“Baritone” is a word used to describe guitars with a longer-than-standard scale length – that is, the length of string between the nut and the tailpiece. Most often, “standard scale length” means 24.75 to 25.5 inches. Baritone guitars typically have a scale of 27 inches or higher, allowing them to be tuned much lower than standard guitars while retaining the bright sound and snappy feel of strings at full tension.
- READ MORE: Best software for guitarists in 2021: 10 best apps to learn guitar
- READ MORE: The best pedals to buy in 2021: 15 best delay pedals
A guitar’s scale length directly affects how ‘tight’ it feels to play, along with the string thickness and tuning. While B standard is, well, the standard, a baritone’s long scale lets you experiment with any number of tunings, all much lower than a regular guitar.
Keep ratcheting up the scale length, and you get things such as the Fender Bass VI. As its name suggests, this comes tuned an octave down from a standard six-string guitar.
What are baritone guitars used for?
Baritones were first widely adopted in the 1950s and 60s. Their low tuning meant they could harmonically match a double bass, but their bright, ‘twangy’ character suited the sounds of country and surf. Alongside this, their ability to ring out low, foreboding melody lines with single-coil twang came in particularly handy for soundtracking Spaghetti Western films.
Baritones are still widely used for this textural approach, and their fantastic ability to take on the roles of a bass and a standard electric has seen them adopted by everyone from Phoebe Bridgers to Emma Ruth Rundle to Hozier. They’ve also found favour with metal guitarists, who were tuning standard-scale guitars to C, B or lower. A longer scale means tight, fast playing at high gain remains clear, without a loss of low-end punch.
What to look for when buying a baritone guitar
Like any electric guitar, a baritone’s core set of features will tell you if it’s the right instrument for you. Start from the sound you want from the guitar and work backwards: if you’re looking to add clean, textural playing to a band’s sound, something with high-output active pickups might not be the best choice. Similarly, if you’re looking for a baritone to pump out bone-crushing downtuned riffs, something fitted with lipstick single-coil pickups could present issues.
There are, of course, no hard and fast rules, but considering the general target market of a guitar is a good place to start.
The best baritone electric guitars to buy in 2021 at a glance
- Rivolta Mondata Baritone VII
- Squier Baritone Cabronita Telecaster
- Fender Subsonic neck
- Ibanez RG Iron Label Baritone RGIB6
- ESP LTD Viper-400B
- Chapman ML3 Standard Baritone Rabea Massaad Signature
- Gretsch G5260T Electromatic Jet Baritone
- Reverend Descent RA Baritone
- Danelectro 56 Baritone
- Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX
Rivolta Mondata Baritone VII
+ Versatile electronics
+ Beautiful construction
– No humbucking neck pickup tones
With a 28-inch scale length, the Mondata Baritone VII retains the body outline and construction style found on Rivolta’s 25-inch-scaled Mondata VIII and XVIII. The chambered and double-bound offset mahogany body features a German carve and Firebird-style raised centre, with a set maple neck.
Electronics are a versatile affair, with a P-90 in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge, alongside a coil-split switch – these pretty much cover all tonal bases. There’s also a phase switch to get more ‘nasal’ sounds, but with everything at full blast, there’s no shortage of low-end grunt, too.
Price: £1,168/$1,299 Build: Chambered double-bound mahogany body with German carve and raised centre block, set maple neck with C+ profile, 12” radius ebony fingerboard Hardware: Wilkinson vintage-style tuning machines, tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece Electronics: Rivolta Novanta P-90 (neck) and Brevetto humbucking (bridge) pickups, three-way toggle pickup selector switch, master volume, master tone, coil split and phase switches Scale Length: 28” / 711mm
Squier Baritone Cabronita Telecaster
+ Punchy P-90 pickups
– Not for those looking for traditional ‘Telecaster’ sounds
Launched as part of Squier’s Paranormal series, the Baritone Cabronita Telecaster takes the non-traditionality of the Cabronita Telecaster platform up a notch with a 27-inch scale and two Fender-designed soapbar P-90s. P-90s are famously versatile pickups; their punchy yet clear output suits beautiful cleans as much as all-out-fuzz.
Alongside these, there’s a string-through hardtail bridge, a slim-C neck and a cream pickguard that contrasts with a deep black finish. While it’s a Telecaster at heart, the extended scale along with the dual P-90s makes this guitar an inspiring platform for long-time Fender fans and newcomers alike.
