such as the Schecter HELLRAISER C-VI offering lifetime agreements.
In theory, yes you can, but in practical terms, this should not be done. The construction of a baritone guitar is specifically designed to bring the best out of the lower frequency notes. The richness and fullness of sound will not be achieved if you fit baritone strings to a standard guitar.
Some musicians do you use the baritone guitar as a replacement for the bass. This decision is completely dependent on the sound you want to make. The drive and punchiness of bass are never quite fully replicated by a baritone guitar.
Baritone guitars tend to be longer than acoustic guitars and will need a specific case. Most manufacturers will provide a case with the purchase of the product.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with all the essential information you need to know about baritone guitars.
Our verdict on the top three baritone guitars are:
The ESP LTD BB-600 wins the top prize for its supreme premium quality design and construction. The guitar is remarkably versatile and will serve the needs of any competent guitarist.
The Schecter HELLRAISER C-VI comes in second place due in part to its lifetime warranty agreement which gives great consumer protection. The guitar has premium qualities available at a medium-range price.
The Ibanez RGIB6 finishes in third place because of its affordability and no string buzz qualities. Ensuring guitarists create a great quality sound while not breaking the bank.
Baritone guitars are becoming more mainstream. Before you purchase the best baritone guitar for you, do as much research as you can to give yourself the best chance of choosing the right guitar.