Price: £399/$399.99 Build: Poplar body with bolt-on fully maple neck, 22 frets and 9.5” radius Hardware: Chrome-finished Squier vintage-style tuning machines, six-saddle string-through hardtail Electronics: Two Fender-designed P-90 pickups, master volume, master tone, three-way switch Scale Length: 27” / 686mm
Fender Subsonic conversion neck
+ Keep the guitar you’re familiar with
+ Can be much more affordable than a full baritone, depending on your base guitar
– Performing the conversion might be a hurdle for beginners
Available with either a maple or rosewood fretboard and a Strat or Telecaster headstock, this neck replaces the one on your Fender or Squier guitar. The benefits of this are obvious: you keep the body, electronics and hardware you’re already familiar with, and your guitar gets the appropriate scale length for baritone tunings. Thanks to the nature of bolt-on necks, the conversion is of course completely reversible.
The neck itself features medium jumbo frets, a comfortable 9.5-inch fingerboard radius and a C profile. It converts most 25.5-inch-scaled Fenders or Squiers into 27-inch-scaled guitars, with the fret spacing measured so that the bridge doesn’t need to be moved.
Price: £299/$299 Build: Maple neck with either pau ferro or maple fretboard, 22 medium jumbo frets and 9.5” radius Hardware: None – tuning machines sold separately! Electronics: N/A Scale Length: 27” / 686mm
Ibanez RG Iron Label Baritone RGIB21
+ Active EMG pickups
+ Fast Ibanez neck for speedy playing
– Not great for cleaner, more restrained baritone sounds
From its sleek, pointy looks, it’s no surprise that this is a baritone aimed at metal players. And it goes beyond aesthetics, too: the Ibanez RGIB21 is equipped with a set of EMG 60/81 active pickups and a hefty string-through bridge with side plates to help with stability. The ferrule for the lowest string is also oversized, so you can use a bass guitar string as your lowest without any modification. Doing so would also be a stable affair as the scale length measures in at a hefty 28 inches.
Construction consists of a nyatoh body along with a three-piece maple and purpleheart neck, topped with a rosewood fretboard. Cementing its role as a metal axe, there’s are 24 frets if you’re so inclined to spend time playing in that area.
Price: £729/$799.99 Build: Nyatoh body with bolt-on maple/purpleheart neck, rosewood fretboard, 24 jumbo frets Hardware: Gibraltar Standard II string-through bridge, Gotoh MG-T locking machine heads Electronics: EMG 60/81 active humbucker set, master volume control, three-way blade switch Scale Length: 28” / 711mm
ESP LTD Viper-400B
+ Classic EMG 85/81 pickup combination
+ Fast-playing SG-style neck
– Active pickups not great for dynamic clean sounds
Sticking to the metal wheelhouse, the ESP LTD Viper-400B is also loaded with EMG active humbuckers – this time a set of 85/81 – but has a top-loading tune-o-matic hardtail bridge, and a scale length of 27 inches.
The set mahogany neck, mahogany body and the slightly shorter scale add up to a darker sound, making the Viper-400B a great candidate for doom or sludge genres. There are still a full 24 frets for a wide range of lead playing, and thanks to the hefty output of the pickups, you’ve got plenty of tone-shaping options.
Price: £799/$749 Build: Mahogany body with set thin U-shaped mahogany neck, pau ferro fretboard with 24 extra-jumbo frets and 14” radius Hardware: Matte-black-finished tune-o-matic tailpiece and grover tuners Electronics: EMG 85/81 active humbuckers, Scale Length: 27” / 686mm
Chapman ML3 Standard Baritone Rabea Massaad Signature
+ Affordable baritone take on a modern T-type
+ Versatile electronics
– Reversed headstock can be divisive
With a hefty 28-inch scale, blood red finish and a high-output humbucker in the bridge, there’s a lot of potential for drop A caveman riffs. But thanks to a more open-sounding mini rail in the neck and a coil-split switch, you’re never far from classic baritone clarity.
Price: £649/$900 Build: Alder body with bolt-on roasted maple neck Hardware: Chapman String-through hardtail and locking 18:1 tuners Electronics: Chapman Henchman humbucker in the bridge and Mini-Rail single-coil style in the neck, three-way toggle, push-pull coil split for tone-pull Scale Length: 28” / 711mm
Gretsch G5260T (Bigsby) / G5260 Electromatic Jet Baritone
+ Mini humbuckers are great for a wide range of sounds
+ Vintage, classy looks
– Extra-long scale might introduce too much tension
The Gretsch G5260T Electromatic Baritone comes in two flavours: with or without a Bigsby. Without it, you instead get a V-shaped stoptail bridge. Not everyone’s going to want the subtle wobble a Bigsby’s known for, but whether you go for it or not, this is a well-spec’d guitar for the price.
It’s fitted with two Gretsch mini-humbuckers, which are routed to a simple control layout of a three-way toggle, master tone and master volume. The scale length is a whopping 29.75 inches – that means tension will be retained even with thinner strings or at Bass VI-esque tunings.
The fretboard also has a comfortable 12-inch radius and 22 medium jumbo frets.
Price: £599/$599.99 Build: Mahogany body with bolt-on maple neck, laurel fretboard and 22 medium jumbo frets Hardware: Bigsby vibrato (G5260T) or V Stoptail, tune-o-matic bridge, die-cast Gretsch tuners Electronics: two Gretsch mini-humbuckers, master volume, master tone Scale Length: 29.75” / 756mm
Reverend Descent RA Baritone
+ Hefty rock tones thanks to Railhammer pickups
+ Treble-bleed as standard
– You might need more tension than the 26.7-inch scale offers
Reverend describes the Descent RA Baritone’s scale length as “long enough to deliver thunderous lows, yet short enough to play like a normal guitar”. It measures 26.75 inches, rather than the more common 27 or 28 inches. So if you’ve found that baritone frets feel too far apart from one another, this could be the one for you.
Aside from the unique scale, the guitar is loaded with Railhammer Chisel humbuckers, as well as locking tuners and a boneite nut. Its body is solid korina, with a roasted maple neck and pau ferro or roasted maple fretboard depending on your choice of finish.
Reverend’s unique electronics – the famed passive bass contour knob and a treble bleed volume control – should make the lower tunings play nicer with the rest of your rig, too.
Price: £879/$1,099 Build: Korina body with bolt-on roasted maple neck with maple or pau ferro fretboard depending on finish choice Hardware: Reverend locking tuners, tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece Electronics: Two Railhammer Chisel humbuckers, treble-bleed circuit, bass contour control Scale Length: 26.75” / 680mm
Danelectro 56 Vintage Baritone Black
+ Classy retro stylings
+ Semi-hollow construction and Lipstick pickups make for a bright, airy sound
– Extra-long scale might introduce too much tension for some
This semi-hollow Danelectro 56 Vintage Baritone is a reissue of one of the earliest baritone electrics to hit the market. And for the price, you’re getting a lot of guitar – literally.
Like the Gretsch G5260T, the 56 has a massive 29.75-inch scale length. In addition, it sports a composite body semi-hollow body with a poplar frame and centre block. The bolt-on neck is made from maple, and topped with a 24-fret pao ferro fretboard.
Electronics consist of two punchy lipstick single-coils, which also give the guitar that stylish old-school Danelectro look. These are controlled via a simple layout of a master tone, a master volume and a three-way toggle.
While it may look decidedly retro, the lipstick pickups can certainly handle beefy rock tones. Plus, the massive scale length and 24 frets will give you a cutting edge if you need to play fast, extra-downtuned riffs.
Price: £458/$638 Build: Composite semi-hollow body with poplar frame and centre block, bolt-on maple neck, Hardware: Kluson-style machine heads, top-loaded six-saddle hardtail bridge Electronics: Two lipstick single-coils, three-way switch, master volume, master tone. Scale Length: 29.75” / 756mm
Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX
+ Much more affordable than a vintage Mosrite
+ Versatile P-90 pickups
– Offbeat looks might be a turn-off for some
This is a baritone take on Eastwood’s revival of the classic Mosrite design. The kooky looks might not be for everyone, but there’s certainly some 1960s charm to the odd stylings, which might be perfect for getting you in the surf mood.
Further taking us away from riffs and towards the ‘vintage’ approach are a pair of P-90 pickups and a Jazzmaster-esque vibrato, a style of tailpiece not known for its propensity for divebombs.
Price: £567/$649 Build: Basswood body with set maple neck, bound rosewood fretboard Hardware: Jazzmaster-style vibrato, tune-o-matic-style bridge, Gotoh tuners Electronics: Two P-90 pickups, three-way switch, master volume, master tone Scale Length: 28” / 711mm